The State of Online Retail with Ben Virdee-Chapman

As online retail continues to evolve in the wake of the pandemic, Kimball Hughes Public Relations sat down with a leader in the ecommerce space, Obviyo VP of Marketing Ben Virdee-Chapman, to discuss where the industry may be headed in the coming months. Obviyo, formerly Hi-Conversion, offers ecommerce merchants a hyper-personalized ecommerce experience, using customer data and machine learning to better address shoppers needs.

Here, Chapman shares how the industry will evolve in the next 5 to 10 years, including how the purchasing marketplace will change, whether we can expect greater accuracy in online shopping in the years to come and if brick-and-mortar is dead to today’s online retail shoppers.

HiConversion: Surviving the Retail Recovery

How has the reopening of businesses and the return to travel impacted merchants who relied heavily on ecommerce throughout the pandemic? Zee Aganovic, CEO and co-founder of HiConversion, shares with Multichannel Merchant how retail businesses can continue their growth while transitioning to a workable business model, including taking advantage of data-driven marketing, investing in new technology and working thoughtfully with customer needs. Learn more in this article:

Get to know Cassidy Taylor, Public Relations Manager

Public relations is all about relationships—the people behind the stories. That’s why we’re offering this blog series all about our team members. This isn’t about our professional accomplishments but who we are as people. We hope you have as much fun reading along as we do interviewing each other.

1. What got you interested in public relations?

Growing up I always had an avid interest in reading and writing. As I got older and began to think about what I wanted to do when I grew up, I knew I wanted to help people. The idea of helping people while utilizing my strengths and passion for reading and writing was extremely enticing. In college, I had the opportunity to intern for a few local newspapers and PR firms and once I started to do PR work, I never looked back. Building the interpersonal connections and relationships with both clients and journalists is something I enjoy almost as much as sinking my teeth into a new writing project. Since graduating college, I have worked with non-profits and associations to help build their brands and share their stories with the world to better reach and help those in need. My work with these non-profits and associations is what fulfills me and drives me to continue my work each day.

2. Tell us about your favorite movie and what appeals most to you about it?

My all time, hands-down favorite movie is Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. While I have always enjoyed the often dark, twisty, and always quirky nature of Tarantino’s work, Pulp Fiction will always be my favorite. As a former film and English student, I have a great appreciation for the story Tarantino put together in this film. The various plots and many hidden Easter eggs make it more enjoyable the more times you watch it. Plus, I will never get tired of watching Uma Thurman do The Twist. 

3. What was the last, best book you read and what about it spoke to you?

The last, best book I read was Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” I read this book for the first time when I was 13. Much like Pulp Fiction, one of the things I love most about “On the Road,” is that the more you read it, the more interesting it becomes because you find more subtleties and hidden meanings. I also quite enjoy the sense of freedom the book brings. In Kerouac’s stream of consciousness story, you are transported to a world of freedom, travel and cross-country adventure. Whenever I get the sense of wanderlust but am unable to travel, I pick up the book and transport myself to Kerouac’s world. 

4. Tell us about a meaningful hobby or “outside of work” commitment that is important to you?

For the past four years, every moment I was not working I have been focused on completing my Master of Arts in Communications with a certificate in Public Relations and Advertising from Villanova University. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I realized there was more I could learn in terms of Communications and decided to continue my education at Villanova. I think it is extremely important to always push yourself to be a better, more informed person and I strive to never stop learning, growing and connecting. Now that I am at the end of this academic journey, I would like to spend more time volunteering to help end hunger and homelessness, two causes I feel strongly about. I will also join my local PRSA organization to continue to have access to resources that will help me grow, learn and connect.

5. Share a fun fact about you.

I am a very avid runner and have been running competitively for my entire life. In my previous job working for a non-profit global association that represented the entire fresh produce and floral supply chain, I ran several 5K road races for our 501c charitable organization dressed as a potato. In one of the races, I came in second place overall and was the first female, and potato, across the finish line.

Get to know James McKinsey, Public Relations Manager

Public relations is all about relationships—the people behind the stories. That’s why we’re offering this blog series all about our team members. This isn’t about our professional accomplishments but who we are as people. We hope you have as much fun reading along as we do interviewing each other.

1. What got you interested in public relations?

When I was in high school, like many teenagers, I wanted to have an impact on the world. Most students would aspire to become doctors, scientists, athletes, builders or other jobs that have a direct effect on society, perceptions and trends. I decided early on to focus on winning hearts and minds for important causes and make a positive impact through dialogue and discussion. In college, and later graduate school, I studied the impact that the media has on shaping public opinion and actions, and since then I have helped nonprofits, municipalities, financial institutions, renewable energy developers and small businesses grow their visibility and advance their missions to positively impact the world.

2. Tell us about your favorite movie and what appeals most to you about it?

I consider myself a nerd, I grew up on Star Wars and love the classic “hero’s journey.” That aside, my favorite movie would have to be Saving Private Ryan. It has everything, fantastic cinematography, great dialogue and an engaging story. A movie that includes Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and even early-career Vin Diesel and Nathan Fillion is a winner in my book.

3. What was the last, best book you read and what about it spoke to you?

Professionally, I am a fan of Malcom Gladwell’s books and his thoughts on the nature of success. I feel recognizing the natural advantages that some receive combined with the work and dedication that comes with expertise, has helped me better understand how people naturally develop.

Recreationally, The Name of The Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss are fun, non-fiction stories that I enjoyed reading with my fiancé. I am eagerly awaiting the release of The Doors of Stone to complete the series.

4. Tell us about a meaningful hobby or “outside of work” commitment that is important to you?

I grew up in the Boy Scouts, and volunteer work remains an important part of my life. I volunteer regularly with my local animal shelter to help care for the dogs and cats and keep them active. Outside of volunteering, I am and avid hiker in the warmer months and skier in the winter.

5. Share a fun fact about you.

I marched in the New York Saint Patrick’s Day parade with my high school marching band without knowing how to play an instrument.

What We’re Reading and Watching

  • Survey Finds Business Don’t Have Crisis Comms Plans – In a recent survey our VP Rod Hughes found that 67 percent of businesses don’t have a plan in place to deploy communications during a crisis. As he says, things can fall apart pretty quickly in the absence of a plan. Read more to learn about next steps for developing a plan on LinkedIn.
  • Research: Women are Better Leaders During a Crisis – We’ve all read the headlines that countries led by women may be faring better during the COVID-19 pandemic. What does this tell us about what employees need from their leaders during a crisis? Read more at Harvard Business Review.
  • Politics, Polarization and Purpose in 2021 – If there is one thing the public, reporters and PR professionals can agree on, it is that no one agrees on much. These insights from Muck Rack and USC Annenberg shed light on how the U.S. political climate is affecting the media — important insights as we move through 2021. Read more at MuckRack.
  • Reputation Issues in the Insurance Industry – The insurance industry has long battled reputation issues, which have been exacerbated by the recent business interruption controversy. Our agency President Gary Kimball offers insight on the need for a public relations campaign to resolve these issues in this article for PropertyCasualty360.

Clients in the News

In his role as the new chair of the Insurance Industry Charitable Foundation’s (IICF) International Board of Governors, Hank Watkins, regional director & president of Lloyd’s Americas, provided a forecast for 2021 in diversity and inclusion, as well as the measurable, actionable steps businesses can take to secure a more inclusive future. Read it here at Insurance Journal.

As technology drives innovation in the insurance industry, ReSource Pro’s Andy Niver, senior vice president for Innovation and Analytics, shared his insights with Carrier Management on the state of innovation the industry today and its outlook going forward. He shares practices for utilizing robotic process automation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology. Read it here.

In adapting to the business realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, David Wolin’s Old York Cellars has managed to thrive, thanks to several innovations and new business ideas that have turned challenges into opportunities. In this feature article in NJ Biz, Wolin discussed how his small business has managed to excel through new offerings like virtual wine tastings, a new wine club and more. Read it here.

Looking to establish its seat at the table regarding data storage and the continued debate over mainframe versus cloud data storage and management, Israeli-based Model9 CEO Gil Peleg caught the attention of Forbes as he discussed the future-focused hybrid model that marries the best of both technologies for maximum advantage of enterprise computing and management of legacy data. Read it at Forbes.

Get to know Eileen Coyne, Public Relations Director

Public relations is all about relationships—the people behind the stories. That’s why we’re offering this blog series all about our team members. This isn’t about our professional accomplishments but who we are as people. We hope you have as much fun reading along as we do interviewing each other.

1. What got you interested in public relations?

Journalism brought me to public relations. It was back in high school that I discovered that I wanted to be a reporter, when I landed a student work week at the local NBC affiliate. I helped to man the police blotter, cover a hostage standoff, and flew over house fires in a helicopter. I was sold on a career in the news and out of college, I was fortunate to get my start as a reporter in Washington, D.C. As it does for many, journalism introduced me to public relations. Working as a reporter with a story budget to fill, I quickly learned that these PR folks working so hard to get to know me and share their clients’ stories, could be key to a good story. After several years as a reporter, I jumped the fence to PR and haven’t looked back

2. Tell us about your favorite movie and what appeals most to you about it?

I always enjoy The Sound of Music. Unfortunately, now, in a house where Marvel movies and football reign, it’s not the most popular, but I try to watch it when it’s on. I enjoy the beautiful scenery and familiar songs that take me back to grade school. 

3. What was the last, best book you read and what about it spoke to you?

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand stands out to me. It is the remarkable biography of World War II POW and Olympian Louis Zamperini. Recently, I enjoyed sharing the young adult version with my 12-year-old and we talked about his amazing and inspiring stories together. 

4. Tell us about a meaningful hobby or “outside of work” commitment that is important to you?

Outside of work, I am a mother to three school-age boys. I enjoy watching their baseball and basketball games, their many various other endeavors, and organizing functions at their school including trivia nights and the annual Santa shop.

5. Share a fun fact about you.

I played piano at the White House. I won’t say who was in office back then, but let’s just say it was back in high school. It was a wonderful experience to accompany my high school choir during the holidays and something I will never forget.

Reputation is What Others Think You are

An important factor influencing an organization’s reputation is how it is represented in the media. With this in mind, Kimball Hughes PR recently ran an independent survey of business professionals to get their perspective on how media coverage of their organization reflected on their reputation and, ultimately, their brand.

What we found was broad dissatisfaction among respondents with how their brands are perceived and represented through the media.

Among two significant reputational goals — having a regular presence in news media and being clearly differentiated from their competition in those media — a clear majority of those surveyed (more than 60 percent) did not believe these goals were met.

If these findings are any indication, brands hoping to benefit from any post-COVID economic boom have significant work to do in working with the media.

Survey results:

My organization’s reputation, as it is communicated in the media, social media and other public venues, represents our stated mission, vision and values.

  • 9% Strongly agree
  • 45% Agree
  • 18% Neutral
  • 27% Disagree
  • 0% Strongly disagree

Senior leadership is regularly quoted in news and trend stories about our industry.

  • 0% Strongly agree
  • 18% Agree
  • 18% Neutral
  • 27% Disagree
  • 36% Strongly disagree

If I conducted a Google News search today of topics most important to my industry, I would find my organization quoted or written about in recent news from legitimate, third-party business or trade media outlets or sites.

  • 9% Strongly agree
  • 9% Agree
  • 18% Neutral
  • 9% Disagree
  • 54% Strongly disagree

Our brand reputation, as communicated by the media, adequately differentiates our organization from competitors in the markets we serve.

  • 0% Strongly agree
  • 18% Agree
  • 9% Neutral
  • 36% Disagree
  • 36% Strongly disagree

Worried about your brand’s reputation? Contact Kimball Hughes PR for a free, no obligation SWOT Analysis of your brand’s reputation within the media that provides top line, practical and actionable advice on what you can do to make improvements.

Getting to know Elena Tzivekis, PR Intern

Public relations is all about relationships—the people behind the stories. That’s why we’re starting a new blog series all about our team. This isn’t about our professional accomplishments but who we are as people. We hope you have as much fun reading along as we do interviewing each other.

  1. What college do you attend and when are you graduating?

I attend La Salle University, where I major in communications with a focus on public relations. I’m graduating in May 2021.

  1. What got you interested in public relations?

I have always liked the idea of working in a fast-paced, evolving industry. I think it’s interesting to go into work every day and have new and exciting projects to work on. With public relations, I love that I can use my writing and communication skills throughout my projects, with the end goal being that I can contribute to the success of an organization.  

  1. Tell us about your favorite movie and what appeals most to you about it?

One of my favorite movies of all time is Rocky. Besides the fact that this movie is filmed in the city I love, the 70s style cinematography along with the storyline of an underdog boxer surrounded by a support system warms my heart every time I watch! 

  1. What or who is your favorite artist and why?

Father John Misty is one of my favorite musical artists of all time. His music at times can be poetically whimsical, and at times even aggressive, yet relatable. I’ve realized there is a FJM song for just about every occasion. 

  1. Share a fun fact about you

I am currently working on starting a coffee blog in which I will be publishing my personal coffee-related recipes, as well as coffee shop reviews! 

Pitching media during the COVID-19 crisis

In the U.S., we have found ourselves in an unprecedented situation: a pandemic combined with a national economic shutdown and widespread social unrest. Many businesses and non-profits have repeatedly asked about the timing of any type of public relations efforts.

  • Is now the right time to announce a product launch?
  • Should we try to connect our message to COVID-19?
  • Can we break through with our message given what’s happening in the world?
  • Are reporters/producers looking or eager for stories that aren’t COVID-19 related?
  • Will we be seen as tactless if we try to get our message out now?

Compounding these questions is the state of the media itself. While the news industry has been experiencing financial challenges for decades, COVID-19 has had a swift and devastating impact on the Fourth Estate at the exact time Americans stuck at home are rediscovering the importance of good journalism.

According to The New York Times, furloughs and layoffs have impacted nearly 40,000 journalists since the pandemic began in the U.S. Those who aren’t furloughed or laid off are working remotely, doing more with less, and are harder to reach than ever. What I’ve heard personally from reporters and editors at major daily metropolitan newspapers, news desks and producers of broadcast news and journalists at a range of trade media is their inboxes are inundated with hundreds of pitches, nearly all including COVID-19 in the subject line.

So how do you break through? Patient persistence.

In times normal and otherwise, it is essential to have a compelling and relevant story to tell. We advise our clients to work backward from the reader/viewer/listener perspective when evaluating the newsworthiness of any message. Absent your brand, would a generic story like yours be of interest or value to the intended audience? If it is promotional, only about your brand or is out-of-touch with the state of the world, stop right there, toss your pitch into the garbage and, if I may be so bold, set fire to it. In the midst of a pandemic, you can’t afford to sound out of touch.

My advice is also the advice good journalists give to public relations professionals all the time: do your research. This is the time-consuming leg work that pays off; the work often overlooked or even ignored by those who “just want to get the message out.” Beats, for those who still have them, are less ridged than ever. That green energy beat reporter from last week might be covering Capital Hill tomorrow. Look back at their recent work and make an informed decision as to whether their work indicates a reasonable wiliness to learn about your story.

If you feel you have a newsworthy story, and if you believe the journalist you want to contact might be interested, email away and then follow-up afterward. But assume your email is just to get on their radar. They won’t read your pitch if it is longer than 100 words or has an attachment. Bullet points can help. In times like these, getting on the phone with a reporter — assuming he or she will take your call — is the make-or-break moment of a pitch and is simultaneously nearly impossible.

I recently pitched a national story to an editor at major daily newspaper. Where I would normally follow up two or three times, I left two voicemails and emailed five times. He actually called me back, thanked me for being persistent and then asked me to “just tell [him] what the story is about.” He remembered seeing my email (just one?) but “didn’t have time to read it.” So, I gave him the 15-second elevator pitch. He liked it and ended up not only interviewing my sources but running a major feature article on the issue. Patient persistence.

COVID-19, and the economic fallout from it, will continue to have lingering effects all across the U.S. economy. Journalism is not immune from this, and this will continue to pose challenges to those engaging with the media. I advise patient persistence in getting your message out. A tenacious PR professional helps a lot, too.