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PR Expert Maha Abouelenein: Startup founders should leverage the power of storytelling

Maha Abouelenein is a PR expert and an accomplished senior-level communications executive and entrepreneur with more than 27 years of experience.

As the Head of Communications MENA at Google for three years, Maha developed the corporate communications, brand and reputation strategy for the Internet leader.

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                                          Maha Abouelenein

She is now the Managing Director of OC “Organizational Consultants”, where she advises and manages global companies and startups on marketing communications by adding value to deliver measurable results. In this role, Maha worked on Gary Vaynerchuk’s global outreach and strategy (Gary will be speaking at BRAND MINDS 2020) and launched big brands like Netflix, Udacity and Deezer in the Middle East.

Check out Maha’s YouTube channel, Digital and Savvy where she shares her knowledge about industry trends, how to set up PR for your business and how to make the most of communications in a rapidly evolving landscape.

I am always looking to connect with experts to ask them relevant questions to our audience. So when the opportunity of talking to Maha presented itself, I grabbed it with both hands.

Below you can find Maha’s expert insights on PR and social media, why startup founders should leverage the power of storytelling, three trends in PR that she believes will go big in 2020 and tips and tricks for startup founders looking to earn media attention.

1. In our day and age, customers are shifting their attention from traditional mediums like TV and print to digital and social media. How has this change affected PR?

There is no question the way we consume information has changed dramatically thanks to the internet and mobile technology.

Everyone wants to have information in real-time so companies and brands have to communicate in real-time. The impact on PR means that speed matters, but also what we say and how we say it needs to be more relevant.

There is a lot of noise out there – so the businesses and brands that lean into good storytelling and making meaningful authentic connections will win.

I am so energized where I see things going because it means that the news industry is taking centre stage. With the influx of influencers and content creators – it has levelled the playing field which is giving an enormous opportunity for the PR industry to really stand up and stand out!

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[bctt tweet=”PR expert Maha Abouelenein: Businesses and brands that lean into good storytelling and making meaningful authentic connections will win.” username=”brand_minds”]

2. How does storytelling support PR?

Storytelling supports brands communications efforts by sharing a more meaningful connection that evokes emotion. We connect with people we can relate to and stories allow us to make those connections.

People love a story – a beginning, a middle and an end. How are you delivering a powerful story to sell your brand? Don’t do it yourself, use the media to share your story with a wider audience. And better yet have a story or news that is shareable and ‘snackable’ that they can push on their social media channels.

Your aim is to create a story or content that is shareable. Something worth sharing with friends or family and something snackable – easy to digest and easy to understand. Think of what your news hook is – something unique, something new; also the timing is very important so that you are relevant.

The hook is the reason you are telling your story. Then comes the pitch – how are you going to sell it into them – how are you going to get them to listen to your story so they publish it and distribute it for you.

You need to convince them that is a story worth telling and that it will help them grab the attention of their readers. The stories that are pitched that get coverage are those that lean into a brand truth – taking a page from my Netflix playbook -the brand truth is to put the consumer in a situation that we all go through. That means finding something in common that consumers face and then how our story puts us in the centre of that situation.

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3. Name 3 trends in PR that you believe will go big in 2020.

Voice.

Voice is only going to continue to grow! From voice search engine optimization to voice-assisted applications and skills to podcasts. Lean into voice. Find out what your brand sounds like by developing a sonic brand or starting a podcast. Get vocal. This is a HUGE game-changer for businesses and brands.

Read more on voice: How voice is changing customer behaviour and the way you do marketing

Personalization.

Everyone needs to think about personalization at scale. What can you do to personalize your relationships with your customers?

Companies are now communicating with customers across multiple channels – website, social, direct mail, in-store – the challenge is how to create a meaningful experience and relationship so that it feels personal, not virtual.

The way to keep consumers loyal and “sticky” is to think about how you can use data to understand your consumer and then personalize that experience for them. Think Nike – they allow you to personalize your sneakers and personalize your preferences to really engage with the consumer in a way that is personal to them.

Digital Reputation.

Everyone will need to pay attention to their digital reputation.

With the rise of deep fakes and the virality of content – this will matter more now than ever. Protecting your reputation is the single most important mandate for your future. Start investing now in how you will do that.

Digital reputation is not just about companies, it also impacts leaders especially those with personal brands.

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4. What are your recommendations for entrepreneurs and startup founders to earn media attention in 2020?

I love this question!

First – you have to think about what is your message. The message is the most important element of earning media attention. Don’t think about what message is important to you – think about what is important to them.

Having the customer-first approach will really cause you to think about delivering a message that matters to them. Often we think about what we want to say, not what they want to hear. Craft a creation story that propels people.

Second – they need to really get to know the media that they are targeting. Start following the press, follow the social media accounts of the writers – learn about their beat and what stories they are writing about.

You can really learn a lot from listening and observing. When you know more about what they care about, it gives you more understanding when you come to pitch an idea to them about your business. Having that learning and context is crucial to know how to land a great story that gets media attention!

Third – try to speak at events. I like events because they are a triple whammy of power – first you get attention by speaking to a wide audience, second you will get social media coverage because everyone will be filming with their phones to prove they are there, and third the press always covers the events so this is a great opportunity to get all the media in one place to get some extra coverage.

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Top 10 Mistakes Marketers Make When Hiring Agencies

    1. Not choosing the right time to outsource. Timing is essential,just like every other business decision one makes. It has to be chosen carefully and with a lot of attention. When confronted with the idea of outsourcing a service or some competencies, the company’s representative must take in account first if its the right time to make that certain decision at that time,for the company, and, at the same time, what concluded to that decision.

      2. Spending too much time deciding if to make the move or not.  While it is very important to make sure the timing is right spending too much time going back and forth on the decision wouldn’t do you any good. You must be decisive and confident on your choices.

      3. Outsourcing the wrong activity / activities. If you hire someone outside of the office, you should give them the things they can do best. Always choose the best specialists or companies you can afford. Creating a company brand and marketing goals should be done inside your office, so make sure you discuss your culture code, style and requirements with the outsourced marketing partners before kicking off the project.

      4. Having unrealistic ROI expectations. When you entrust the marketing or communication activities of your company, you should set some realistic expectations. One of the biggest mistakes of many companies is that they think outsourcing all their problems will solve them at once and there will be no need for them to participate in marketing decisions, activities and so on. Do not forget that brand awareness, a firm customer base and long-term faithful relationship with customers take time. Results don’t appear over night,it takes a lot of effort both at an external,but also internal level to reach your goals.

      5. Forgetting that PR doesn’t sell per se. When looking for a PR partner outside your company make sure you first of all understand that PR doesn’t equal immediate sales. And no professional PR specialist will promise you that. That being said, a successful PR strategy will definitely affect your sales success indirectly through 3 factors: brand awareness & recall, credibility, as a secret marketing weapon.

      6. Not doing the right research before the pitch. One of the most important steps is doing your research about the agencies you are interested in. A simple Google /Linkedin / Facebook search will not help you in taking the best decision of which agencies to call on the pitch or for a presentation. Instead try looking at their portfolio, at the case studies, at the awards the won, the services they provide, etc. Talk to their current clients. Read their reviews and their blog. See if the media was interested in them or not. Does their language vibe with you? Do their clients remind you of your company? Do they have documented results similar to the ones you want?

      7. Asking more than 5 agencies in the pitch /presentation.  If you know what you want from your agency, and you should, you don’t need more than 5 agencies briefed. You save both their time and yours and you are closer to choosing the right partner for your business. A good research will help you make the right choices.

      8. Falling for shiny presentations. Make sure the very creative and crazy ideas presented to you, as beautiful and as interesting as they may sound or look like, are backed up by facts. The company or specialist you are hiring must be able to create and implement what presented to you. And most of all, bring results.

      9. Letting the price be the main criteria. Choosing the most expensive agency doesn’t guarantee you the best results, but basing your decision firstly on the amount of money you pay for the collaboration will prove to be a bad call. Cheap will be cheap no matter how you look around it.

      10. Not listening to your gut feeling. After years and years of experience, the instinct is very good and calibrated. We believe is very important to always have it with you and use it,when necessary.

      5 pieces of advice for entrepreneurs in 2018, the local PR agency point of view

      We recognize the importance of PR in your business and we believe you should as well. Therefore, after last week‘s pieces of advice received from Chapter 4 Romania, we now offer you the perspective of a local, driven and creative PR agency – Galeriu & Partners PR. A point of view wrote by Alina Galeriu, Managing Partner.

      It’s a special mindset the one of an entrepreneur. It’s a mindset of a dreamer and in the same time a mindset of a doer. It’s the mindset of an overachiever.

      There is no uncomplicated way when you start your own path and take full responsibility for your future and the future of your employees. There is no free time left, because your job becomes your life. Your thoughts will always revolve around your job and the worries will endlessly hunt you. There is no entrepreneur not facing these challenges daily.

      I know this first hand, since I am myself an entrepreneur struggling with all these demons, doubts and setbacks. However, I also know how thrilling it is to win a new client, to receive a thank you email for a job well done or to simply see things happening the way you imagined them and even better. It’s like you have a magical wand that makes dreams come true. There are days when such emotions flood me and make every struggle worth it. There are days like these when mountains seem to be easy to move and the sky seems reachable.

      So, I understand the way an entrepreneur thinks from an insider point of view. Also, as a communication consultant I come across various entrepreneurial businesses which I can see as an outsider, trying to grasp with an objective eye what needs to be done to improve their performance and help them gain more clients, which is ultimately their goal.

      Fine tuning – the art of finding balance between idealism and realism

      Talking about goals, the first advice I would give to an entrepreneur is about finding clarity in setting goals. From my experience with dealing with small business owners, the short-term objectives tend to win over the ones focused on long-term. Thus, they seem to be forgetting the bigger picture. Which is very dangerous on the long run for their business. When you think small, you act small.

      Of course, there is also the equally dangerous approach of taking risks for the sake of saying “I believe I can, so I will”. Positive thinking can help one boost their morale, but there should be some extent towards which one can keep on dreaming without a reality check.

      Either of these approaches would turn out to be inefficient, so my advice would be: start taking calculated risks. Of course, if you simply take small steps, the return will be also small and almost insignificant, so you can soon start feeling demotivated. Risk taking is something you should be considering as an entrepreneur. But, again: take the risk without losing your head! First years after launching a business translate into investing and getting little in return. But if you make the right investments (and by investing, I mean time, energy, money altogether) and have a helicopter view upon the market, the consumer and your product’s place among these exterior factors, you will win in time.

      There is a thin line between being either too shy in taking risks or being reckless about it. This fine adjustment in finding the balance between the two is the art of keeping you head clear, focused on the future, yet having your feet on the ground.

      How can this be translated into actual PR tactics?

      Time to give some real examples, PR related. But not before debunking one more myth: PR is not free. Yes, it means investing far less money than you would have to invest if turning to advertising, but it still is a promoting technique which means investing some money to get results.

      For example, you cannot expect to generate free media coverage endlessly without offering product samples to be tested by journalists and online influencers (bloggers, vloggers) or inviting them to test your facility if you are operating in a hospitality industry for example (a restaurant, a hotel, an entertainment facility). This, of course, translates into costs for your small business. But there is no better way to prove the effectiveness of your products or services than inviting key opinion leaders to test and convince themselves that you deserve to be praised. And there are several PR tactics.

      Also, you cannot expect that your priorities would be embraced by everyone around you. Of course, your product’s benefits seem the most vital discovery in the world in your view, yet journalists are facing so many similar remarkable / never seen before / innovative product news which they need to browse through… So, it is only natural that sometimes they miss out on some of the details. Or sometimes they genuinely think some other product is more important or relevant for their readers or for the focus and style of the publication they are working for. This should not be a reason to hold a grudge. It is what it is. Learn the lesson and move on. Being too pushy regarding a certain topic will only make journalists feel cornered and uncomfortable. So better than to push someone on the verge of becoming resentful.

      And finally, you should take into consideration giving back to others from time to time, through a small CSR campaign, or at least a donation for the less fortunate. Sometimes simply a know-how sharing effort can mean a lot for those in need, while for you would only mean sparing a few hours for visiting students at a university class or hosting internships for them in your company and guiding their firsts steps in the field you activate in.

      In many ways PR is simply a set of common sense rules. It’s about empathy, about balance and about being reasonable. As simple as that.

       

      Top 10 Tips for Branding Yourself

      source: Working Voices

      Living in the era of social media power, when the information is the key and in everybody’s reach, finding oneself’s niche and becoming known is getting a more and more difficult task to accomplish. Even at first glance it seems the reality is exactly the opposite, the rapidity in which one can get into the public’s eye, but at the same time fade away, makes it even harder than before to make it last and create a strategic and smart path for one’s good brand positioning.

      We’ve prepared some tips that we hope will help you on your road to success:

      1. Asses the market you are working on

      Knowing the past, the competition and the market you are activating on is key in order to create a good positioning for your brand.

      1. Look deep within yourself and find your best features

      According to Robert Half, branding yourself begins with self-reflection. Take stock of your strengths. What are your best attributes? What positive adjectives might a colleague use to describe you? Is there one particular talent or discipline in which you truly shine? What’s your personality? If you’re just beginning your career, choose a discipline or area of focus that truly interests you. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Hard-working, focused and reserved people get ahead just as often as social butterflies.

      1. Work on developing them even more

      Go to extra classes / courses, attend workshops and seminars that will help be become even better on your field of expertize and that will enhance your talents. Learning never ends, no matter the time in your career you are at.

      1. Of all of them find the differentiator, your USP (unique selling point), that makes you unique

      The USP is the big idea that brands are always searching for. A USP gives a brand a compelling and unique value proposition with its target audience. “Likewise, you want to represent something special that sets you apart from others and establishes a value equation about your abilities when you are pitching yourself for a job, a promotion or a free-lance assignment,” says Catherine Kaputa in Huffington Post.

      1. Define your brand and become an expert

      Take the time to do some soul searching and determine exactly who you are and what makes up your brand. Whether you’re looking to garner media attention, attract new clients or build your business, you should focus on becoming an expert in your field. Avoid establishing an expertise that’s irrelevant to your mission, goals, and vision. You’ll just be wasting your time.

      1. Be present in the market and make yourself known

      Make sure you are present at the most important events in your industry and start conversations with the right persons, the ones with whom the association with will help your brand and your career. Ask questions, mingle, try and show your expertize as much as you can.

      1. Generate brand awareness through networking and promotion

      You should be connecting with other professionals in the industry by using social networks and commenting on their blogs. Networking is one of the best ways to become known in the industry. By forming relationships with people in your audience, you can grow your business and your brand long-term.

      In time, once you have a known and appreciated voice try using the PR tools available to you and get your name out there.

      1. Be a constant presence on the social media channels that are representative for your work

      Depending on the industry you are activating on make sure you know what social media channel suits you the best. Not every industry fits you having a profile on Linkedin and Facebook at the same time, not every industry requires an Instagram or Snapchat account. Also, make sure that the content you are delivering is customized to that specific social media account.

      1. Always keep on expending your network, strategic partnerships and focus on the game plan

      The networks are meant to evolve, not stand by. So is the industry you are activating on. Moreover, you can never know what the future holds. The more people you know, the merrier. The more connected you are, the better. Make sure that at the same time you don’t lose the focus on your “final” game plan.

      1. Don’t look focus, get rid of your ego and accept criticism

      According to the AICPA specialists, the true measure of your brand is the reputation others hold of you in their hearts and minds. Notice how they introduce you to others. Ask them what your top brand attributes and core strengths are. If they can easily tell you, then you’ve succeeded in branding you.

      “These days, branding the company you work for isn’t enough. The world wants to hear what you have to say as a professional within a company. The work involved in uncovering your brand may seem daunting, but your efforts can benefit you immeasurably. Your unique brand message differentiates the best you have to offer, gives a good indication of what you’re like to work with, and shows how you make things happen,” says the American Institute of CPAs.

      When it comes to being the best the ego shouldn’t be standing in your way. Accept the criticism, as it will only make you better and help you achieve your goals.

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