Most of the small business owners I work with have one thing in common — you’re not in it just for the money. You’re also strongly motivated by the desire to create work that feels personally fulfilling and has a positive impact on the world.
But the more success you create, the more you can feel tempted to make small compromises around the message you want to put out in the world. The last thing you want to do is alienate the customers you’ve worked so hard to attract.
I’m here today to make the case that this kind of thinking is actually counter-productive. If social impact matters to you, there are some real benefits to incorporating your mission into your business.
1. The road to mediocrity is littered with small compromises.
Another thing my clients have in common is they want to be known for something. Typically that takes the form of the go-to expert in your field, or a sought-after product designer.
It’s next to impossible to get known without staking out a clear and defined position in the marketplace.
Let’s face it — there aren’t huge innovations in how much of our work gets done. This is true for your industry and for mine. No single publicist has some magical method that’s going to guarantee you better results than what I, or the thousands of other firms and independents out there, can get you.
When you think too hard on this fact, it can feel overwhelming. How are your supposed to stand out when thousands of other companies are perfectly capable, if not brilliant, at the work you both do?
For a lot of my clients, it comes to their positioning in the marketplace. It’s not always the work product that gets you hired over the other company. It’s a sense of shared values, or a strong point-of-view, or some small difference in the way you serve your customers. Sometimes it simply comes down to branding — a customer likes your style.
When you start to compromise your dedication to impact, you’re eliminating one strong avenue for creating a market positioning that’s all your own.
2. It gives your brand evangelists something to talk about.
We’ve known for a long time now that Millennials integrate their beliefs into their buying decisions. Well guess what. The Millennials are all grown up. They make up a solid quarter of the US population and they have tremendous purchasing power.
I bring up the Millennials not to say you should be marketing to them, but to show you that a huge portion of the buying consumers in the population make buying decisions at least in part based on shared values.
At no time have we seen greater evidence for how much this matters than in the current election cycle. From the CEO of Penzeys Spices accusing the Republican party of embracing racism to the politically charged Super Bowl commercials, even large, established brands know that their customers expect them to take a stand.
If you believe the Penzeys CEO, this gamble can pay off financially in a big way. But beyond that, putting your company’s values out there gives your fans something to talk about and share. It’s an excellent way to mobilize them to share your company with their larger networks.
3. It’s a time-tested way to generate PR.
Similar to giving your fans something to talk about, being vocal around a hot-button issue gives the media something to talk about. I often hear from clients who donate proceeds to charity and want to get PR for it.
Unfortunately (or happily depending on your perspective!), this is such a common thing that there’s no media value in a story like this. To get press for your advocacy efforts, you need to get creative. And often that means speaking your mind.
Now, this can be risky. Beyond any fear of losing customers or partners you might feel, there’s also a very real risk that the narrative can overshadow the work you do.
I always ask clients, “Is this what you want to be known for?” before they go public with a controversial opinion. Does this value or belief system add to the larger narrative around your company, or distract from it?
But that’s not the only risk I wanted to share with you today.
If you’re going to put social impact front-and-center of your business, you better believe in it. Consumers can sniff out inauthenticity a mile away. In the environmental space, they have a term for companies that are faking their commitment to earth-friendly policies: greenwashing.
If you’re in it for the bottom line, that’s okay! You don’t have to fake a social mission. We can use one of the other techniques to make you stand out in your industry.
Just like another company wouldn’t fake being the first to market with a new technology, you shouldn’t fake a social mission just to get known.
At the end of the day, PR is about helping your audience get to know you. Not spin. Not faking an image. But rather helping the public see what you’re all about.
A lot of people are scared right now.
I’ve been open about the fact that I did not vote for Trump, and I don’t support his policies around the wall, immigration, or the Muslim ban. But that’s not what I’m writing about.
Today I want to talk to you about the conversations I’ve been having with other business owners around the news coming out of the White House.
From calls to boycott U.S. businesses to concerned citizens feeling they can’t or shouldn’t promote their work to anecdotal evidence that customers are slower to buy programs or products, many business owners are feeling like their position in the economy is precarious.
Embedded in these conversations are questions like, “Is it okay to post my product to Instagram when there’s a refugee ban in effect?” or “How can I go ahead with my offer with everything that’s happening?”
That’s what I want to cover today, because I’m in a unique position to weigh in on these conversations. My job is helping you communicate with your audience, and my background is in public affairs and crisis PR. Thinking through thorny communication challenges is precisely the work I’m trained to do.
I pulled together some of the questions and concerns that have been coming up the most in the past few days, so I can share with you how I approach these questions from a PR perspective.
First the biggie:
Should I respond to what’s going on, or do I ignore it and carry on as usual?
There are two aspects to this question: your personal values as an individual, and the values and desires of your audience. As an individual, you may or may not feel called to comment on what’s going on. I obviously can’t counsel you on that.
But no matter where you stand, you should also take into consideration what your audience wants and expects from your business. Different audience segments will respond differently to both public proclamations or silence. It’s easy to think that staying about the fray is the neutral choice, but that’s not always the case.
Let me give you examples on the opposite ends of the spectrum to help you think through this.
If you run an advocacy organization in the U.S., it would clearly be wrong not to comment on executive orders with such sweeping implications, because presumably helping your audience respond to events like these is part of your mission. I think we can all agree on that.
On the flip side, I follow a couple of makeup bloggers (don’t judge me!), and their content hasn’t referenced the election at all. I can appreciate that decision — no matter where these bloggers stand on the issues, they know their audience can get that info elsewhere and still enjoys their tutorials.
It makes sense that these blogs stay on mission, no matter what their personal positions are.
But many of our businesses are somewhere in the middle, especially when you get into the coaching or wellness arenas. Or even art, in many cases.
In making the decision on whether you want to use your business as a forum to speak out about world events, look to your audience.
If you’re connected to your audience through social media, it’s easy to tell right now how people are feeling.
Are your customers complaining about companies who in their orbit who aren’t taking a stand? If the answer is yes, you should probably say something — even if only to post something that acknowledges how people are feeling right now. It doesn’t have to be a partisan or political statement.
On the other hand, if your audience is saying, “Get over it,” think twice before posting a political message right now.
You do no one any good be jeopardizing your economic livelihood — and you’re not going to change any hearts or minds by posting how you feel to your business’s Facebook account.
There are other ways you can contribute to the resistance. Donate proceeds to the ACLU. Go to marches. Call your Congresspeople.
I’ve long felt like John Mackey, co-founder of Whole Foods and noted Libertarian, is laughing his way to the bank as he takes all that income from liberals and donates it to Republicans and Libertarians. This could be your form of protest.
Does this answer change if I don’t want to work with people who think the wall, deportations, etc are a good idea?
To me, the best part of running a business is that you get to choose who you want to work with. Never believe people who tell you otherwise.
The key to working with clients who are in alignment with your values is to be vocal about those values.
This is the push-pull of communications. The way you choose your customers is by deliberately using language, examples and content that turns off the people you don’t want to serve and attracts those you do.
It’s actually why I decided to share. If a Trump supporter reads this and decides I’m not right for them, I’m 100% okay with that. I get to choose who I help through the art of PR, and I choose to help people whose values and mission are aligned with mine.
If you’re not in a position where you can be turning work away, then what I’d encourage you to do is start a slow transition through the rest of your messaging. What can you do to signal to your audience a little bit more about your values?
I feel weird about posting product or happy images to social media right now. Should I stop?
When I woke up on Saturday, I saw a few launches announced on Instagram. And you know what, this didn’t bother me at all.
Some had been vocal about their beliefs, so I knew where they stood. Others had never posted anything, and I didn’t fault them for continuing to run their businesses.
But that’s just me.
This is another area where you should think of your customer. How does she feel?
If you’re not sure, it can be useful to delay, instead of cancel, your scheduled content.
Was a shocking announcement just made that will affect thousands of people? Maybe wait a day or two to post about your product in development.
Is your audience in mourning on social media? Can you post something that feels appropriate to that tone, even if you don’t feel the same way?
One last thing as you think through these questions. It’s important to remember that your audience is looking to your company for ideas and insight, and if you delve too deeply into politics you could distract from that mission.
What do you want to be known for? What role, if any, does responding to the Trump administration or world events play in that?
I know you might have questions about applying these tips to your own business, or very specific concerns I didn’t address here.
I’ve been thinking about how I could help with that.
I’ve opened up a series of 6 mini-sessions on my schedule this Wednesday for people who want to talk through if and how your business should respond to the Trump administration.
I know this offer isn’t relevant to everyone, but I wanted to make myself available for people in that murky middle ground.
Each session is 30-minutes long and costs $150. Not only will I donate 100% of the proceeds from these sessions to the ACLU, I will personally match them 1:1.
To make that clear, when you schedule a 30-minute session, I will donate your payment of $150 to the ACLU and match it with my own donation of $150.
Please note that these sessions are limited to questions and conversations around communicating in the midst of the political turmoil in the U.S. and are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
If this is something that would be helpful for you, click here to sign up. You will first be able to reserve 30 minutes on my schedule this Wednesday (February 1) and then you will be directed to make the payment.
And if you have a question you’d like me to address in a future blog post, please hit me up on Twitter.
When I counsel an entrepreneur or wellness professional to go after their own PR, I encounter a lot of resistance.
A lot of people would rather save up to have me do their PR (and wait) then get started with their own program.
This is a real shame, because it often makes more sense to keep PR in-house than to outsource it, and you can also grow faster if you’re making media part of your promo plan from the start.
There is absolutely no reason to hold yourself back or to wait until you’re already well-known to get PR.
So that’s why I’m beyond thrilled to share DaKari (Doc) Williams’ story with you.
Doc first approached me last year to let me know my CreativeLive class completely changed his business (his words, not mine). He went on to tell me a remarkable story of how he turned his business around using PR as a catalyst that created one success after another.
Today, Doc is a paid contributor to ESPN.com, writes for Breaking Muscle and has leveraged his heightened name recognition into a branding agency for athletes.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg — click here to get the full story.
I’m not gonna lie. I teared up a little when Doc first shared his story. In no way am I trying to take credit for his success — it was all his work, his effort — but it feels amazing to know my teaching gave him tools he could use to such effect.
I’m sharing this with you today, because I want you to know:
If you’ve put off PR for “some day”…
If you’re feeling stuck…
If you don’t feel like the status quo is working…