Behind the Headlines With Katja Schroeder
Storytelling has changed. Your audience is accessing your brand story in new and different ways, and if you aren’t reaching them in the right way, they aren’t going to listen to you. But what is the right way?
Katja Schroeder, managing director at Bloom, Ruder Finn Group’s new incubator agency and adjunct professor at St. Francis College, says transmedia storytelling is the path brands need to take.
In this interview, Katja discusses moving toward a channel-led communication approach, choosing the right channels to engage your audience and adapting brand communication based on audience and market.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing brands today? How can they overcome it?
It’s all about brand charisma. Brands can get lost in a fragmented media space. With shorter attention spans and evolving social platforms, enthralling audiences with their story across platforms and channels can be daunting.
It requires rethinking the way we tell stories and aligning the story plot with the way audiences access information on multiple screens and making the story relatable. This means personalizing the way audiences can get your story.
We are moving away from the age where there was one linear master story plot and storyteller. We are entering the age of multi-storytellers and multi-linear story plots that personalize the brand experience for specific audience segments.
Can you explain what transmedia storytelling is? Why is it important?
Transmedia storytelling helps companies build brand charisma across relevant digital and social platforms. This includes established platforms (from Facebook, WeChat and Snapchat), next frontiers, such as virtual reality and smart devices (Amazon Echo, Apple Watch and Jawbone), as well as future connection points.
It is the next iteration of integrated marketing communications that links communications more closely to marketing, sales and customer service.
A transmedia strategy starts with the business problem and analyzes the use of channels by key audiences in order to develop the best engagement strategy and content across connection points. It is a channel-led approach, as opposed to a content-led approach that socializes already created content across all channels in a slightly edited/modified form.
With so many new technologies and platforms, how should brands choose which ones to include in their communication strategy?
The selection should be guided by your audience and their preferred channel for engagement. The tricky part is that audiences change channel loyalty quickly. The current social media “It” channel is Snapchat.
I always conduct surveys on social media use in my marketing classes. Three years ago, two out of 25 students had a Snapchat account, but most were on Instagram. This year 25 out of 25 students have Snapchat, overtaking Instagram as the most used platform among my students.
Market surveys show the same Snapchat adoption rate and maturation. Next year, it might be a different network.
To keep up, companies often add a new network immediately to their repertoire of owned social media channels and just continuously extend the number of all their engagement channels as a safe route. But that is also the most expensive route, and not an option for everyone.
It might also not always be the wisest choice in terms of getting good engagement levels. If you stretch your resources to cover as many networks as possible, you might end up with a broad range of channels with mediocre content and low engagement levels.
Focus your attention on channels that engrain themselves into the daily routine of your audiences. Don’t be afraid to move on when one of your channels becomes dormant. Keep your eyes open for new ways to integrate marketing, sales and customer service processes, such as Facebook’s move to offer FB messenger for customer service. Or, WeChat, which lets customers make and send payments.
You’ve worked in public relations in a variety of countries, including China, Germany and France. Is there a difference in how you approach communication across countries or across cultures?
While the fundamentals are the same, each country has their own unique way of approaching communications due to different media landscapes, the economic and social environments, and – important for the transmedia approach – the different levels of digitization and types of digital channels.
My friends in Asia are on WeChat; my friends in Europe are on WhatsApp. And, time to market is different. Especially in Asia, which is a very fast-moving market.
Highly innovative communications programs and storytelling approaches are coming out of Asia and Europe. This means that the traditional hub and spokes model where companies adapted and localized programs from US headquarters and then rolled them out to local markets is antiquated.
In today’s connected society, we are benefiting from a reversed innovation process in marketing communications where innovation can happen anywhere in the world, and it is up to you to recognize and capitalize on its potential.
It’s no secret digital has changed the way we communicate. What are some of the benefits of digital communication? Is there a downside?
The upside is that communications has truly become more interactive and you can connect to audiences more directly than before. We also see marketing, sales and customer services coming more closely together through digital. Last but not least, marketing communications has become more measurable.
I call the major downside “feeding the beast.” It’s not a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. conversation; it is a 24-hour conversation that can have twists and turns. Your job is to keep the engagement across channels with conversations that are relevant to your business and the audience.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned about PR throughout your career?
You have to evolve with the business. Never, ever stop learning. Never think you know it all – you don’t – and it all changes too quickly. Always think about how the PR business will look in the future. Travel, it helps you see things with different eyes. Get mentors that are older than you, and get mentors that are younger than you.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in PR?
Do as many internships as you can during college across different industries and types of organizations (at agencies and in-house). PR has many different facets. You might feel miserable in consumer marketing, but thrive in corporate affairs or investor relations.
When entering the job market, look at the growth areas: digital, social, analytics. Having skills in these areas will help you land your first job.
While the need to tell a good story will never change, the way we tell stories and at which points we engage with audiences changes constantly. That also makes it exciting.
Rapid Fire Round
1. I always thought I’d be…a fiction writer, but life has so many great stories to tell.
2. The thing that gets me up in the morning is…what’s in the news.
3. My hobbies outside of work include…exploring new neighborhoods/restaurants, travel and rollerblading.
4. My guiltiest pleasure is…reading crime novels into the wee hours of the night.
5. If I was stuck on a desert island, I’d…learn how to garden and build make-shift solar panels.
6. I laugh most at…listening to my daughter’s conversations with Siri.
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