Behind the Headlines With Crenshaw Communications’ Marijane Funess

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Marijane Funess, a director at Crenshaw Communications for the past six years, pioneers a communications company uniquely positioned at the intersection of design and technology. As new markets keep reaching out and needing PR representation, her team is ready to jump in. Is your company prepared to deal with the growing technological marketplace needing some communications help?

MarijaneFuness sat down with us to discuss how the PR industry is changing, how to stand out in the marketplace, and how to uniquely position campaigns to gain traction.

How did you get your start in PR? How have you gotten where you are today with Crenshaw Communications?

I started out in book PR in Los Angeles. It was a great beginning, since one week you were working with a non-fiction author about a political book and the next, a high profile novelist like Danielle Steele. Having to switch gears so often was a great prelude to broader agency work where we work on various clients from 3D printing to beer. I also had my own small PR firm early on and worked for large firms Ogilvy & Mather, Manning, Selvage & Lee and Burson-Marsteller. I’ve been at Crenshaw for five years and I really love that no two days are alike! We are continually challenged and it’s very satisfying to keep raising the bar.

At Crenshaw, you work with a variety of brands and businesses. What are some of the differences in building a communications strategy on a national level compared to a local level?

The size and diversity of your audience is going to dictate how you approach local vs. national PR strategy development. While keeping that in mind, in actuality, there are not that many differences. With the ability to engage with companies and brands, purchase products and services and consume all or nearly all media online constantly, your communications strategies need to allow for both “big tent” ideas and targeted approaches.

Especially in today’s fast paced world, the communication and PR industry is constantly evolving. How can brands keep up?

Smart brands constantly ask their audiences for input and feedback– via social media engagement (mandatory these days!) or (what we particularly like) regular, ongoing consumer and other surveys to produce usable, newsworthy data.

What advice do you have for brands looking to stand out in the marketplace?

Have a strong story to tell – both a founder story and a product or service “origin” story.  The creators of Wearsafe are both concerned fathers and one of them had a near-miss experience with his parents and a devastating fire. Even if your entry to the market isn’t the newest or doesn’t have the most bells and whistles, a compelling back story helps quite a bit.

Crenshaw Communications recently was named as the agency to represent Wearsafe labs. Can you tell us a bit about your plan for working with Wearsafe and what you will be bringing them?

For the launch of Wearsafe, timing was everything. We needed to reach college age women and their parents before the school year began. While working with Wearsafe we leveraged data gleaned from working with colleges, security experts and others to craft a position. That positioning – the must-have safety device for young women, particularly those living away from home for the first time – enabled us to craft a solid tactical plan. This included commissioning a consumer survey on campus safety which led to broadcast and other coverage. We also worked with a few different spokespeople to drive home our message to parents. On our team we have a security expert, a “gadget guru” and a prominent sports figure. Each of these experts have driven home our key messages on the importance of arming yourself in case of an emergency and how the Wearsafe model (peer-to-peer) is the preferred one for our target audience.

What are some of the biggest PR challenges these brands specializing in wearable products and safety technology face? How can they overcome them? What are the most important PR and marketing tools for this kind of product?

Simply: do they work? As each new entrant comes on the market, there is skepticism. These devices have to be as glitch-free as possible at the outset since any negative review, even on a tiny blog, can cause an upset.

To overcome these potential pitfalls, we advise companies not to rush, always troubleshoot and have product support available to answer questions or fix problems. We are also quick to replace any device that’s not working. Good, prompt customer service goes a long way to help smooth over a hiccup with a journalist.

With products like Wearsafe, it’s super important to have strong visual images – both a variety of high quality hi-res images (so not every journalist has the same one) to a selection of videos showing the device in various usage scenarios. Of course, all the images in the world will only get noticed if your pitches are strong. The best pitches leverage seasonal time periods that media always cover or jump on a hot news story to which your product has relevance.

What are the main components of a successful PR strategy? Are there specific components you find more important for companies focused on wearable safety products?

In general,  PR strategy is affected by overall business goals as well as an organization’s sales, marketing, social media and other practices. In the best case scenario, all groups are collaborating seamlessly and the PR strategy is born from solid marketing planning. PR can benefit from increased activity on those fronts and vice versa. In the opposite case, PR is force-fit onto an ad or marketing campaign that offers very little.

In the case of any company entering the wearable’s market, the PR strategy has to include  promoting the benefits of the wearable category and the specific product, as well as taking advantage of ongoing category growth. Another key is continuous leveraging of company announcements, new features and products and telling the company/product’s story through testimonials and other data.

How do you envision the future of PR and communication? What trends do you see growing?

We feel the nuts and bolts of the industry won’t change. For all the upheaval in traditional media and the conversion to digital everything, the fundamental formula for telling stories and gaining public awareness remains the same. Getting stories into the public eye will continue to consist of researching, understanding the elements of a good story or idea, and knowing out how to package and tell it — or have someone else tell it — appropriately. How those things are executed — the where and when and how of it all (more social, more paid, etc.) — will evolve, but the underlying ideas will be the same.

In the near future, I do see an increase in measurement, metrics, and quantifying value. In the age of data insights nothing will escape the reach of precise measurement tools. As marketing and advertising becomes more data-driven and trackable, PR professionals will also be expected to deliver the same kind of metrics and attribution. This is already happening more and more. In 10 years, I don’t think it will be unusual for PR to have its own data science experts to develop new tools and metrics for showcasing PR’s value.

Rapid Fire:

  1. If I could bring one fictional character to life, it would be…  Scarlett O’Hara, because I wish I could not give a damn like she did….!
  2. If I was stuck on a desert island without my family, I’d need…. NPR, the NY Times and the New Yorker.
  3. My favorite zoo animal is…. a lion – I’m a Leo!
  4. When I was young I wanted to be… a translator for the UN.
  5. If I was going to sing karaoke, I would sing…. anything Stevie Nicks.
  6. If I won the lottery I would…. do charitable things of course. But I’d also seriously travel!

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About Julia Rabin

Julia Rabin is a former Media Researcher for Cision. With a background in organizational communications, public speaking and international relations, she has a passion for social justice advocacy and loves keeping up to date with the latest global news. In her free time, you will find Julia traveling, playing with puppies, baking dairy free treats or reading.

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