Behind the Headlines With Brandon Puttbrese

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Bandon PuttbreseBefore you create any brand communication, you must ask yourself: Will my audience care?

Brandon Puttbrese, account supervisor at GS&F, says in order for your communication to be effective, you need to understand what motivates your audience.

In this interview, Brandon shares why brands shouldn’t focus too much on competitors, how to streamline your pitches to journalists and how social media can help your brand in a crisis.

What drew you to the field of public relations?

A public relations 101 course in college really attracted me to the field of study. I was captivated by the idea of people getting paid to tell a company’s story.

I was studying acting at the time. I thought to myself: “Everything we do is storytelling!” Albeit different medium, it is amazing how much a theater skill set can inform a public relations career.

Realizing my best acting role (Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors”) was behind me, I decided to study communications more broadly for the years ahead. I joined the journalism classes writing news articles for the college news website and began studying public relations for my degree.

How do you help brands create communication that inspires action?

Start simple by asking: Who cares? Working at newspapers for a few years taught me to always consider the audience when you’re writing. For a daily beat reporter, our stories had to have a local tie. Knowing what motivates your target audience is key to developing a message that resonates.

That’s even more important when communicating for our clients because there is so much competition. To cut through the noise, make it meaningful. A good message should hit the reader right on the nose. That only happens if you connect your brand to what motivates your audience.

What’s the biggest mistake a brand can make when trying to set itself apart from competitors?


It’s easy for organizations to obsess over what their competitors are doing instead of focusing on what they should be doing to grow—or protect—their market share. This behavior hands the narrative (and attention) to the competitor and traps even the best teams into a reactive position that can be difficult to correct.

Your brand has a story, and it is up to you to tell it. Communicators cannot ignore their competition, but we also cannot be knocked off our game plan because a competing business had a good week.

Make adjustments to your message plan (if need be), but don’t abandon it or lose sight of what connects your target audience to your service or product.

You’ve also worked as a reporter. What advice do you have for PR professionals who are trying to build rapport and strengthen relationships with reporters and editors?

A Twitter mindset is helpful in working with journalists. If you can pack your pitch into 140 characters, do it. Don’t waste their time. As attrition and cutbacks hollow out newsrooms everywhere, time is the greatest commodity for any reporter. Be respectful of that by sharing tailored, relevant story angles.  


What role does social media play in reputation and crisis management today?

Social media is the most direct way to share your brand story with interested people. It’s quite helpful in that platforms offer marketers instantaneous feedback on your message — 1,000 Likes! Wow. These insights can be used to inform messaging wherever it may live, i.e. speeches, press releases, advertisement, etc.

In maintaining and building brand reputation, social media also allows public relations professionals to empower their customer advocates with shareable information. Personal recommendations have always been the most reliable source of information for consumers. Social media influence on brand reputation cannot be understated in this regard.

For many companies, their social media presence also doubles as customer service. When products fail to meet expectations and those complaints go online, good companies are responding in real time, addressing concerns the best they can.

What advice do you have for public relations professionals facing a crisis? Where should they start?

I like to put my reporter hat back on for a client crisis. Start by finding the facts. What happened? When? Who was involved? How did this happen? Why?  Could it have been prevented? What actions are we taking to fix the problem? What are we doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

In a crisis, ethics has to be a top consideration. Be honest about what happened and what you’re doing to fix it. The public can forgive mistakes, but deliberate deception is another thing entirely. Executives who want to gloss over the facts or flirt with half-truths can quickly erode a company’s reputation and do immeasurable, long-term damage to even great brands.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?


Be curious to keep ahead of your clients.

As one of the more senior members of our PR team at GS&F, I guarantee I wasn’t your typical Snapchat early adopter. But I find enjoyment in testing new technologies and exploring new trends.

This natural curiosity is a big benefit in the PR world, where staying on top of change and trends is key. Knowing how it works and understanding its value to users is just as important.

It’s a fun exercise to then think of ways to connect your brands to emerging trends. Sometimes it’s a fit; many times not. But it’s a good, creative practice to stretch clients into spaces where they may be missing potential customers.

This curiosity can save you in a client meeting, too. Clients tend to ask random questions about trending topics, and it’s never fun to draw a blank when that happens.

Rapid Fire Round

1. My daily news source is…The New York Times Morning Briefing. 

2. If I won the lottery, I’d…start my own business—maybe a chain of Wisconsin-themed pubs.

3. My biggest pet peeve is…John Mayer; nonsensical, business jargon; and acronyms in press releases.

4. I laugh most at… “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Larry David is my spirit animal.

5. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…the “Slow Rise” alarm on my iPhone and two or three snoozes.

6. My hobbies outside of work include…golf, progressive causes and traveling.


Images via Pixabay: 1, 2, 3

About Maria Materise

Maria Materise is a content marketing specialist for Cision. Formerly a copywriter, she enjoys creating content that excites and inspires audiences. She is an avid reader, movie trivia geek, Harry Potter fanatic and makeup junkie..

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