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The Digital Revolution Is Here

Jan 4, 2019 | Media & Arts, News, Professional Services, Small Business

Alaska’s PR community talks digital, social marketing

Tracy Barbour

Last summer, Thompson & Co. Public Relations launched a monthly Twitter chat to promote Alaska’s Tourism Marketing Program. 

The PR agency incorporated local travel writers, editors, and other influencers to help amplify tourism-related messages during the chats. The messages focused on fun topics and intriguing questions such as “What do I pack when I come to Alaska?” and “What are the top twelve icons to see when you’re here?” The campaign adopted a simplistic yet effective approach to leveraging Twitter. “It’s using a well-known platform and putting an Alaska twist on it,” says Jennifer Thompson, president and CEO of Thompson & Co. “It wasn’t super expensive—but it had a really wide reach.”

The successful Twitter campaign illustrates one of the key PR and marketing trends playing out in Alaska—digital. PR and marketing practitioners are increasingly using digital media to help clients connect with their target audience. A number of other trends are also at work, and agencies are adjusting their approach to carry out successful campaigns throughout the state.

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Digital Driving Current Trends

The use of digital media represents a major trend in Alaska, according to Alexa Dobson, president of the American Marketing Association (AMA) Alaska Chapter. There’s a greater awareness of the importance of digital and technology on the side of clients and marketers, says Dobson, who is also a digital marketing specialist at Yuit Communications, an Anchorage-based strategic communications and software development firm. “We’re definitely hearing a lot more about the digital component of ad campaigns from clients,” says Dobson. “And digital is making up a larger portion of the campaigns we put together.”

However, the adoption of digital is occurring at a slower rate in Alaska than the rest of the United States. What’s transpiring now in Alaska is what was happening in the Lower 48 five years ago, Dobson says. “I think we’re consistently on a few years’ delay, but we’re definitely moving in the same direction,” she says. “I’ve always believed that this is an advantage if anything. In a sense, we have ‘future vision’ because we know what’s going on in the Lower 48, and we can scale to that.”

Marketers can also capitalize on this digital “lag time” to invest in their education, attend conferences, and meet with other agencies in the Lower 48. AMA Alaska strives to facilitate the education process for its members. “With AMA, we make an effort to bring up several out-of-state speakers every year so people who can’t travel can attend and get a sense of what’s going on with marketing,” Dobson says.

Digital marketing is also impacting the way Alaska’s marketers produce content by making them more strategic and purposeful. It’s much more important to provide digital content that is relevant, adds value, and encourages engagement, according to Laurie Fagnani, president of MSI Communications, a full-service, Anchorage-based advertising agency. “Otherwise, people will tune you out,” she says. “Consumers are delivered endless amounts of ads online across many devices and platforms, making their attention a scarce resource. You only have a few seconds to catch their attention—don’t waste it.”

Another marketing trend that’s happening in Alaska is programmatic, digital-ad buys. MSI uses this type of advertising to give clients a targeted, scientific, and cost-efficient experience as well as an effective way to connect with audiences online. “It allows you to pinpoint your target market across channels based on their online habits, shopping trends, and viewing history,” Fagnani explains.

MSI also capitalizes on Connected TV (CTV) for serving targeted video ads to viewers who stream media on Internet-connected televisions, computers, and other devices. This enables the agency to penetrate major networks like ESPN, CNN, and Fox when users are viewing content on devices such as Chromecast, Roku, and Apple TV, reaching a younger demographic of “cord cutters.” Because CTV is delivered online, it allows for more specific targeting and reporting than that of a traditional broadcast campaign.

Fagnani says she is also seeing the continued personalization of marketing and, more recently, the automation of certain parts of that activity. The technology to create multiple versions of the same ad has existed for nearly a decade. But machine learning has entered the field now, and software will get exponentially better at making slight modifications to ad placement based on personal digital data. “Pair that with location-based technology and you can serve a highly-tailored message at just the right moment,” she says.

“Consumers are delivered endless amounts of ads online across many devices and platforms, making their attention a scarce resource. You only have a few seconds to catch their attention—don’t waste it.”

—Laurie Fagnani, President, MSI Communications

Image courtesy of MSI Communications

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Social, Mobile, and Influencers

The use of social media is also a growing trend with Alaska’s marketing and PR professionals. Increasingly, companies are developing a social presence, says Michelle Renfrew, director of university relations at University of Alaska Fairbanks and past president of the Public Relations Society (PRSA) Alaska Chapter. “More organizations are seeing social media and digital marketing as core to their overall business organization,” she says. “They are allocating resources and staffing to these sorts of things.”

As another trend, Alaskans are steadily using mobile devices to stay connected to family, friends, and the brands they prefer. Mobile devices have forever changed how people communicate with one another, Renfrew says. They have also shaped consumer expectations when connecting with businesses. “Now we’re seeing advertising and sponsored content by brands in your news feeds all the time,” she says. “That definitely has implications. No longer do you have to go to the brick-and-mortar store; you can shop from home in your living room.”

Consumers can contact organizations instantly through their social media channels—and they expect brands to be responsive. “That means you really need to embrace it and follow through,” Renfrew explains. “As more and more people expect that immediate response, it will be more and more important for organizations to provide it. No longer can you wait until the end of the day. People are reporting the news 24/7. You can’t wait until the paper is printed to get the story out.”

There is also an increasing expectation of transparency among consumers in Alaska, says Thompson, who operates offices in Anchorage, New York City, and Houston, Texas. The national news scene and the inclusion of “fake news” has stimulated a greater need for transparency. Therefore, she encourages her clients to be very forthcoming and share as much information as possible with consumers. “It’s important that they spend time to make sure what we put out there is the truth,” says Thompson, whose firm specializes in brand messaging, media relations, social media strategy, event coordination, and crisis planning. “Our number one constituent in the PR industry is the media. So it is important that we coach our clients that the media is trustworthy and wants to do fair and balanced reporting.”

Influencers are coming more into play in Alaska. While this has been an ongoing trend nationwide, Alaskans are starting to leverage the power of influencers in their marketing and PR efforts. This allows them to reach more audiences, which is increasingly important as more people cut the cord and shun traditional media outlets. “People really trust other people—their friends and family—more than an ad,” she says.

Thompson & Co.’s goal is to help clients reach the right audience with the right story. This often involves ensuring clients have keyword-rich content that makes their website easier and faster to find with a smart phone. Thompson also encourages clients to do less social media advertising and use more videos, contests, and other tools to connect with people.

Most PR and marketing practitioners in Alaska have been gearing up for the migration to digital and social media for a while. For instance, Tyler Williams, the owner of Fairbanks-based Mammoth Marketing, began onboarding his clients to digital a couple of years ago. “I saw the writing on the wall, and I said this is an element that’s not going away so we need to be there to meet the demand for the clients,” says Williams, whose full-service agency serves clients statewide.

In fact, digital used to be a hard sell with clients, but now many of them are eagerly asking for help with Facebook and Google. Williams conducts the “bones” of the digital housekeeping first, making sure clients have an effective website, Google listing, AdWords, and Facebook page. Then he strategically incorporates other platforms like Yelp and Home Advisor as well as relevant directories. “There’s always your top three things to focus on, then you just start picking and choosing after that,” he says. “You cannot ignore Google, Facebook, and Instagram now. You might be able to ignore Snapchat, but that depends on the business and its needs.”

Influencers are coming more into play in Alaska. While this has been an ongoing trend nationwide, Alaskans are starting to leverage the power of influencers in their marketing and PR efforts. This allows them to reach more audiences, which is increasingly important as more people cut the cord and shun traditional media outlets. “People really trust other people—their friends and family—more than an ad,” she says.

Thompson & Co.’s goal is to help clients reach the right audience with the right story. This often involves ensuring clients have keyword-rich content that makes their website easier and faster to find with a smart phone. Thompson also encourages clients to do less social media advertising and use more videos, contests, and other tools to connect with people.

Most PR and marketing practitioners in Alaska have been gearing up for the migration to digital and social media for a while. For instance, Tyler Williams, the owner of Fairbanks-based Mammoth Marketing, began onboarding his clients to digital a couple of years ago. “I saw the writing on the wall, and I said this is an element that’s not going away so we need to be there to meet the demand for the clients,” says Williams, whose full-service agency serves clients statewide.

In fact, digital used to be a hard sell with clients, but now many of them are eagerly asking for help with Facebook and Google. Williams conducts the “bones” of the digital housekeeping first, making sure clients have an effective website, Google listing, AdWords, and Facebook page. Then he strategically incorporates other platforms like Yelp and Home Advisor as well as relevant directories. “There’s always your top three things to focus on, then you just start picking and choosing after that,” he says. “You cannot ignore Google, Facebook, and Instagram now. You might be able to ignore Snapchat, but that depends on the business and its needs.”

“As more and more people expect that immediate response, it will be more and more important for organizations to provide it. No longer can you wait until the end of the day. People are reporting the news 24/7. You can’t wait until the paper is printed to get the story out.”

—Michelle Renfrew, Director of University Relations University of Alaska Fairbanks

Photo by Sydney Michelle Photography

Alaska Trends Are Distinct

Many of Alaska’s marketing and PR trends are similar to those in the Lower 48, but there are some notable differences. For example, Alaska consumers expect to be able to closely interact with brands, but in larger markets consumer access to businesses is more restrictive. Local radio may not be a go-to news source nationally, but it’s still a very important component of marketing and PR in Alaska, Thompson says.

Also, there tends to be more personalization of advertising for Alaska’s rural areas than what typically happens nationwide or even in Anchorage. MSI uses targeted messaging in rural markets as a regular part of its statewide multimedia campaigns. That’s the approach the agency took for the independent expenditure, write-in campaign for Senator Lisa Murkowski. The campaign used Alaska Native regional corporation CEOs to customize targeted mini-campaigns for different locales. “We knew intuitively that the message would be more impactful if it was delivered by a trusted source,” Fagnani says.

In Alaska, marketers must modify their tactics to be successful, Williams says. “It’s challenging because we serve such a different and isolated sector of people, and our behaviors are so different,” he says. “What might work in the Lower 48 may not work here.”

Succeeding in the Industry

To excel in Alaska, marketing and PR professionals need a variety of attributes. However, experts cite relationships and networking as essential ingredients for success. It’s crucial to build relationships and network with people who are within the industry and the broader community, Renfrew says. “Alaska is a big state with a small population; people are very connected here,” she says. “I think it’s important for a PR professional to understand you’re always representing your brand.”

Renfrew encourages marketing and PR practitioners to get involved with organizations like PRSA and AMA to gain professional development, network, and find a mentor. She also advocates volunteering to develop their resume, make connections, and serve the community. She says: “You’re helping out a small business and enhancing your skills, which will help you down the road. It’s a win-win.”

Dobson expressed similar sentiments. She says marketing and PR professionals should do whatever they can to develop their network early and often. Volunteering or joining a board or committee can be advantageous for someone who is new to the scene or trying to meet someone outside their regular job duties. She explains: “You’re trying to increase your visibility as someone who is contributing to the community. It’s not enough to be someone who is good at marketing. People need to know you, trust you, and like you.”

Thompson says it’s important to maintain transparency with stakeholders, be an avid consumer of the news, and be results-driven. It’s also essential to be a “sleeve roller upper” and maintain the mentality that no job is too big or too small for team members. “We really have a mentality at the agency that everybody should do everything,” she says. “It’s beneficial for our clients because at the end of the day their job gets done professionally.”

Succeeding in Alaska’s market also requires being nimble and listening closely to clients, Williams says. Every client is different and will require a unique solution. “A real marketer will look for opportunities to serve the client and help their business,” he says. “You become an adviser for them.”

That advisory role can be especially critical when clients are starting a new business and need help building brand visibility or when they are overwhelmed with trying to handle the marketing themselves. “That’s where we plug in and help take the load off the owner,” Williams says. “We give them room to breathe so they can run the business.”

Many small businesses lack PR and marketing expertise in house so it makes good sense for them to outsource. But it may be more feasible for larger organizations to outsource. Renfrew explains: “For everyone to have a team in house to handle everything from production to design to strategy just isn’t realistic. I think it’s knowing when you have the expertise and resources to do it yourself and knowing when to leverage resources to get help. There are a lot of good PR and marketing agencies in the state, and if a business has a good working relationship with them, it can be very effective. They can become a strategic partner.”

“That’s where we plug in and help take the load off the owner. We give them room to breathe so they can run the business.”

—Tyler Williams, Owner, Mammoth Marketing

Elements of a Successful Campaign

Skillful marketing and PR practitioners can help clients create effective campaigns. But the components of a successful campaign will differ depending on the client and objectives. For Renfrew, a successful PR campaign starts with conducting research to identify the client’s goals and the strategies that can help them achieve them. Setting measurable objectives is also essential because PR campaigns need to demonstrate ROI just as other core business functions do.

Planning and implementation are also key campaign components. Then at the end it’s about evaluation. How did clients do? Were they able to achieve their goal? However, if clients don’t achieve their goal, it doesn’t mean they weren’t successful. “You learn what works and what you can do for the next campaign,” Renfrew says. “The objective is to aspire to hit your goals and targets, but the more astute organizations know that may not always be realistic and will support their PR team as much as they can in doing that.”

For Thompson, the first step in any PR campaign is defining goals with the client. It involves determining what success will look like to the client at the end of the day—the client’s specific end game. “We often hear clients tell us that their goal is to create awareness, but we always dig in to define it further,” she says. “We’re really very succinct when it comes to metrics and research to show that something is successful.”

Defining success varies from campaign to campaign, Dobson says. But she considers success to be whatever element can be measured and is closest to the client receiving money. This could be anything from someone signing up for a cost quote to someone making a purchase. “You have to figure out how you’re going to track that success. If you’re a dental office, your measure of success will be different than a retail store,” she says.

Fagnani also focuses on setting measurable goals, ensuring a holistically positive user experience along with having rock-solid, interactive creative content. The message must be memorable enough to break through the clutter. And it has to respond to the age-old questions of “What’s in it for me?” or “What have you done for me lately?” “It’s not just about designing a great ad,” Fagnani says. “It’s about creative that moves a market, changes perception, or increases awareness.”

Image courtesy of Mammoth Marketing

“I think we’re consistently on a few years’ delay [from the Lower 48], but we’re definitely moving in the same direction. I’ve always believed that this is an advantage if anything. In a sense, we have ‘future vision’ because we know what’s going on in the Lower 48, and we can scale to that.”

—Alexa Dobson, President, American Marketing Association Alaska Chapter

A good example of a successful marketing campaign involved MSI’s recent promotion of Alaska Airlines’ Freight for Less benefit. The perk allows the airline’s Club 49 members to ship up to one hundred pounds of freight inside Alaska for $10 within 24 hours of travel or for $40 for members who are not traveling. The statewide, multimedia campaign featured custom-designed broadcast/cable TV, digital, print, and airport advertising as well as an extensive online social media promotion. “Much to the delight of our client, Alaskans responded overwhelmingly to the new freight benefit and did so in record time,” Fagnani says.

At Mammoth Marketing, effective campaigns also include an amalgamation of tactics. For instance, Williams leveraged “cross-platform integration” to help a client promote various events throughout the year. “When you’re firing multiple pillars of media out at once, it builds a really strong impression with the users,” he says.

Another success story is Thompson & Co.’s Twitter campaign for the Alaska Tourism Marketing Program. The campaign, which began in July of 2017, now reaches more than 800,000 people on Twitter. It generates more than 5 million impressions each hour and has helped drive a 5 percent increase in Alaska Tourism’s Twitter followers. “The client is extremely happy,” Thompson says.

PR and Marketing Advice

Alaska’s veteran marketing and PR practitioners have an abundance of advice to help lesser-experienced counterparts succeed in the industry. For instance, Fagnani says marketing professionals should familiarize themselves with Alaska’s resource industries. They should also obtain training and certifications in digital platforms like Google AdWords. “You don’t just need to know how to use them, but why and how to get better results,” she says.

Williams’ words of advice focus on constantly reading, learning, and evolving. He says: “Seek out new sources. Talk to people. Everything is in a big state of flux, so it’s important to stay on top of it. And don’t get attached to strategies. Constantly modify your tactics to stay relevant. What you’re doing now may not work six months from now.”

Likewise, Renfrew encourages PR and marketing professionals to find a mentor to guide them and to never stop learning. “Things are changing so quickly in the industry, and you need to stay up on the latest trends,” she says.

Thompson also urges PR professionals to stay on top of new trends. They should also be constant consumers of news and capitalize on newer resources like Snapchat and Facebook Live. She advises: “Understand the tactics that are available to you. This will help you reach your target audience.”

Dobson is a strong advocate of community development. She feels marketing professionals should have a favorable balance of giving more to the community than they take from it. “Network with your peers,” she says, “and give back in any way you can because the community is what you make of it.”

 

Tracy Barbour has been an Alaska Business contributor since 1999. As a former Alaskan, she is uniquely positioned to offer in-depth insight and enjoys writing about a variety of topics.

Alaska Business Magazine June 2019

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Welcome to the fourth annual Best of Alaska Business Awards! As part of our continuing mission to support Alaska’s business communities, each year we look to you, our readers, to tell us which businesses excel in a range of diverse categories.

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