Mar 22, 2017 / by Camille Sheehan

How communicators can bring effective change to today’s media landscape

Sometimes, you just need to shake things up, start from scratch, or blaze a new trail when you’re not getting the results you want. Today’s communicators are finding themselves stuck in ruts of all kinds when it comes to communicating the right message to the right audience. With rapidly evolving technology and new mediums of communication, we’re getting to a place where an insane amount of time is being spent on the packaging and overall delivery of what we’re saying, but the actual message is getting lost in translation. Have you ever had those moments after sitting through a commercial on TV or online and thinking to yourself, “What did I just watch?” or “What was that even about?”


A common theme from the marketing and branding sessions at this year’s SXSW 2017 conference was very clear: Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Here are three ways today’s communicators can disrupt their approach to connecting with their audiences and making their messages heard loud and clear:

1. Disrupt the native advertising/sponsored content arena by shifting the focus away from your brand and more towards what benefits your audience.


The panel discussion “Native’s Leading Ladies: Making Kickass Content” featured The Washington Post’s head of WP BrandStudio Annie Granatstein, Visa’s head of content Stephanie Losee and Cheddar’s VP of creative development and partnerships Melissa Rosenthal. In this session, the topic of how to create compelling content was discussed, as well as the evolution of branded content.

These ladies all agreed: the question isn’t whether or not it’s good content, but if it’s in context. The key to this is knowing your audience, according to Annie Granatstein.


Another question brands should be asking themselves: “How can we integrate the brand into the story without it taking away from the story?”

Brands can create content that better resonates with their audience, and in turn helps outlets, by having a thorough understanding of what they want their audience to take away from the content: what emotion do they want their audience to feel and what action do they want their audience to take?

2. Disrupt the connection with your audience: Speak to resonate with all, not just a few.


In the session titled, “Being Human: How Personal Stories Change the World,” the importance of storytelling in the ability to connect with audiences was discussed. Panelled by former member of the Obama Administration’s senior speech writing team, David Litt, The Ford Foundation’s Alfred Ironside and The Atlantic’s Jean Ellen Cowgill, the three power storytellers shared their experiences on how to break down barriers to connecting with your audience on a personal level.

The less narrowed your language is, the more people can identify with your message. When you pinpoint a specific group or groups in your messaging, you leave others feeling disconnected from your message because they can’t relate. If your hope is to reach a large audience, then get rid of the labels or groups. This increases the amount of listeners that will be able to identify on a personal level with the story you’re telling.

3. Disrupt by making your brand’s voice heard on a particular advocacy, policy or political issue.


Heather Whaling, the President of Geben Communication, an Ohio and Chicago based PR firm, joined Duff Stewart, CEO of GSD&M, a national ad agency to share their thoughts on brands taking stances in this current political climate with the host of the “On Brand with Nick Westergaard” podcast show.

It’s very common for brands to remain neutral and avoid making politically charged statements or stances on issues, but recently, we’ve seen a rise in brands stepping forward or speaking up on issues that they feel are important to their audiences. The 2017 Super Bowl featured several multinational brands airing ads that had either subtle or overt political messages in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

But in a time where it can sometimes seem easier to offend someone than it is to breathe, is sticking your brand’s neck out there worth it? Whaling thinks so:

“Brands can do a lot better by creating contextually aware content than just safe, sanitized stuff everyone is posting.” – Heather Whaling, President, Geben Communication

Whaling also added that in a time when everyone is offended by something, detractors from your message are bound to occur. Focusing on the long term goal of your public stance on an issue or policy will help you stay encouraged and assured in the fact that those detracting from your message or your brand are likely not your target audience to begin with.

Listen to the full podcast episode featuring Heather Whaling and Duff Stewart here.


So, there you have it folks: Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Focus your efforts on helping your customer first, and yourself second. Speak in a way that connects with everyone, not just a portion. Stay true to your brand’s beliefs, and your audience will remain committed followers. Following these three approaches can help your brand to establish a more authentic and sincere voice that will stand out in the sea of today’s hollow words and half-truths that are increasingly being tuned out or turned off across all forms of media.

Are you still struggling with crafting better comms? The Cision Communications™ Cloud can help you identify the right influencers, craft campaigns and attribute value – all from one platform. Learn more.

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About Camille Sheehan

Camille Sheehan is a PR associate for Cision, where she has worked since 2014. While attending the University of Maryland, she worked as a public affairs intern at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington, D.C. With a background in communication and public relations, she loves keeping up to date with the latest trends and breaking global news. In her free time, you can find Camille listening to country music, eating tacos, sampling Irish whiskeys or snapping photos outdoors on her DSLR. Find her on Twitter @CSheehanPR.