On this week’s episode of Performance Delivered, we sit down with Shana Starr, CEO of Bastion Elevate, a PR, social media, and digital marketing firm that is part of Bastion Collective. In her role, Shana is dedicated to providing clients with rock star talent and a results-driven strategy for businesses around the world. She has over 20 years of experience running successful communication campaigns and working with both large and small brands.

“The importance of consistent messaging has never been more important today than in the past because you just don’t have the time to spend with editors and they don’t have the time to get to know you, so it’s a different approach. I see brands now coming out with all kinds of different things and everybody’s trying to offer everything to just hope they hit something that’s popular, and it’s confusing because nobody is going to take the time to understand exactly what you’re offering,” says Shana.

We chat more about the importance of consistent messaging, as well as:

  • Differentiating your brand through your value-adds
  • Communicating your message across different channels
  • How to ensure consistency across departments
  • Teaching executives to understand the importance of clear brand messaging
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in this episode:


Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success Podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. Today, we’re going to talk about the importance of a consistent marketing message in companies’ PR and social programs. Here to speak with me about the topic is Shana Starr, who is the CEO of Bastion Elevate, a PR social media and digital marketing firm, but it’s part of Bastion Collective.

In her role, Shana is dedicated to providing clients with rock star talent and results-driven strategy for businesses around the world. She has over 20 years of experience running successful communication campaigns and worked with large and small brands. Shana, welcome to the show.

Shana Starr: Thank you so much, Steffen. I’m so glad to be here.

Steffen: I’m really happy to have you. Before we dive into today’s topic, I’d love for you to tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started in PR?

How Shana Got Her Start in Public Relations

Shana: I started in PR because I really love news. I love reading. I love how companies position themselves and I loved getting information and absorbing that. I’m still a news junkie. I get papers delivered, actually actual papers still delivered to my house because I love to consume news. Obviously online too, but I find it fascinating how different stories are told through a third party, which is a journalist or a reviewer.

And so I started my career by working on really exciting technology companies. I worked with Canon Computer systems. We launched the first digital camera if you can believe it. I worked in their printer division from the agency side. I launched the first PDA, which got picked up in the Wall Street Journal by Walt Mossberg. Back in the day that was like the God of media. And so I’ve always been interested in how brands come to market. We actually, I was part of a team that weighed in on Amazon’s name when they were coming out. And we actually said it was a bad name.

And so it’s interesting how companies evolve and from doing it for the 20-plus years, it’s really, you know, I have that to look back on and I can see how technology companies have really come to the forefront and made lives easier. And now, Amazon rules the world. So I was clearly wrong, but I was right on some others.

Steffen: So what led you from the corporate world into working at an agency? Did you find your own agency first?

Shana: I was always on the agency side. So I was part of Canon Computer’s agency when I was doing that. And back then, and then it’s spread out and we don’t just work in technology anymore. But back then that really was what press were covering because it was when phones were coming out and PDAs and it was just an interesting time to be involved in, you know, all the trade shows. CES was still huge, but it really was a game-changer.

And all the same press people went to all those conventions and we all networked and grew up together basically. And it was just a really great time to be in PR from an agency side because press still took the time to understand things. And that’s the importance of what I was saying today to talk about consistent messaging because they don’t spend that time on brands anymore. Unless you’re an Apple, or a Starbucks or a Microsoft, they don’t spend the time to get to know the brand. They don’t get the, they don’t spend the appropriate time to understand exactly what a brand value ad is.

And so the importance of consistent messaging has never been more important today than in the past, because you just don’t have the time to spend with editors and they don’t have the time to get to know you. And so it’s a different approach. And I think, I see brands now coming out with just all kinds of different things and, you know, dating apps that do this or do that and everybody’s trying to be, offer everything to just hope they hit something that’s popular and it’s just too confusing because nobody is going to take the time to understand exactly what you’re offering. So brands really need to simplify that message and get really hyper-focused.

Steffen: From your perspective, why is that?

Shana: Because you can’t have a confusing narrative about why someone should choose you or, you know, why a customer should buy from you, why a client should sign up for your service. You need to be very clear because no one is spending the time. There’s no longer big stories about companies coming out that are changing the world unless, you know, you are unless you’re impossible meat or something.

And, you know, you’ve come up with this great food technology, something like that. If you’re just, if you’re bringing something to market and you’re trying to get part of a conversation, it is best to just get, again, get really hyper-focused on exactly what you’re bringing to the table, exactly what your company does, and what you’re selling. And in today’s marketing, you know, what you’re doing to help, like how, for instance, you know, in this time of crisis and the COVID pandemic, like, what exactly could you do for a business? How could you make, you know, connecting their remote teams better or whatever it is, but be very clear and concise on it.

And I think that needs to translate from, you know, whatever you’re doing in PR, whatever you’re doing in marketing and whatever you’re doing in social, it needs to all tie together. And I think brands can be, they can be lazy about that. And one executive could be doing this and another executive could be saying that, and they really need to spend the time of what exactly are you bringing to the table? Why does it matter? And how does it fit in today’s narrative?

Steffen: Yeah, I guess in a time where there’s so much competition, it really is important when you have several companies, you know, offering the same service. If we take, for example, you know, food delivery while you have the likes of Grubhub, Postmates, Uber Eats, there are obviously a number of others. If these companies are not able to deliver a clear message on what their brand stands for, how they communicate across different channels and who they’re after etc, they will just get lost in the noise out there.

Standing Out From the Competition

Shana: Exactly, exactly. And from a PR and social media firm, we do a lot of PR ourselves. And we have a lot of different companies that come to us asking questions and wanting help. And sometimes when they come to us, they don’t even know exactly what their value add is and how, what their competitive advantage is. Just to your point with all the different food delivery services, it needs to be, you know, how we’re getting your food faster, making sure our delivery, you know, our drivers are making sure they’re safe and getting you the food as fast.

So it’s more, you know, things like that, they need to be saying exactly what their value add is. And I think, you know, across the board, brands tend to not make sure that everything is running against, you know, these key methods drivers. What we always say when we onboard a client, we look and we say, what are your top three, you know, what matters to your customers? Who are your customers?

Why do they buy from you? What are your top three value add things? And then we have them look at it from those eyes whenever they do, you know, a social post, whenever an executive does an interview, we try and report what was said. Were these three things hit? One of these three things hit. And then look back, like in our reporting, you know, did the editor ask questions on that story? Did they pick up the quote around that key message? Did that, you know, amplify out with their social shares off of that? What did, you know, what was the, are social listening tools?

What did they come back and say wasn’t anything of these three messages, so that we can really go back to clients and say, You need to be saying, you know, key one, you know, message here is really driving the majority of the feedback, the engagement, you know, the media pickup. And so emphasize that Let’s do another marketing campaign around that. It’s a really good way to make sure you’re aligned across the board and that you’re integrated and that you’re pushing exactly what you do. And I think brands that don’t take the time to drill down to just three easy things are wasting their marketing dollars.

Steffen: Yeah. So from your experience, do you usually see those issues with smaller brands, or with larger brands?

Shana: You know, I wish I could say it was just the smaller brands but I see it a lot with larger brands because they’re not, they don’t really onboard the executives to make sure that they’re on point, and then go back and track against that. Some companies obviously do it really well. You know, Nike, like the Taco Bells, you know, the big, big brands that are always given accolades for their marketing, they, you know, they have obviously got that down.

But other larger brands or b2b brands that are just out there, you know, in monsters and in software as a service stuff, you know, all the SAS stuff, but they’re not taking the time to get everybody on board to say, this is what we do. And then I’ve been in meetings with really well-branded companies that have been around forever and they’re stumbling because the product isn’t as robust as it should be compared to new things that are coming to market. And they’ll ask us like, well, should we rebrand ourselves?

And I also think that’s a bad idea. It’s like no, get your product right. But still deliver on the, you know on your simple message. It has nothing to do with the color of your logo. It’s more about what you’re delivering. And then again, to have all those executives come in. And we also do a lot of social media work for executives, writing their posts, building a brand story around them. But it all ties into the brands that they work for. Because we know from our experience when we’re pitching somebody out executives, say at a financial institution, I can hear the report.

You know, what is their LinkedIn? What is, they want to make sure that if you’re, you know, preaching financial literacy, that you’re also saying that on social so that you really are the expert that we’re pitching them out for. And it’s a really important factor. It’s a factor that I don’t think, I think more executives now that they’re seeing how important social can be for them and just for their own brand, they’re getting more on board, but in the past, you know, it just really wasn’t of interest because they’re typically older, you know, C level execs, but it’s an important part of rounding out again, your entire brand.

Steffen: Yeah. So obviously, you know, consistency, as I said a second ago, and I think you said that too, is it’s important to differentiate the company’s brand from that of competitors and to be able to communicate clearly to the target audience what they stand for, who they are. How rigid does that message have to be when it comes to, you know, using different channels that sit in different parts of, you know, the purchase funnel? Is there some leeway or do they have to stick to it 100%?

How Flexible Can a Brand Message be?

Shana: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I mean, there’s different channels for, one of our clients, they have a medical test, right? And they’re, it’s sold into doctors’ offices. But on the other side, we want consumers to know with those tests does so that they go into their doctor’s office and ask for the test. And so those two sides have a different story. So there is a, there are different messaging to the consumer to get them to go into their doctor’s office. And then there’s the different message to the doctors, right? So that they use them for the testing. And so in those instances, that’s a really great point.

There are two different messages, but they need to be consistent about what they bring to the patient. So then it does tie back in but there are areas, of course, where there’s different messaging. But again, it needs to be very clear, concise, and consistent. You don’t want a confusing narrative to have somebody make a decision. You know, people love to be told why they should be doing it, how they should be doing it, and what impact that will have on their lives, whether it be in business or in their lifestyle.

But if you offer too many products or services and too many things that are confusing, they’re not going to succeed. And it’s a really hard way to even market. I’m always amazed at the 8 million different messages you can get from a brand and have zero connection to them. But there’s just money being piled in because, you know, it’s something innovative, but they just don’t have the messaging down. And I think, like I said, in today’s media landscape and the way that everyone consumes news, which are in these, you know, little soundbite areas, it’s just really important to spend the time on that.

Steffen: Yeah. You know, obviously, you just answered the question around, you know, how consistent doesn’t have to be when it comes to the purchase funnel, but you also already brought up, you know, different departments.

How can a company ensure that there’s consistency across departments or for example, obviously, marketing is the part that at some points develops brand messaging and brand guidelines, brand persona, brand positioning. But how can a company ensure that, for example, customer service, the ones that are on the front line, that talk to people when they have concerns or have questions, or sales that are the ones that bring into business, communicate the overarching company message correctly?

Shana: Yeah, that’s a great question. And we’ve run up against that. And really actually recently with our sister company is Fashion Rare and they’re a digital agency. They were running SEO campaigns, were running PR campaigns for this one. Big national client. But we were noticing that the fills weren’t, they weren’t turning over.

So they were getting upticks in traffic and getting a lot of hits onto the website, but then leaving. And we actually went in, and this was part of Rare’s team, but they went in and worked with their phone bank and saw that they weren’t returning calls. And they weren’t saying the same things that we were saying when we’re driving people in with PR campaigns and social campaigns and SEO and Google ads and all that. So it really does come down to you have to look at where it’s not working.

So if, for instance, and this is also the system’s really self-promotional, but I do think brands need agencies like yourself and our agency Fashion Elevate, to go in and really give you the hard cold facts of like, Hey, we change this, this is, you know, here’s your sales funnel. This is what it looks like. This is how we’re driving traffic into your website. You know, we’ve increased traffic, we’re seeing, you know, X amount of interest in this link and then it’s a bailout. You know, nobody’s going further than that.

And so then we go in and we, from experience and from doing it with a bunch of different companies, and you know that, Steffen, like, you know, you’ve come with all this knowledge base of different industries and companies and sizes, right? But it comes down to like, is this marketing driving change? Is it building your business? And if it’s not, then it could be customer service. And so you have to look at that. You have to look at where they’re bailing. And I think that is a really key part in working with agencies that are devoted to reporting.

We really do really deep dives each month and we do weekly if we’re doing ad campaigns on social. We’ve done daily, but we deliver insights because I think it’s really important to leverage that. You know, you used it back in the day, you know, you would read something and then hope that was driving sales. Now with everything being digital, marketing has never been clearer, right? If something’s working or not working. So you really have to go, and it could be customer service, and then you need to go in there and sit with them and spend the time to onboard them on to the consistent message that they need to be saying. Sorry that was long-winded.

Steffen: Yeah, no, I mean, I think what you just said makes a lot of sense. I think that, you know, obviously working with an agency gives you, you know, unbiased insight, unbiased opinion. Kind of an outside look at what you’re doing and how you’re communicating instead of having a unit inside.

Which I’m not saying it’s bad, but it’s a different point of view that you get from someone that is outside and also obviously, that group has experience from working with other clients, you know? So the experience level is much wider and therefore, they will be able to overcome different situations because they might have had to manage that situation already, right? You mentioned earlier, executives.

What is the best way to get executives of brands to understand the importance of clear brand messaging? Because it’s very easy when an executive gets interviewed or quoted and all of a sudden, what they’re communicating, what they’re saying is off message and can confuse, you know, the company can confuse clients. So how would you go about to help a company to keep their executives on track with brand messaging?

Keeping Top-Level Executives in Line With Brand Messaging 

Shana: Yeah. And it is a challenge. It can be a challenge. It’s actually one of the first things we ask when we’re, you know, doing discovery calls before we come up with proposals is like, Who is your spokespeople? How good are they? And if they’re troubled, I’ll use that word, and they’re not great at staying on message or they can get, you know, some people get angry, which is terrible.

We go in and we do a thing called media training. And then we also do media briefs prior to where we’ll say this is what you need to say to this. We got the questions ahead of time and of course, it will ebb and flow and, you know, there’ll be additional questions, but we really try and work with them to stay on point.

And then the reporting. This is where that’s key too, to go back and like I said, make sure Hey, your quote tied up exactly with, you know, key one message here so you did a great job. And everyone likes accolades. Everyone likes notoriety. If you get an executive to see how they impact the overall brand and they’ve done a great job of it and that led to additional exposure, they get it really quickly, but you have to show them why. And when they don’t do it, you have to go in and say, you know, that wasn’t great.

You, you know, you really need to do this better next time. And then we go in for more media training and really try and handhold. We’re often asked, actually, to sit in on interviews with our executives and then give them feedback after. And if it is going awry, we’ll be like, Oh, I don’t think that’s what they’re saying. You know, we can jump in with a reporter and try and rephrase it. But it’s important that their hand is held and that we give them all the tools that’s necessary to stay on message and then reinforce it afterwards.

Steffen: Yeah. I can imagine that that potentially that could be difficult to kind of tell an executive, look, what you just communicated is off message. You really need to do a better thing. You know, you’re talking to a senior person in a company that might even be the one that leads the company. How do you manage that? How do you handle a situation like that?

Shana: Well, I, we actually tend to have really long relationships with our clients, which is rare for PR firms. They usually last about six months or so. And we’ve had some that are decades-long. And I think it’s our ability to actually bring value. And I always tell everyone on our team, you know, they’re hiring us to bring value, right?

And so, and I tell executives that to. Like, you know, we don’t say it in a mean way but it’s, we say it and we are only trying to do this because you have tasked us with, you know, growing your brand, your brand awareness, making sure that it is consistent, making sure that it is concise and that everything ties together. And that’s the beauty of having, being part of Bastion Collective too because if one of our clients needs digital and they need SEO, and they need some help, they’re a mobile app developer, I’ve got an agency that I know and trust and, you know, works in the same office with me and I can go to them and say, Hey, help my client out.

Give them a great price. They need this by Wednesday. You know, we can really work together. Also work with a DB5, which is part of Bastion collective and they’re a data insights company. So if one of our clients, they’re not really sure who their audience is, we can find out first and then put measurements within that campaign and go back and say, Yes, we were successful.

We hit upon all these things. And I feel like that’s a really good way to bring your client value. And I always tell everyone on my team, like they’re not asking for friendship, you know, we’re not yes, people. That’s not what they’re paying us for. They’re paying us to actually make recommendations. So if we’re going to give a recommendation or if we’re going to present some strategy, we tell them why. It’s not just, Hey, I have an idea. It’s like I have an idea because it will do XYZ.

Steffen: Yeah, that makes sense. You talked about measurement earlier. So how do you measure the effectiveness of delivering consistent messaging for clients?

Measuring the Effectiveness of Brand Messaging Strategies

Shana: We do that by reporting, seeing how many people actually clicked into our story, we can do that. We check social shares. We have social listening tools that are amazing. And we see if the reporter consistently picks up that messaging. If they don’t, then that message isn’t working. And if that message isn’t resonating, and for instance, if the story isn’t shared and it goes nowhere else, then we’re not saying the right thing. So it’s a bit of technology tools and also just, you know, manual hours to look and say, Hey, we’re on track.

This is driving this. And then we need to work really close with our customers, as I’m sure you do and say, you know, did you get an uptick in sales off of this story? Or what happened? Did we see an increase in web traffic? And so they work with us on that because they obviously go in and need to report to their executives that their marketing campaigns are working, and we want to give them all the tools to, you know, make them rock stars too. So that’s really our approach.

Steffen: Yeah. What would a company’s first move be to start analyzing the current situation? And then once they have done that, how can they start being more consistent?

Shana: That’s a great question. I think they need to do an internal audit. Marketing would need to go across all the executive spokespeople, people who are out, well, used to be out speaking at different conferences or networking events, and check their social platforms. See if they are posting about what the company does and what they do for the company.

And then look at their marketing messages and what’s on their website. And, you know, really do a check. Just like a simple checklist of like, alright, is this simple? Is this simplified? Is this reaching our customers? How are our customers digesting what we’re doing? And then is this set across on the website? Is it in our About section, you know, our About Us? Is it in all of our executive bios and our executive thing and socially?

And are we saying it socially? And are we consistently saying it? And I think it makes sense to an agency or an outside focus group, you know, spend some time to really make sure that you are doing it correctly. And then once you figure out that you are, then make sure again, that you’re reporting against that and everything that’s driving that way.

Steffen: Perfect. Well, Shana, thank you so much for joining the Performance Delivered Podcast. I really appreciate, you know, the information you shared with our listeners. And if people want to find out more about you and your company, how can they get in touch?

Shana: Yes, absolutely. Bastionelevate.com. BASTIONelevate.com. I’m shana@bastionelevate.com. And we also have a Contact Us page where anyone could go. And I’d be happy, I love giving advice. I love working with anybody who has a question. So, you know, they don’t need to be a customer per se. I love networking with everyone. So I’ve also enjoyed speaking with you today and I hope it brought some helpful insights somewhere in there for somebody.

Steffen: Perfect. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you’d like the Performance Delivered Podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.