Building buzz used to be all about knowing the right people: rubbing elbows with industry publication authors, friending local celebs on Myspace (you made it on their top 8!) or simply hiring a great PR agency. Boy, have times changed.
Relationships – the “who” element of PR – are certainly still important, but just as crucial is the “what”. Nowadays, great narratives and concepts can spread like wildfire on mediums such as Twitter and Reddit. PR or earned media requests can even be inbound, but due to all of the noise I have previously discussed, the story has to be juicier and more organic than ever to get Fast Company to call for a quote.
And there’s no juicier business narrative than a real-life story about a great experience as a result of incredible company culture.
Employee Experience: More than Ping Pong
At SmallBox, we stumbled onto a great secret: Creating an incredible employee experience attracts a lot of attention. We started doing things that seemed a little crazy like building a website in 24 hours to donate to a nonprofit and giving away $1,000 grants to people with cool ideas. We didn’t set out to do this to “get PR” and we weren’t even thinking “This will help attract talent,” but that’s exactly what happened.
Consider a recent finding by Gallup: only 30 percent of employees are engaged at work. You don’t have to be very good at math to understand it doesn’t take a lot to stand out as a great place to work.
But you can’t just dive straight into mining your culture for PR opportunities. First, you have to get serious about investing in employee experience. This starts with the team. Now, before you go buy a ping pong table and kegerator, put yourself in the team’s shoes for a minute. These questions can lead you to build valuable, worthwhile cultural events:
- Are you creating a team experience that allows for creativity and productivity?
- What methods or types of work does the team find most inspiring?
- Does the organization have any internal cultural habits or events that are unique?
- Have you ever conducted an employee survey to assess engagement and brand advocacy?
- What does your team care about? Are there causes or nonprofits you can align with?
- What are your hidden talents and assets? Are there ways to engage your team more fully through side projects?
Answering these questions may help you find the diamonds in the rough that are noteworthy.
What comes next after building incredible cultural activities? If you want to get media attention for your efforts, you have to be open. Today, buzz is about more than just a carefully worded press release to media outlets. If you haven’t operated with cultural transparency, it can be scary at first. In some ways, you’re baring your organizational soul to the world. Take our team’s bi-annual “Factory Week” for example.
Twice each year SmallBox takes an entire week off of client work to focus on our own marketing and branding efforts. The concept was born after we struggled for months to fit internal projects amongst client work without a quarantined approach. We decided to share what we worked on with the world – live blogging and tweeting our way through the projects – failures and all. This openness has led to both local and national PR from Verge, Fast Company and Entrepreneur Magazine.
The ideal outcome of an intentional, employee experience-driven culture is when the buzz happens without any prompting. This is what we call “culture-powered marketing.” Just being authentic and open develops the organization in a way that feels like it markets itself.
Remember when I said the relationships are still important? This is where they come into play. You can up the ante by engaging the right people. The best ambassadors are often employees and peers who experience the brand in a more frequent and intimate way. Team members will shout from the mountain tops when they are happy and engaged. When friends ask them how things are going at work, they create an authentic moment of buzz that is more emotional than a canned message from the top down will ever convey.
Peers in complementary organizations are another great audience that will create buzz by sharing your content and recommending your organization. Keep peers engaged by reciprocating the favor and championing their brands. Oftentimes, buzz can even come as a result of peers emulating your cultural activity, which you see in the tech world when companies like Google institute new policies.
PR is alive and well in today’s digital marketing world, even if it looks a bit different than it traditionally has. Relationships are still – and likely always will be – paramount, but simply knowing the right people is no longer enough to stand out. Encouraging employees to discover what’s most important to them in a professional context and then empowering them to act on those passions is the new, important first step. Once you’ve built a buzz-worthy culture, then leverage those relationships and employee advocacy to snowball your efforts into real, tangible PR results.