Behind the Headlines With Kathy Walsh
Not every platform or tactic will be right for your brand. Don’t waste time and effort on something that won’t help you. Instead, you must determine where you will get the most results and focus on that instead. But how?
Kathy Walsh, director of marketing at Fallston Group, recommends thinking about your goals and letting them guide your strategy.
In this interview, Kathy discusses the importance of knowing what is being said about your brand, how to properly prepare for potential crises and why basic marketing principles are still relevant today.
What are you most excited about in your new role as director of marketing at Fallston Group?
I am thrilled to be joining such a dynamic and knowledgeable team of professionals who are driven to over-deliver and exceed client expectations on a daily basis. While there is a great culture of collaboration for current projects, we are also very forward-focused and growth-oriented.
I’m coming on board at a pivotal time in the firm’s evolution and look forward to playing a role in setting its course for the future. Our talented leadership team—among the best with whom I’ve ever worked–also positions us well to serve clients, both proactively and reactively, in building, strengthening and defending their reputations.
What are the biggest marketing mistakes brands make?
There are two very common mistakes I see on an almost daily basis. First, brands may not be doing everything they can to monitor what is being said about them. As we often say at Fallston Group, if you don’t tell your story, someone else will and it won’t be the story you want told.
Knowing what is being said is the first step, and that can be as simple as setting up Google alerts, social media notifications—and yes, daily forwards from Cision!–to flag you if your brand is mentioned.
Second, companies are often inconsistent with their marketing efforts. Short-term, intermittent marketing is almost never effective; the best return is only achievable through regular, ongoing, strategic marketing communications and media efforts. That’s why Fallston Group is relational rather than transactional with clients, because that is where we are confident we can see measurable results.
How does client research inform marketing strategy? How important is client research?
The importance of research in developing marketing strategy cannot be overstated. Frequently a potential client will approach us looking for assistance with a specific marketing tactic, and my first question is always “Are you sure that’s what you need?”
All too often we are convinced we need a website, or in this day and age, a social media strategy that will go “viral” – but this approach is often doomed from the start. Instead of thinking you know what you need, gather all the information to make an informed decision about which marketing tactics will really deliver the most bang for your buck.
The very first step should be establishing a clear and measurable goal. Having a social media initiative go viral is not a good goal – what is the intended net result? If it’s to drive new donations by getting new people exposed to your brand in a creative way as the ALS foundation did incredibly well with its Ice Bucket Challenge, then yes, that was a great tactic.
But each company has different goals, audiences, competitors and resources, and identifying those early on allows us to plan the best ways to achieve their specific objectives in their industry.
What are some of the key components of a successful crisis management strategy?
In today’s digital world, accountability has never been higher – anyone with a recording device and internet connection can wreak havoc on your brand. So the first step is planning for the inevitable: crisis can and will strike.
Do you have the right policies and plans in place to turn adversity into advantage? If so, have you trained against the plan and is your team ready to flawlessly execute during a critical time of need? Are your primary and secondary spokespeople “60 Minutes” ready?
The decisions you make today will be judged by many for years to come. That’s why we first conduct a crisis audit, in which we work to identify all of the issues within your organization (and within the industry) that can cost you time, money, customers and, ultimately, your career.
Once a comprehensive, prioritized audit is completed, we break down each point of exposure into its own manageable plan in the event the crisis occurs. The ultimate goal is to create “organizational muscle memory” with the macro goal of turning short-term adversity into long-term advantage. Bottom line, it all starts with proper planning; there is truth to the old saying that “failing to plan is planning to fail!”
What are some of the differences in building a marketing strategy for a large company versus a small startup or nonprofit?
Actually, there is no difference in how we build the strategy, only in the tactics and in the way we roll out those tactics to support that strategy. Our proven process is always the same. We start by delving in and undertaking a thorough discovery process to learn everything we can about the client, their industry, their target markets, etc.
We then conduct extensive research to ensure we are targeting the markets that offer the highest potential short-term and longer term, and then recommend specific tactics to reach the key decision makers in those market segments.
The tactics themselves vary based on whether we are working for a large company versus a small company or nonprofit, and so does the timeline; smaller businesses may not have the budget or human resources to implement multiple tactics simultaneously, which just means we have to be more strategic about prioritizing and scheduling them.
You have more than 25 years of experience in the marketing industry. How has the industry changed over the years? What are marketing professionals doing differently today?
Marketing is vastly different from when I started. At the risk of really dating myself, when I first started in the workforce in 1990, our marketing department only had a few shared computers, we were not yet using email regularly, we were still creating “mechanicals” for printed materials as opposed to using desktop publishing, and companies were just starting to create websites!
So obviously, advances in technology have opened up new and different ways to reach potential customers for our clients and to create marketing materials for them. Yet despite the advent of these additional communication channels and the changes in how people consume media, many of the basic marketing principles hold just as true as ever.
I still follow the “four P’s” model of looking at product, price, packaging and promotion; it’s just that the vehicles to promote your services have expanded. It can certainly be challenging to keep up, but at the same time it’s exciting to constantly discover and embrace new ways of telling our clients’ stories.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in marketing?
There are so many career paths under the broad umbrella of marketing. I would suggest spending some time on the front end to evaluate all your options. Ideally, completing an internship with a company that can introduce you to numerous facets of marketing would be a great introduction.
If not, consider multiple internships with different types of marketers: a PR firm, an advertising agency, an internal corporate marketing team. Even taking different classes might give you an idea of what interests you most or best complements your skill set.
From there, I think my single biggest piece of advice would be to ask questions and read everything you can get your hands on. From subscribing to emails from trade groups like PRSA or AMA and reading their articles and case studies to talking to people in the industry, this will help young professionals learn about best practices and trends.
And, of course, networking in these associations (which typically offer discounted student memberships) is a great way to make contacts who could one day become potential employers – or clients!
Rapid Fire Round
I always thought I’d be…an attorney like my father.
My biggest pet peeve is…meetings that veer off course.
If I won the lottery, I’d…buy a house in the Outer Banks.
The thing that gets me up in the morning is…loving what I do and the people who enable me to do it.
My hobbies outside of work include…running, yoga, reading, being a dance/soccer/lacrosse mom and following Baltimore sports.
My hidden talent is…bringing people together who might not otherwise connect.
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