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How to Build a PR Program Around an Industry Event



In every industry, there are key events that provide an ideal time for companies to tell their stories to B2B audiences. We have many clients in retail real estate, and every year the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) hosts two major events, one in Vegas in May and one in New York this week. The industry gathers in a focused way– providing the ideal platform for a company to increase brand awareness, strengthen thought leadership and share news. For each of our clients, we begin months in advance pondering the question: What should we do at ICSC?

This week, North American Properties is giving virtual reality tours of the soon-to-be renovated Colony Square at its booth, and we built a program around that which includes an innovative 360-degree video to share on social media, and inviting journalists, including ICSC’s Facebook Live team, to visit the booth and experience the virtual reality tour. Avalon in Alpharetta, which is preparing to double in size early next year, is heavily featured at the conference, and we created custom social media graphics about the expansion. And Avalon was selected for the cover of the December issue of Shopping Centers Today, ICSC’s magazine, due to an award win we secured, earning NAP buzz heading into the conference.

For our newest client New Market Properties, we set up interviews for CEO Joel Murphy with key journalists including Commercial Property Executive’s Suzann Silverman. Joel is also being interviewed by ICSC on its live Facebook feed and we are leveraging the event’s hashtag #NYnDM to grow New Market’s still-new social media program. We are setting up meetings for client Bayer Properties with key journalists from Chain Store Age and Shopping Center Business. We also secured coverage in Shopping Centers Today’s show daily for Bayer with an update on The Summit at Fritz Farm, a mixed-use development opening Spring 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky.

So, what is the best way to use an industry event to create a PR moment for your company? Here are our top five tips:

  • Plan. As part of your yearly PR planning process, decide what events will be a focus and begin creating 360 strategies around those events well in advance.
  • Generate pre-event coverage. Pitch stories so your clients will be in trade and business publications before and during the event. You want people already talking about you when your plane lands.
  • Set up meetings with journalists and have something compelling to share with them. Find out from the event’s organizers what media will be attending. Reach out to reporters and editors in advance and set up meet-and-greets for your executives. Arm your executive with talking points and something newsworthy to share, such as research or insights on an industry trend.
  • Consider releasing news. If your company has a new deal to announce or fresh research to share, peg it to the event. You can share it with reporters on the ground, tweet it with the event hashtag and generate buzz during cocktail hour.
  • Get social! Most events have hashtags that are widely used, providing an ideal time to grow your following within the industry and build relationships with influencers.


A Season of Thanks


With Thanksgiving approaching and the year’s end in sight, my thoughts have turned largely to gratitude. We have had a year of change at The Wilbert Group. I am now the sole owner of the firm. Many members of the team have taken on more responsibility. And we’ve hired a new group of rockstars, including people with hardcore digital content/social media savvy.

While our change was good, it was not always easy. Change is rarely easy.

We could not have done it without our clients.

The best thing is we did not just survive 2016, we thrived. We grew our revenue, our client roster, our capabilities and our team. And perhaps most importantly, our partnerships with our clients yielded tremendous results. Whether landing media hits in outlets such as The New York Times, USA Today and Bloomberg for client Revenue Analytics or rolling out a sophisticated social media/content program for EA Homes or helping Randolph Williamson launch a website, we delivered. That’s what it’s all about.

Our clients have believed in us. They’ve trusted us to tell their stories. They’ve helped us really go deep and learn their businesses. We are thankful and we work hard every day for every client to earn that trust.

So before we lock up the Wilbert offices and turn our attention to family gatherings, turkey and pecan pie, we are rolling out a series of videos, with individual members of our team talking about our clients and the successes we’ve had this year. The theme is thankfulness.

Here’s a sneak preview, with account executive Hank Sforzini talking about client Fisher Phillips.

You’ll be seeing these, along with case studies, pop up in your social feeds (if you follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – and I hope you do!) during the next week.

As a firm, we are stronger than we were a year ago. We owe that to our clients.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Making News: Our Clients in the Headlines 11/3/16

  • screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-2-28-02-pmThanksgiving is a day for being grateful for family and friends and this year, Atlantic Station is urging its stores to close on the November holiday. In a recent memo sent to its 48 retailers, Barbara Garret, the general manager of Atlantic Station, encouraged stores to “prioritize time spent with friends and family.” Garret continued, “Closing on Thanksgiving will not only boost employee morale, but also allow our retailers to refocus efforts on Black Friday, a more lucrative shopping day for our retail mix.” To read more about Atlantic Station’s decision, check out this 11 Alive article.
  • The Atlanta Apartment Association’s 29th Annual Food-A-Thon capped off this year’s drive with a big parade last month. The event is in partnership with the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Organizers said the goal is to help provide food to hungry families in metro Atlanta and north Georgia. Fox 5 Atlanta has a great photo gallery of the parade, which raised enough money to provide 7.8 million meals to the hungry.


  •  Amazon’s business model is rubbing off on retailers, and changing the way we shop in traditional brick-and-mortar stores. In late September, Bed, Bath and Beyond began testing a beta version of its new “Beyond+” loyalty program, which takes a page out of Amazon Prime’s handbook, offering perks that include free shipping and 20 percent off every purchase, for an annual membership fee of $29 per year. According to a recent Business Insider article quoting Revenue Analytics’ Jared Wiesel, “The success of Amazon Prime has permanently altered customer perceptions about paying for shipping.”
  • Hoteliers are concerned about slowed revenue growth matched with increasing expenses, particularly as the industry cycle nears its peak. David Marvin, founder and president of Atlanta-based Legacy Ventures, shared his strategies for how to control costs as revenue continues to grow, though at a slower pace. Speaking with Hotel News Now, Marvin said the recovery has been anemic. Demand has slacked, but is growing, and supply remains within the long-run averages. Therefore, he expects the industry to bump along at its current level of revenue per available room with some slight improvement in the future.
  • Did your office have a Halloween party this year? Hopefully you avoided this potential pitfall to the scary fun. According to a recent 11 Alive article quoting Fisher Phillips Josh Viau, “Halloween parties often do not get as much attention as other holiday celebrations in the office, but the costume element actually adds an extra element of risk for employers.” Viau continued, “To address this added element, employers should be sure to clearly communicate their expectations beforehand.”

Sometimes “Sorry” Is the Hardest Word . . . But Wells Fargo Needs to Say It



The continuing PR nightmare at Wells Fargo isn’t being helped by new TV ads and outreach to customers. The beleaguered bank is spending millions trying to repair its reputation – but is wasting that money because it seems loathe to say the one magic word.


Wells Fargo is forgetting one of the top tenets of any PR crisis. Say you’re sorry. Actually apologize. Do the one thing Donald Trump will never do. Because saying sorry actually resonates with people. Everyone wants to give the bad guy a second chance as long as they apologize and appear contrite.

How can Wells Fargo not say sorry after paying $185 million to federal regulators to settle charges that its bankers met unrealistic sales goals by opening as many as 2 million bogus accounts for existing customers and noncustomers? How can it not apologize after firing thousands of employees and while government investigators are considering civil and possibly even criminal charges against the bank?

The bank’s one attempt at sorry came in late September when then-Chairman and CEO John Stumpf testified before a Senate panel. But his attempted apology was muddied by his otherwise clueless testimony and lack of contrition. You can’t just say the word; you need to act like you mean it.

In fact, the only positive step Wells Fargo has taken in the crisis thus far is pushing Stumpf out the door, albeit too slowly. As I stated in a recent recap of the top PR blunders of 2016 (with Wells Fargo solidly at No. 1), the buck has to stop with the CEO, who at the time of that writing was still focused on blaming the 5,300 fired employees.

But since Stumpf’s early retirement, Wells Fargo has missed new opportunities to say sorry.

A week ago, the bank sent customers a prepared statement that said a lot, but did not apologize. The word “sorry” never appeared.

Beginning this week, Wells Fargo began airing TV ads nationwide. Maybe you’ve seen them, with the pretty horses and signature stagecoach thundering across the screen. And, again, lots of words and vague promises – but not a single sorry.

The closest Wells Fargo has come to an apology recently is a company-wide speech new CEO Tim Sloan made Tuesday. He told employees he was “sorry for the pain” they have suffered. But that was an internal message, when the biggest apology is owed to the rest of the world.

If Wells Fargo wants to legitimately turn this PR disaster around, it needs to start by saying that one word. Go ahead, say it.

Media Moves: Brenda Wood to Retire from 11Alive



Veteran news anchor Brenda Wood of 11Alive recently announced plans to retire from 11Alive in February of next year. Wood stated on 11Alive’s blog that she has, “. . .decided to finally follow my passion, to pursue my longtime dream to develop, produce and give creative voice to new and meaningful artistic projects outside of news.”

She has been with the station for the last 20 years of her 40-year career and has interviewed an array of public figures from President Jimmy Carter to civil rights icon Ambassador Andrew J. Young to Cher.

She has won more than 20 Emmys and was named the 2014 Atlanta Press Club Hall of Fame recipient, among other awards. Prime time specials hosted and produced by Wood include: “Remembering the 1996 Olympics,” “A Conversation Across America,” “50 Years of Change,” “Mission of Hope,” and multiple editions of the Emmy winning magazine show “Journeys with Brenda Wood.”

The Top 10 PR Blunders of 2016 (So Far)


What do Harambe, Yahoo, and EpiPen have in common?

They all made The Wilbert Group’s Top 10 PR Blunders of 2016, along with the Delta, The Wounded Warrior Project, a smug pharmaceutical exec, and more.

Making News: Our Clients in the Headlines 9/19/16

  1. 21076931-mmmainDiners at the Pizitz Food Hall in downtown Birmingham’s soon-to-reopen historic Pizitz building will have their choice of everything from banh mi to biscuits, Latin street food to Israeli cuisine, developer and Wilbert client Bayer Properties announced. Jeffrey Bayer, president and CEO of Bayer Properties, said, “The wide variety of cuisine we secured for The Pizitz Food Hall is unlike anything else in Birmingham or even Alabama. We can’t wait for the city to experience these unique and exciting culinary delights.” An article further details the revitalized Food Hall, which includes 13 food stalls, two restaurants and a bar.
  1. A recent Think Advisor article profiled the state of the financial tech (fintech) industry and detailed what’s coming next. Wilbert client Marlin’s Russell Walraven, vice president of marketing for Marlin’s Funding Stream, which provides small businesses with loans, gave an extensive interview on the various players in the industry, saying, “Technology has created new opportunities to connect consumers with service providers, but those new providers sometimes encounter growing pains. Non-bank companies saw an opportunity after the financial downturn for small businesses looking for capital they weren’t getting from traditional banks”
  1. Do you pay for Amazon’s ‘Subscribe & Save’ program? You may want to rethink that or at least give your monthly bills a little more scrutiny. The New York Times’ Brian Chen detailed the drawbacks of the program in an article interviewing Wilbert client Revenue Analytics’ resident retail expert Jared Wiesel. Wiesel said of Amazon, “I think they’ve violated the psychological concept of a subscription with their customers in changing prices like this. When people think of a subscription, they think of locking in a set cadence of receiving a good.”
  1. cbs-n2n-2Last week, Avalon hosted a fall fashion event benefitting Bert’s Big Adventure. Noon to Night kicked off with a cocktail reception offering fare from Avalon’s famed eateries followed by a fashion show featuring Bert’s Big Adventure families and Atlanta celebrities modeling more than 100 looks carefully curated by Avalon’s retailers. CBS provided previews of the event, where all proceeds raised helped provide a magical, all expenses-paid, five-day journey to Walt Disney World for children with chronic and terminal illnesses and their families through Bert’s Big Adventure.
  1. Set high atop Buckhead’s five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel is the largest high-rise condominium home in Atlanta, a two-story unfinished unit that’s part of the final phase of Wilbert client The Residences at Mandarin Oriental. The penthouse, which is on the market, can be custom designed or the buyer can use the floorplan from architect Robert Tretsch, director of Harrison Design’s Modern Studio, who was enlisted to create a design for the 10,000-square-foot space. To read more about your potential future home, check out this Atlanta Magazine piece.


Digital Updates: August 2016


1. Instagram Stories - Creating

We’re all about keeping up with the digital world at The Wilbert Group and leveraging the newest technologies to help our clients tell their stories. Here’s the latest:

#1 Instagram finally unveils analytics.

Since Facebook bought Instagram four years ago, social media pros have been wondering when The Social Network would introduce its sophisticated analytics dashboard to the photo-sharing app. This month, they finally delivered with Instagram for Business. The new tool allows businesses to promote posts with ease, view valuable information about their followers and measure engagement and impressions. These changes are particularly beneficial for small businesses with great photos trying to reach the millennial audience that calls Instagram home.

#2 Instagram takes a page from Snapchat with stories.

Instagram Stories, an identical sharing platform to Snapchat where photos disappear after 24 hours and can be enhanced with filters, debuted a few weeks ago. The social media community was in uproar, and questions emerged. Would this be the nail in Snapchat’s ad-heavy coffin? Would people actually use the feature? How will it differentiate itself from Snapchat? For clients, Instagram Stories is a great opportunity to test the waters of real-time sharing before making the plunge to launch a Snapchat account. Additionally, it provides a way for brands to push out a constant stream of content without bombarding fans’ timelines. While this feature is in its infancy and the jury is still out, it looks like Stories might just overtake Snapchat in the future.

#3 Facebook’s narrow targeting a problem for large companies.

Facebook advertising is, for the moment, king. We often suggest to our clients – mostly small or mid-sized companies – that in order to work with Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm and get all-important eyes on their posts, they need to spend money on targeted ads. However, some large corporations are shifting their paid Facebook strategy. Proctor & Gamble recently announced that they are moving away from Facebook’s highly-targeted ad suite, stating that the program’s narrow targeting based on both demographics and psychographics doesn’t work for most of their needs. In response, Facebook is offering better tools for large advertisers to target their wide audience while still generating qualified leads. For the time being, P&G won’t cut back on Facebook spending, but will re-evaluate their strategy to increase their reach.

The Art of Storytelling


What do the lead story on CNN, Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” have in common? They are all forms of storytelling.

A good story compels people. It moves them emotionally or intellectually. Stories come in many shapes and sizes – paintings, fairytales, news articles, tweets and more.

At The Wilbert Group, it is our job to find stories, package them and find homes for them – whether it be a SlideShare, LinkedIn blog, article in the local paper or feature in The New York Times.

Good PR pros are good storytellers (cue the eye rolls). No, we’re not “spinning” stories; we’re bringing factual information to light. And, we do so in a smart, interesting way that will appeal to our audiences.

For example, when the Pokemon Go craze took most of us by surprise, we turned to our clients and asked: how has it affected business? One client, Atlantic Station, told us about plans to meet with a local Pokemon Go group to learn how to best work with them moving forward. We uncovered this story opportunity and took it to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. We even welcomed a reporter to observe the initial meeting at Atlantic Station. The story landed in the AJC’s Sunday paper and online here.


This example happens all the time at The Wilbert Group. We are constantly poking and prodding for the next great story. We do it so often that we’ve highlighted five ways to become better storytellers.

  • Become a subject matter expert. Learn your client’s business. Ask questions, do your research and attend industry events. Just last week, The Wilbert Group attended the CREW Atlanta luncheon and learned about the latest trends in retail.


  • Keep your ear to the ground. Consume the media! Read the paper (or visit the website), follow the right outlets on social media and turn on the news. Listen for stories that may relate to your client. Plus, journalists are the storytelling pros. Pay attention to what they deem newsworthy.
  • Think like your reader. Before you pitch that flat story idea, put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Why would you find it interesting? Can you tie it to a national trend or event? How does it affect your life? These are questions the journalist will ask, so beat him/her to it and start thinking like the reader.
  • Find the right home. Not every story should be told with a press release. Technology has opened so many new doors. Maybe your story is best told through a social media campaign. Or, check out SlideShare. We often use this tool to illustrate our client’s bold idea or point of view.
  • Bring on the visuals. Most of us are visual creatures. At the alarmingly fast rate people consume media (and increasingly shorter attention spans), it’s important to capture your audience with a strong visual be it a photo, video, or infographic.

Happy storytelling!


Making News: Our Clients in the Headlines 8/4/16

  1. Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 2.31.12 PMA recent New York Times profile on innovation in cities across the country had a great feature of the Pizitz Building in Birmingham, Alabama, which is owned by Wilbert client Bayer Properties. The Times wrote that the ethnically diverse food hall is opening this fall, featuring an unusual start-up incubator program for chefs. Bayer has preserved much of Pizitz’s original architecture, even restoring its ornate, terra-cotta facade from the 1920s. It will have six floors of residential space with 143 multifamily apartments and modern office space on the mezzanine. Bayer worked with the group What to Eat in Birmingham – a Birmingham food blog – to choose restaurants and local products to include.
  1. Amazon recently released its Q2 earnings report and, to say the least, it was impressive. Sales rose 31 percent to $30.4 billion, net income surged to $857 million, up a whopping nine times from a year ago. So what exactly can be attributed to this success? According to Wilbert client Revenue Analytics’ Jared Wiesel, much of it is due to the e-commerce giant’s prime program. Wiesel was featured in Financial Times and USA Today, discussing his thoughts on the earnings report.
  1. pokemon go_1468282374984_3947820_ver1.0We’re sure you’re all aware of the Pokemon Go craze and the lengths folks are willing to go to “catch ‘em all.” But Pokemon Go players could put their jobs at risk if they play the game while they’re on the job, according to Wilbert client Fisher Phillips’ Michael Elkon. “It’s especially important for hourly employees,” Elkon told 11Alive’s Jennifer Leslie. “If you’re clocked in and being paid for your time, then most employers are not going to look too fondly on playing Pokemon Go. Employers could find that you’re not getting your job done or wasting their time,” Elkon added. In Georgia, a right-to-work state, you could even be fired for it.
  1. For those in the hospitality space, property tax bills can be a huge burden. But if they take a proactive approach to property tax assessments, they could see a low-risk high-reward proposition. In a recent Hotel News Now article, Wilbert client Real Property Tax Advisors’ Anne Sheehan detailed the matter from a property tax perspective, saying, “You have to be knowledgeable, and you have to know how to segregate out these intangible components from the taxable real estate and the taxable personal property. That’s not something the CFO of a hotel company can pull out of his books.”
  1. Looking to move this fall? Oozing with Southern charm, the nearly 10,000-square-foot penthouse at Wilbert client Residences at Mandarin Oriental is now on the market for $7.3 million, making it the most expensive in the city. The pad is also the largest penthouse currently for sale in Atlanta. The financial and real estate firm selling the property, iStar, is offering it as an unfinished unit so the buyer can create a completely customized interior. The buyer and iStar will then work with a local architecture firm to design the finalized layout. The current suggested layout includes four bedrooms, a fitness room, a music room, a library, a catering kitchen, and a spiral staircase connecting the two floors.