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#InnovateNow With Sandra Fathi: The Merits of ‘Controlled’ Failure

The proliferation of owned media. The democratization of voice through social. Media’s evolving landscape. New ways to accurately measure and track PR’s value.

The PR and social media landscapes have changed so much in such a short period of time. While some may see that as daunting, many have relished the new opportunities it presents and innovated methods for connecting with target audiences.

Sandra Fathi - InnovateNow - Public RelationsTo celebrate the launch of two innovative products Cision Social Edition and Cision PR Edition, we have scheduled a series of Q&As featuring some of the finest innovators in our field. Up next is Sandra Fathi.

An ardent entrepreneur, Sandra has spent the last 20 years helping technology, healthcare and professional services companies achieve their communications goals. As President and Founder of Affect, a public relations, marketing and social media agency, Sandra has successfully led the company with consistent growth since the agency’s inception in 2002.

Without further ado, here are Sandra’s answers to how public relations has changed and how she has innovated in this space:

How has PR changed over the last five years?

In the last five years, the biggest changes in public relations have been social media and the rise of sponsored content or branded journalism.

Although social media really began to percolate around 2007-2008, it was more of a novelty in the early days. Companies treated social like a shiny new toy and used it to show their audience that they were hip, innovative and keeping up with new technologies.

However, in the last five years, organizations really began to understand the need to harness the power of social media as a business driver. They realized that social media could play a critical role in helping them achieve business objectives, managing reputations, strengthening customer relationships and diverting crises. It also became a core function of public relations.

At the same time, newsrooms have been shrinking at a frenetic pace and number of subscribers has been replaced by views, clicks or shares as the driving factor in determining the importance of publications. However, journalists are few and far between.

Publications are letting brands and corporate executives tell their own stories through sponsored content or bylined articles and as long as it drives readership, both parties seem to be satisfied. Although this has helped the PR professional in some ways, by allowing us to bypass the media gatekeeper and publishing our client’s story in his/her own words, we are also losing something at the same time.

In the past, there were many journalists that were so well-respected, they could make a client a household name with the stroke of a few keys. Now that power has been diminished or taken away all together.

What are the biggest trends in the industry today? How do they help you innovate?

The concept of content marketing is probably one of the biggest trends right now that is influencing the industry. Essentially, our clients are trying to capture the attention of their target audiences. Creating compelling content that is easy to digest, that is shareable, has multiple formats and has a long shelf life is key to extracting the most ROI. We are constantly working on identifying the intersection of the clients’ interests and the customers’ interests to help clients communicate their message effectively and stand out in a very noisy, information-overloaded environment. That requires more than just education and information.

We are using data intelligence, entertainment, humor and science – whatever it takes to be unique, from the content to the format to the delivery mechanism, to capture the customer’s attention.

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Can you tell us about the most innovative PR project you’ve worked on?

One of the most interesting projects we worked on recently was actually for our own agency. We started a video series called 90 Seconds to PR Success that we produced in-house that includes simple videos on everything from Crafting the Perfect Elevator Pitch to How to Improve and Enhance Your Online Reputation.

We used a standard DSLR camera to shoot the videos and edited them on iMovie – literally for pennies. Yet, this program has taken off and has gotten us more positive feedback than any other PR initiative for our agency than I can remember.

It’s such a simple concept.

Who doesn’t have 90-seconds to learn something new? And, you sit back and watch. It’s the easiest format to learn. We hear from clients, prospects and even prospective employees that they love the videos. It also allows them to ‘meet’ our team before walking into our agency.

In addition, we are able to respond quickly to breaking news or address a new platform or outlet. We’ve even been asked by publications to use them as content and they’ve been published on various websites.

What are some lessons or best practices PR pros can take away from your most innovative campaign?

I do think we need to be more willing to ‘fail’ in PR. That’s how we succeed – when we are willing to try new things. Affect works primarily in technology public relations and we are often working with tech entrepreneurs and the concept of experimentation is so important. So many executives talk about learning more from their failures than their successes.

In PR, we may want to have more ‘controlled’ failures so that we aren’t crashing and burning in front of a huge crowd, but we can take small risks to see if we can learn new methods or apply new techniques to working with our clients.

Five years ago, we wanted to learn more about managing social media contests so we invented our own called the NY Intern Project. The prize was a summer internship at our agency.

The project was more about teaching our team how to run a successful contest and use the contest platform than it was about finding an intern. However, the program was so successful that we ran it the following year. In the third year, we upgraded the contest to the NY Job Project, raising the stakes even further.

Due to the success of the campaign, we were asked to speak at a number of industry events. We went on to receive awards and write bylines about social media contests. We were asked by a number of prestigious organizations from Regus to Con Edison to manage their contests.

It was a risk that paid off in spades for us.

Want to see our other innovators? Click here!

About Brian Conlin

Brian Conlin is a content marketing manager for Cision. A former journalist, he enjoys researching and developing accessible content. When not writing, you will find him watching baseball and college basketball, sampling craft beer and enjoying Baltimore. Find him on Twitter @BrianConlin13.

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