Christina’s Coffee Talk with Jay Keith

Coffee Talk is back and I couldn’t be more excited to kick off the year with my guest, Jay Keith, senior public relations manager of Vistaprint. A prominent member of the #prbc community, Jay is always sharing his knowledge and making us laugh daily. Jay is a jack of all trades, smart, and funny to boot. Who knew that a former donut maker for Dunkin’ Donuts would become a successful PR professional? Like the rest of PRBC Jay’s an avid coffee drinker, loyal to his Dunkin Donuts brand but says it’s nothing compared to the coffee in France. He’s an amateur golfer, sports nut, die-hard Boston fan and a passionate Candlepin bowler. Jay gets inspiration from conversing with his peers, sharing their advice and knowledge within the industry. He’s a big fan of the usual PR Blogs (Copyblogger, PR 2.0, etc) and throws marketing into the mix with MarketingProfs and Seth Godin to name a couple. Jay’s coffee talk was filled with so much great insight that I was forced to split it into two parts. Today we discuss corporate PR and how to step out of our comfort zone in our careers.

When working within a corporate environment, how do you create angles/stories that are relative/timely?

It’s funny because when you work for a company like Vistaprint, it’s not so much about digging for timely or relevant stories to tell as it is picking the best ones that we can get the most return on for our efforts. Because we are a company that is growing at a breakneck pace, we’re constantly launching new products, expanding into other markets globally, and doing things that can generate buzz, even from a marketing perspective. We have talented individuals who we can position as sources for any number of unique stories, and the innovation that we’re pushing is an ongoing theme. Truly, the company story is a unique one that we continue to tell and people continue to be amazed by, so while we still have a ways to go in terms of true “big company” awareness, we’re getting there slowly but surely thanks to the growth we’ve sustained over the past five years.

But what is important is timing. We do try and focus our attention on stories and angles that make the most sense based on the ebbs and flows of the media, but also in conjunction with what our partners in marketing are focusing on. For example, we recently have unveiled some new wedding products, as well as designs and content, so that’s something that we as a PR team are trying to capitalize on in the near term, using a number of different methods. It’s important to have your communications strategy map to the existing marketing strategy when it can to maximize everyone’s efforts. When everyone is on the same page and telling the same story, it really helps increase and reinforce brand awareness.

What is it like collaborating with the marketing/advertising team?

The collaboration is whats unique about working internally at a company rather than at an agency or as a vendor. It’s also very important. What’s nice about being part of a company is that you get a lot of insight into what other teams (marketing being one) are doing in terms of strategy and how it’s going to generate ROI. But truthfully, knowing the strategy and tactics of everyone from human resources to the IT team and beyond is vital to a communications program’s success. From there it’s a lot easier to map our communications strategy to whichever initiatives are most important internally while really enhancing them. Like I said before when all the teams work in unison the results can really be staggering in terms of brand awareness.

Unfortunately I think that relationship sometimes gets lost when an agency or vendor is working with a company. Having been on both sides, I do think it’s true that “no one can tell your story as well as you can,” as the saying goes. That’s not to say that agencies can’t understand certain aspects of a brand or communications strategy and lend tremendous value. But when you’re immersed in it every single day it becomes much easier to map what you’re doing to the rest of the organization and how it will be the most effective.

How has Visaprint integrated SM into their PR strategy?

When I started, Vistaprint took a very traditional approach to public relations like typical pitching methods, awards, ed cals, etc. and getting coverage where we could. While we still incorporate all those things into our media strategy, we’re much more focused in terms of who we’re looking to talk to, the stories that we’re telling, and the places that we want to be.

Again, as social media has come into the mix, we’ve found that in addition to connecting with media publications and reporters, we’re also reaching our customers.Vistaprint has a very loyal and passionate base of customers who enjoy talking about the company. We do our best to engage them and give them a forum to connect with us and others. As many probably already know, Jeff Esposito, on my team has been an integral part in helping to lead many of our SM efforts, including launching our Twitter feed, Facebook page, and creating relationships with influencers like mommy bloggers who candidly talk about our company. We’ve set goals for ourselves, but they are very diverse. While we’re not focused on “followers” and the numbers we have, we are interested in things like quality of conversation, positive mentions, brand advocates, etc. From a PR standpoint, we’re also focusing on quality of coverage and getting the right stories told to effectively build our awareness amongst our target audiences.

I think that a good example of this was with our recent Small Business Marketing survey. In the past, we took the results of the survey, passed them onto reporters through traditional outreach and let the chips fall where they may. But with this particular campaign, we put the entire survey up on Slideshare and passed it around to our communities on Twitter, many of whom are marketers and small businesses themselves. We also dedicated a post about it on our Small Business Blog. We also did traditional outreach, and the results were fantastic. We secured several high level mentions in top tier publications and blogs, but also got a number of people buzzing about it on Twitter. As a result, we were featured on SlideShare due to the traffic we had generated on Twitter and Facebook. The post also helped set a record for traffic to our small biz blog. The lesson learned is that you no longer have to get into the Wall Street Journal to consider something a success. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice, but there are other methods of getting your news out there effectively.

In a recent #u30pro chat, the idea that professionals are using the economic situation as a crutch and not stepping out of their comfort zone in regards to their career. Do you agree or Disagree?

There’s no question this is a tough time for anyone, in any profession. You never know how someone you know will be affected. But I think that the idea that the economy is to blame for people not stepping out of their comfort zone is a hollow one and if it is true, I’m disappointed. Times like these are when you should be doing everything you can to step out of your comfort zone and do things that you might not have considered in the past. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years is that any skills you can acquire that might someday be useful to what you’re currently doing (or what you do long term) then you should take advantage of it. That might mean taking a job for a short period of time just to learn some different skills, or even taking on a project that you always wanted to do but couldn’t and now have time to. My journalism experience has been vital to my succeeding in public relations and if I could go back I would do it all over again.

I think that being forced out of your comfort zone can help people grow, and hopefully people don’t shy away from that for any reason, economically or otherwise. It’s the chances in life you take and the things that you just jump in and fail at that you can learn the most from.

Jason Keith is the Sr. Public Relations Manager at Vistaprint, a global provider of small business marketing products and services. He manages a team of three that is responsible for the day to day external communications at the company, including media outreach, events, awards, social media initiatives, the company’s blog and all external releases . A Northeastern University graduate, Jay is also a former journalist and Boston sports fan.

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