PRSA Strategic Collaboration Conference Recap

This week, I was able to attend PRSA’s Second Annual Strategic Collaboration Conference in Chicago. The conference brought together public relations, marketing and corporate communications professionals from all over the country to discuss the best approaches and skills to collaborating effectively and building stronger communications strategies.

Joseph Strupek, Assistant VP of Public Affairs at State Farm, discusses storytelling at the PRSA Strategic Collaboration Conference

Joseph Strupek, Assistant VP of Public Affairs at State Farm, discusses storytelling at the PRSA Strategic Collaboration Conference

We explored topics ranging from how big data impacts teamwork to impactful integration strategies. The day and a half conference was jam-packed with valuable sessions, but here are some of the key takeaways:

Storytelling Needs an Integrated Process

There were two great sessions on the importance of storytelling, and both covered how to best connect with audiences. Today, a well-told story requires much more than a good idea, it needs to have a personal touch to resonate with audiences. One of the concepts discussed was visual storytelling. Visuals allow stories to be told in a more emotional and impactful way. For instance, Coca-Cola changed their website a few years ago into a storytelling platform, where customers can share their own personal brand moments.

PR and marketing professionals can apply this specifically to campaign development. We recently did this with our cyber secure study for CompTIA. CompTIA worked with Walker Sands to launch its 2015 social experiment and data study, Cyber Secure: a Look at Employee Cybersecurity Habits in the Workplace, where the team dropped 200 preloaded USB devices in busy, public areas across four major U.S. cities. Surprisingly, 17 percent of people picked them up and plugged them into their devices. Having this personal touch with the social experiment made the campaign much more influential and meaningful overall. Watch the video to see for yourself!

Behavior Over Demographics

One of my favorite sessions of the conference was given by Bonnie Harris, Founder and CEO of Wax Marketing. She discussed how behavior, not demographics, should drive communications strategies. This means we need to shift our focus from who our audiences are to what they do, and understand how behavior influences media relations and PR campaigns.

One example she gave was Warby Parker. The e-commerce eyeglasses company was first to do a behavioral launch of their brand. They wanted to understand the behavior of people who wear glasses rather than the different buckets people who wear glasses fall into. If you don’t know Warby Parker, look them up, they’re a huge success—further proving the point that behavior works better in the long run. Bonnie also touched on how PR pros can use behavior analysis in their media relations efforts. For instance, a blogger will have different behaviors than let’s say a print journalist, so you shouldn’t pitch them the same way.

The Wave of Data Journalism is Coming

We hear the term “big data” used all the time in the tech world. Most PR professionals think they can’t get in on the big data action, but the truth is they can. We live in the age of “data journalists” and they are introducing new editorial opportunities for PR pros to jump on. First, what is data journalism? As Mary Buhay, SVP of Marketing at G&S Communications, puts it: Data journalism combines statistical analysis of large data sets with the traditional activities of gathering, evaluating, producing and disseminating news to help citizens make informed decisions about their lives (I know that was a mouthful). Mary discussed how PR pros need to develop a deeper understanding of these journalists to create a data-driven media relations strategy. The time of the data journalist is now, and PR pros need to get on board.

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2016 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist: Walker Sands President Mike Santoro

We’re excited to announce that our very own Mike Santoro, president of Walker Sands, has been named a finalist for the 2016 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the Midwest region.

It’s a big honor to be counted among the region’s most successful entrepreneurs.  Around here, we’re very familiar with the instrumental role Mike has played in transforming Walker Sands into an award-winning, 80-person agency over the last seven years. We’re even more excited this hard work is being recognized on a national level.

Mike and members of the Walker Sands executive team celebrate at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year reception for finalists, May 11, 2016. (Photo by Simon Weinstein of Ernst & Young)

Mike and members of the Walker Sands executive team celebrate at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year reception for finalists, May 11, 2016. (Photo by Simon Weinstein of Ernst & Young)

In 2015, we earned more than $7 million in revenue, a 177 percent increase over the past three years. Much of our growth can be attributed to Mike and his work in developing our innovative Digital Ecosystem – a comprehensive approach that helps our clients maximize the results they achieve from earned, owned and paid media.

But if you ask Mike, the reason for our success runs much deeper than the Digital Ecosystem or our ability to holistically integrate PR and digital marketing for our clients.  He will tell you it’s the creativity and hard work of our people that sets Walker Sands apart from the competition.

At Walker Sands, we pride ourselves on being a different type of agency. Unlike other firms in our weight class, there’s a sense of shared ownership at Walker Sands.

That’s a characteristic that Mike and the rest of our leadership team have worked hard to maintain throughout our steep growth curve. And it’s a cultural differentiator that hasn’t gone unnoticed by those of who work here – our employee retention rate is head and shoulders above the industry average. We see this as a testament to the interesting partnerships and happy culture Mike has helped establish.

The 2016 EY Entrepreneur of the Year Midwest winners will be announced at the Awards Gala on June 15 in Chicago, where Mike will stand alongside 28 other finalists. And we’re in good company. Vaughn Moore of AIT Worldwide Logistics, Rishi Shah and Shradha Agarwal of ContextMedia, Matt Moog of PowerReviews and Michael Rothman of SMS Assist name a few of the other Midwest finalists.

We hope you’ll join us in rooting for Mike and congratulate him on his success in leading Walker Sands to become one of the nation’s fastest growing companies. Congratulations to the other Midwest finalists on your accomplishments thus far. We look for forward to celebrating together on June 15!

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Slow and (Un)Steady EMV Adoption (Part II of II)

At Walker Sands, we have a practice area dedicated to helping fintech companies tell their story, and much of our work this past year has focused on the Europay, Mastercard, Visa (EMV) liability shift. We wanted to better understand consumer sentiments, so we surveyed 575 U.S. consumers six months following the deadline for U.S. merchants and credit card processors to adopt EMV standards or face liability as a result of any fraud losses.

As Part I of our blog series on The Switch to EMV outlined, consumers have faced setbacks with EMV cards right out of the gate and it has led to a lot of frustration. In addition to hurdles faced upfront, the study also found that overall adoption of EMV technology has been slow thus far and consumers often face an in-store knowledge gap. Here are some specific insights from the report:

Chip card adoption off to a slow start

While many U.S. credit and debit card holders received new chip cards in the mail leading up to the October 2015 liability shift, many are still not using the cards for purchases. Our study found slow EMV adoption across the board. In fact, nearly one in five U.S. consumers have never made an in-store purchase using a chip card reader.

In addition to EMV chip card use not being enforced in-store, more than one in three (37.4%) consumers have experienced a chip card reader that was not working at the time of checkout. In some cases, merchants simply use a sticky note to indicate the machine isn’t working, leaving customers questioning whether or not EMV cards should be considered a priority.

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Retail staff and consumers have much to learn about EMV

Our study found that consumers often lack EMV knowledge when they first receive or use EMV cards – but they’re not alone. The findings also show in-store staff are not well-informed on how to use EMV technology. Nearly one-quarter of consumers (23.7%) have encountered cashiers who were unfamiliar with EMV chip card readers or couldn’t guide them through the process. Also, nearly one in three (30.7%) consumers have experienced confusion when using chip card readers to pay in-store.

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To avoid some of this confusion, retailers, banks and financial institutions should implement training programs so consumer-facing staff can have a full understanding on the technology before interacting with customers. Retailers should also consider including instructions at cash registers and other POS terminals, so the customer experience can be as frictionless as possible and staff are well-poised to help customers through the process.  

The transition to EMV certainly hasn’t been easy, but that doesn’t mean merchants, credit card processors and other businesses should be discouraged. Instead, they should embrace some of these hurdles as an opportunity to improve processes the next time new technology is rolled out across the industry.

To see the full findings, download The Switch to EMV or read more in Part I of the blog series on this study.

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Agency Awards: North American Technology Agency of the Year and PRWeek Small Agency of the Year

We’re excited to share that we’ve been named a finalist in two of the public relations industry’s most prestigious awards programs, the 2016 SABRE Awards North America and the 2016 PRWeek US Awards.

Presented by The Holmes Report, the SABRE Awards is the world’s largest PR awards program, dedicated to benchmarking the best PR work from across the globe. We’re a finalist in the North American Technology Agency of the Year category following an extensive research process involving more than 150 submissions from the best PR firms across the U.S. and Canada. Winners will be announced at the 2016 North American Sabre Awards, taking place on May 3 in New York.

At Walker Sands, one of the key drivers of our business is cross-team collaboration using our digital ecosystem model, which was one of the contributing factors toward our finalist selection by The Holmes Report. From media relations to content, PPC to SEO, development to design and all other aspects of our business, we are constantly working together to determine the next creative solution to help our clients reach their goals.

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No Easy Move: the Switch to EMV (Part I of II)

Over the past year, the fintech industry has been focused on the EMV liability shift. The deadline for all U.S. merchants and credit card processors to adopt Europay, Mastercard, Visa (EMV) standards passed in October 2015, meaning those that are uncompliant may be held liable as a result of any fraud losses. To support the shift, many merchants needed to upgrade or replace point-of-sale (POS) technology and consumers were issued new chip-enabled cards, which are more secure than traditional magnetic stripe cards.

Six months following the official EMV liability shift, we wanted to get a grasp on consumer sentiments toward the changes, so we surveyed 575 U.S. consumers to find out. In our study, No Easy Move: The Switch to EMV, we found chip card adoption to be anything but smooth.

In many cases, consumers faced hurdles with EMV cards right out of the gate — from receiving the cards to first using them in-store, respondents did not hold back on reporting their frustrations. Here are some insights from the report:

Chip cards arrive with lack of instructions

With any new technology rollout, businesses should make it a priority to share detailed instructions to maintain a seamless customer experience. However, this hasn’t been the case with EMV. In fact, more than a quarter of consumers (27.3%) did not receive adequate instructions in the mail on how to actually use the cards, leaving many scratching their heads.

Consumers share common complaints with first-time transactions

In addition to not receiving instructions, many consumers faced challenges in-store when first trying to make a purchase with the cards. Many of the complaints were the result of faulty POS systems, rather than customer confusion. Some common complaints include stalled or delayed transactions or multiple attempts required to read the card.

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Online payments inconvenienced by new cards

EMV cards not only have an impact on in-store transactions, but also online for shoppers who store their credit or debit cards for faster Web transactions. Consumers value the convenience of storing account information with websites of apps they frequent, whether to make one-click transactions on Amazon or hail a cab via Uber. Countless others have their cards set up for recurring payments for things like Netflix or monthly electric bills.

Any stored credit or debit card information has to be manually updated each time a consumer gets a new card — and the EMV shift is no exception. Unfortunately, this leads to wasted time going through and updating accounts or, in some cases, failed payments for consumers who are unaware of the need to make such updates. According to our study, nearly two in five (39%) respondents had to update online accounts or recurring billing with EMV card information. Additionally, nearly one in 10 (9.4%) experienced a missed or failed payment due to not updating the information, leading to additional frustration over damaged financial health.

With so many challenges out of the gate, consumers might be discouraged by EMV technology and continue trying to swipe their cards instead, putting themselves at risk for fraud. Adding friction leads to lost customers for banks and merchants, so card issuers, payment processors and other financial institutions need to work together and make the EMV shift as seamless as possible for customers to avoid upsetting the entire payments ecosystem.

To see the full findings, download The Switch to EMV and stay tuned for a follow-up post, where we’ll dive into in-store adoption rates and the EMV knowledge gap.  

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