We all rang the New Year in and then … well, the entire world changed. A global pandemic has meant everything—from how we eat to how we shop to how we work—has required adjustment, including how we market our brands and businesses. We chatted with Vancouver PR pro Rachel Thexton (she’s got nearly two decades of industry experience under her stylish belt) about brand marketing in 2020. —Noa Nichol
Hi Rachel! Please tell us a bit about yourself and Thexton PR to start.
I am passionate about communications. I love helping clients to tell their stories as I think everyone has a unique voice and experience. After studying journalism and communications at Indiana University, I started my PR career 16 years ago with a Toronto-based agency. I soon moved to Vancouver and the majority of my career has been focused on reaching B.C. audiences and understanding local needs while servicing a range of clients from local companies to international brands. I currently work primarily in corporate and real estate-related communications, while helping clients to tell their story, showcase their work and engage with communities. Thexton PR is “lean and mean,” and I personally lead the work on all client accounts.
Why is brand marketing/exposure so important, always? What are some of the best ways to go about getting it?
The media and online space is cluttered with ideas and options for consumers and its vital for your brand/product to not only be seen but to stand out. People have options and they want a brand they can trust and a product they will love. Strategic PR can help you showcase who you are as a company and also share why your product or service is unique and amazing. There is a place for all kinds of marketing tactics but I still believe that earned media and social media endorsements and profile are the strongest forms of marketing as a reputable third party is the source and this kind of communication allows for a conversation to take place, transforming an audience who hears your messaging to a community where you can hear your consumer’s feedback and opinions.
This year, 2020, has yielded many unprecedented challenges for businesses and brands. What has changed in terms of strategies for gaining brand exposure?
Hosting large media events or even small in-person experiences with multiple media or influencer guests now needs to be re-imagined in order to respect safety around the pandemic. Instead of bringing people in to see and experience your brand, you now may have to find a creative way to safely bring the experience directly to them. This may be done using online technology and a virtual experience or having something sent to the reporter so that they can still have a sensory experience with your brand.
What are your top five tips, in the midst of this global pandemic, for gaining brand exposure?
- Evaluate your brand and product/service and evaluate whether there is a post-pandemic relevance to what you are offering. For example, is your real estate development company now designing homes with much larger flex/office spaces to accommodate home buyers who will now be working from home? Find the timely angle and lead with that.
- Build a strong online visual experience. Media and consumers are now less likely to come see you and your product live so your online experience matters more than ever.
- Be realistic about the state of media. The media industry was suffering before the pandemic and now ad revenue has fallen further. Media outlets are working to create great content but they are often short-staffed and under-funded. Support local media and also evaluate where you really have news content and where a sponsored advertorial may be more appropriate. There is certainly room for both in a marketing campaign.
- Have a crisis communications plan in place. COVID-19 has taught us to expect the unexpected and no matter what kind of business you have or what steps you take to do things right, sometimes you need to be a part of an uncomfortable dialogue. The key is transparency and planning for challenging topics. Be a leader when it comes to positive dialogue instead of being caught without a plan.
- Remember to bring the joy! There is fear and lots of negativity around the pandemic, politics and social issues. People are also looking for positive, fun and creative ideas and experiences. How can you participate in positivity? For example, as a makeup brand, maybe you can start showcasing amateur makeup artists through an initiative that helps to support the local arts community.
If you were only able to do one thing to build awareness around your brand during COVID-19, what would it be?
I think it’s important now for companies to acknowledge that if not COVID-19, maybe it’s the next pandemic or health concern. We need to develop interactive PR initiatives that focus on virtual experiences, a personalized approach and the lifestyle changes that social distancing creates. Having a strong social media and digital PR plan is a must and it needs to be creative, unique and thoughtful. Ask your consumers and communities what they need and what they think—that is after all the backbone or the word PR—relating to your public.