A blog about standing up, standing out, and standing for something in tech PR and communications.

Kaylee Arca
Kaylee Arca

Sterling Communications Certified as a Woman-Owned Business

As the latest addition to the Sterling team, I have spent my first weeks getting to know my coworkers and learning the business. I recently had the pleasure of talking with CEO Marianne O’Connor and learning about the certification of Sterling Communications as an official woman-owned business (VON# 21000709) under California’s Utility Supplier Diversity Program administered by the Public Utilities Commission. Such designations, and the government services exchanges that manage them, are designed to encourage government contractors to actively seek diverse suppliers and include minority-owned businesses in their supply chains.

Women in public relations
Sterling CEO Marianne O’Connor and Account Associate Kaylee Arca.

The idea is to better level the playing field for business opportunities, but supplier diversity programs are rooted in solid commercial rationale. According to Harvard Business Review, “An inclusive procurement strategy widens the pool of potential suppliers and promotes competition in the supply base, which can improve product quality and drive down costs. And by providing more sourcing options, inclusiveness can make supply chains more resilient and agile.”

As HBR explains, “A diverse supplier is a business that is at least 51% owned and operated by an individual or group that is part of a traditionally underrepresented or underserved group. Common classifications are small-business enterprises (SBEs), minority-owned enterprises (MBEs), and woman-owned enterprises (WBEs). Over time, the definition of diversity has expanded to businesses owned by other minority groups such as LGBTQ, veterans, and proprietors with disabilities.” 

Supplier diversity is just one pillar in the growing environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) movement sweeping business globally, even beyond government contracts. According to PwC, ESG standards increasingly influence company operations and are criteria used by many investors, representing “risks and opportunities that will impact a company’s ability to create long-term value.” ESG standards typically address sustainability and resource scarcity, diversity and inclusion, as well as data security and transparency. 

Though we are just one small communications company, Sterling’s official certification shows that our clients, the government, and contractors can trust that Sterling meets WBE criteria and that contracting our stellar services contributes to equitable commerce. Here is a recap of my chat with Marianne about the certification process:

What motivated Sterling’s pursuit of certification as a woman-owned business?

Marianne: If I’m honest, it was client driven. One of our clients is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, so they requested that we get certified. They knew Sterling was a woman-owned business but were eager for us to get the third-party certification. To make that happen, they helped us navigate the entire certification process.

What did the certification process entail?

Marianne: We had to gather corporate documents to submit with the application form so that reviewers could make sure Sterling was a for-profit corporation at least 51% owned by a woman. After submitting the application, it took roughly three months for the certification to be granted. I’m really glad we did it; having the third-party certification is an important credibility piece for us as a company.

How has the certification impacted Sterling’s business?

Marianne: Sterling’s focus is on healthtech and cleantech, and these are industries where ESG standards are increasingly important. Prospective clients in these areas will hopefully be interested in working with Sterling because we can verify contribution to their diversity goals…and it makes moral, ethical, and economic sense for them to work with diverse suppliers. 

When they do that, they help underserved and underrepresented populations to create a stronger, healthier economy. And embracing diversity attracts employees who want to work for a company that gives everyone a fair shot, not just the friends of the C-suite. I think the next generation of investors and shareholders will place even greater emphasis on diversity, and smart companies will get on board sooner rather than later.

This certification is a good thing to do. More companies need to know about it and understand the full range of their choices in suppliers. Now Sterling is listed in a public clearinghouse of minority businesses that people can and will access when looking to put future contracts out to bid.  

Do you have any words of encouragement for women looking to get their businesses certified?

Marianne: Because I didn’t come from a disadvantaged background and I’m not a person of color, I don’t necessarily identify with being a “minority.” But the fact is that women have been a minority in business ownership for a long time, though I just read in Forbes that between 2014 and 2019, the number of women-owned businesses grew 21%; that’s more than double the growth rate for businesses overall! 

We have to get comfortable with the idea that we’re not asking for something more than what’s due. Instead, we’re letting people know that women are capable and available to do all types of work. So, what I’d say to other female business owners is this: If your business qualifies as a diverse supplier, make it public. You may be doing well, but you can always do better – give yourself additional opportunities for visibility. Going through the certification process is one of the ways you can stand up, stand out, and stand for something. 

Sterling Communications Wins Prestigious 2021 PR Daily Award for Healthcare Thought Leadership Excellence

We’re pleased to announce that Sterling Communications is the winner of the 2021 PR Daily Awards for Thought Leadership Communications in Healthcare PR and Marketing. Our agency was represented by Michelle Denny, Deirdre Blake, Christina Cherekdjian, and Marianne O’Connor. The team took First Prize for work with our client Cloudticity, a next-gen managed services, compliance, and security partner for healthcare organizations. 

About the Awards

According to the organizers, “the winners of Ragan’s PR Daily Awards represent the people, teams, and organizations whose campaigns, partnerships, and projects helped build awareness or raise funds for important causes, initiatives, organizations, and programs.”

The awards are issued annually by Ragan Communications, whose daily news sites — PRDaily.com and Ragan.com — are read by more than 600,000 internal and external communicators monthly. Judged by globally regarded experts and featuring multiple categories, the program honors the top work in communications, PR, marketing, and media. Sterling Communications was chosen from a prestigious pool of healthcare communications contenders, including teams from Ascension and New York Presbyterian (who garnered Honorable Mentions). 

To receive this first place award in healthcare PR and marketing thought leadership excellence for our ingenuity and impact on behalf of Cloudticity is a distinction we cherish. 

Cloudticity is a managed-service provider (MSP) focused exclusively on helping organizations harness the power of the cloud to modernize and reshape healthcare. The company signed on with Sterling Communications in June 2020, aiming to grow its share of voice and better stand out in the crowded cloud provider market.

The healthcare sector is heavily burdened by entrenched and limiting legacy IT systems — and extremely reticent when it comes to adopting new technologies. Under CEO Gerry Miller’s leadership, Cloudticity is committed to educating and easing healthcare’s digital transformation — unifying and utilizing stupendous amounts of disparate health data by leveraging the cloud to help the industry quickly adapt and evolve.

Our goal was to demonstrate Cloudticity’s expertise and strong competitive position by expanding the company’s media presence in both the healthcare and IT sectors. 

Sterling’s efforts resulted in a huge jump in Cloudticity’s visibility, including a 55% year-over-year increase in share-of-voice over its competitors.


To date, our campaign has secured more than 100 media mentions, 11 bylined articles, and a slew of awards and honors. Cloudticity earned Best Solution Delivering COVID-19 Value in the 2020 AWS Public Sector Partner Awards, a spot on Fast Company’s first-ever list of the Most Innovative Teams of the Year, and placement in Inc. Magazine’s 5000 Fastest Growing Companies and Best Workplaces lists. The company is also shortlisted for both Best Cloud Consultancy or MSP and Cloud Innovator of the Year in the upcoming 2021–22 Cloud Awards, was named a 2021 SIIA CODiE Award finalist for Best Healthcare Technology Solution, and CEO Gerry Miller was an EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2021 Finalist

Sterling’s program was recognized by the PR Daily Awards for comprehensive and effective communications strategy showcasing

  1. Cloudticity as a transformative partner in healthcare IT modernization, and
  2. Gerry as a dynamic thought leader and industry expert.

According to PR Daily, “Sterling capitalized on Cloudticity’s high-profile success and quickly established the company as a leader of the pack in healthcare IT.” 

We’re incredibly proud of our ongoing work with Cloudticity. And we’re incredibly honored to receive this professional recognition of the excellent communications services we strive to deliver to all of our valued clients. Onward!

Taylor Petersen
Taylor Petersen

Be Our Guest: Participating in Podcasts

According to Nielsen, at least 16 million people in the US consider themselves avid podcast fans. And Edison Research notes that approximately 80 million Americans are now weekly podcast listeners, a 17% increase over 2020. 

With both the number of podcasts and podcast listeners growing, opportunity abounds to connect with an interested audience. 

podcast guest

Launching a podcast can be a great way to get your company’s voice heard. In a previous series of posts, we provided some details on what’s involved in starting your own show. 

But if you aren’t ready to commit to producing your own podcast, being a guest on someone else’s show is a great way to wade into the medium. 

Here are a few tips and tricks we use at Sterling to pursue podcast participation opportunities for our clients:

Podcast characteristics list 

Figuring out what types of shows might be a good fit for a guest appearance can be tricky in the overpopulated podcast space. Being a practiced podcast listener makes this process easier — it helps that our team at Sterling is loaded with podcast lovers.

A great first step is to list your ideal podcast’s characteristics. This list should include the topic, whether you prefer one-on-one or group conversation, any audience demographics of note, and the overall tone of the podcast — how you want the conversation conveyed to listeners. For example, if you have a very serious spokesperson and message, you probably shouldn’t aim for a guest appearance on a podcast with a comedic tone and irreverent host. 

Your list will help you narrow the search with a clear vision of what you are looking for in a podcast. 

Where to search for shows

After you complete your list of ideal characteristics, you have to find the podcasts that check all your boxes. The best search venues include Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. 

There’s a bit of an art to learning how and where to search, and it begins with familiarizing yourself with the tagging conventions for categorizing podcasts across various platforms. Examples include Business, Technology, Science, News, Society & Culture, etc. You can also browse Channels to check whether a favored publication or production company hosts podcasts that align with your area of expertise. Format is also important. If you find the perfect podcast, but it doesn’t feature guests or interviews, there’s no point in pursuing participation.

Pitching podcast participation 

After finding a few promising podcasts that meet your criteria, it’s time to reach out. Tracking down contact information to pitch guest participation is the next — and sometimes most difficult — step. Even with niche podcasts, show hosts don’t always book their own guests. Determining how to get in touch with the appropriate contact can take some legwork. 

There are media relations tools that can help in this regard. At Sterling, we use Muck Rack, an active and comprehensive media database that added a large and ever-growing podcast category in 2020. The podcasts listed in Muck Rack tend to include up-to-date contact information and outreach preferences, as well as some listener statistics, domain authority scores, airing frequency details, and links to previous episode recordings that are helpful for vetting.

Once you have the right contact information, briefly introducing yourself, conveying your interest/relevance, and proposing a guest appearance come next. With success, you’re on to scheduling, conversation scoping, recording conventions and protocols, … 

Don’t be daunted

As you can gather, the podcast space can seem overwhelming because it’s become so popular and there are so many different options and venues. But that’s also precisely why it presents a great avenue for building brand awareness and demonstrating subject matter expertise to target audiences. 

With the help and guidance of a public relations professional, finding the perfect podcasts and securing guest participation opportunities can be painless — and even fun! 

Reach out to us at go@sterlingpr.com if you’d like to learn more about guesting on podcasts to complement your communications goals.

The science of good stories

“The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”
Jonathan Haidt

Human beings love stories. In fact, we may actually need them. To prove the point, ask anyone if they’ve seen a good movie or read a good book lately — and watch their face light up as they respond.

Why? Our collective instinct for story is a survival skill. 

“Humans don’t have sharp fangs, thick hides or blinding speed; our evolutionary advantage has always been our problem-solving ability, and in particular, our ability to solve problems as a group,” writes UX strategist Carl Alviani. “This tendency to cooperate creatively at large scale … has featured prominently in every major advance we’ve made as a species … shaped by common goals shared by large numbers of people.” 

Common goals, as we’re learning, are built with stories. 

science of stories

Storytelling Science

A well-told story causes a chemical reaction in the brain of the listener, releasing hormones that cause actual changes in behavior and emotion:

  • Cortisol is produced when something warrants our attention (like the introduction of a threat or distress in a narrative), which helps us become aware and stay attentive. 
  • Dopamine is produced when we continue to follow the emotionally charged events in a story, which aids in an elaborate learning system that rewards us with feelings of pleasure.
  • Oxytocin is produced when we identify with the protagonist of a story, which promotes prosocial and empathic behavior.

Turns out, a good story generates the neurotransmitters necessary first for awareness, then for arousal, and finally for empathy. Tell that story well enough, and your audience is paying attention, enjoying the experience, and has enough oxytocin to make the brain more receptive to feel trust. As myriad studies reveal, trust is even more important than facts in forging partnerships and securing allies to achieve goals.

What works for evolutionary success and the survival of our species also works for the evolution and survival of brands.

Whether you’re developing a personal brand or building your organization’s public presence, having a good story is a powerful way to win friends and influence people.

Helping to craft good stories with our clients is one of our favorite services at Sterling. Our process can take many forms, but it’s always revelatory — and generally a lot of fun. Here’s one exercise we sometimes use to help our clients frame what makes a good story: 

Storytelling Exercise

Pretend you’re pitching a movie about yourself to a Hollywood studio. You have one sentence with 30 words to get the job done. It’s called a logline — the pitch before the elevator pitch — and it requires five elements:

  • Protagonist — Who is the main character? An attribute must connect us to her, him, or it. (It’s probably you, but it could be your company, a technology, or something else in life.) 
  • Battle — What is the struggle? The verb must be visual and active. (This isn’t your whole life story, so something specific helps.) 
  • Antagonist — Who (or what) is trying to stop her, him, or it? The villain must matter. (This could even be a way of doing business, if needed.)
  • Goal — What is worth fighting for? The prize must be worth more than the struggle. (You don’t have to have achieved the goal yet.)
  • Stakes — What happens if she, he, or it fails? The potential pain must be real for the audience. (Even something like “total embarrassment” fits the bill.)

Here are three logline examples from films you may know:

  • The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty struggles to transfer control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
  • A young FBI cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to win his help catching another serial killer who skins his victims.
  • A cocky cop must prevent a bomb from exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph.

Storytelling Purpose

This exercise is not meant to hype you or your organization beyond recognition, nor to turn your best (or worst) moment into film fodder. Rather, it’s designed to help you discover how you might ignite that story-fueled chemical reaction as an entry point into important conversations. A foot in important doors. A voice at important tables. 

Give it a try! And reach out to us at go@sterlingpr.com if you’d like to learn more about the power of good storytelling.

Making a Case for Case Studies

The humble case study traces its origins all the way back to the Bronze Age. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, often cited as the earliest surviving example of surgical literature, dates to ancient Egypt circa 1600 BCE (and is believed to be a copy of a much older text). It “contains 48 cases dealing with wounds and trauma, such as injuries, fractures, wounds, dislocations and tumors. The cases are presented in a format that is not unlike what modern physicians use today.” 

ancient case studies
Page from Edwin Smith surgical papyrus. © Image courtesy Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. CC-BY-4.0.

At heart, a case study is simply “a process or record of research” or “a particular instance of something used or analyzed in order to illustrate a thesis or principle.”

And beyond the practice of medicine, case studies have served as a powerful way to collate and communicate information on myriad subjects through the ages. They’ve found function in everything from sociology and statistical research to teaching methodologies at Harvard.

Today, any marketing or public relations pro can tell you that they’re also important in professional communications. Business case studies are an invaluable tool for search engine optimization (SEO), customer acquisition, and media relations.

The power of case studies

For public relations, third-party validation can be critical to securing positive media coverage, particularly in business-to-business (B2B) verticals and influential niche outlets. And the most powerful validation comes from customers and/or partners who have achieved positive results with your service or solution. Case studies provide an ideal format to demonstrate that validation.

For SEO and marketing purposes, case studies also supply a great venue for increasing keyword discoverability through content pertinent to your area of expertise. More importantly, case studies deliver social proof: Establishing that your business is legitimate, and that your product or service is tried-and-tested and has demonstrable value. 

What makes a good case study

In scientific research and clinical settings, case studies tend to follow strict design methodologies specified by field and subject matter requirements. 

For business communications and marketing purposes, case study form and function are much more fluid. 

A case study can be as simple as a single PowerPoint slide featuring a logo, pull-quote, and a few bullet points highlighting results. Or it can be as detailed as a multi-page report with an executive summary, plenty of analytics, and sophisticated infographics.

Case studies are distributed in print and/or digitally. They’re posted to websites and social media channels. And they’re presented in a variety of formats including video.

At minimum, a good case study should include:

  • Context to set the stage and an outline of challenge, approach, and outcome.
  • Pull-quotes that capture attention or provide a sense of what you are trying to communicate.
  • Clear results that are easy to scan.

Business case studies should also highlight the voice of the customer or partner discussing their expectations, experience, and appraisal of what was delivered. And it’s always a good idea to visually represent results or outcomes in graphics, charts or images that quickly convey impact.

Creating case studies

The first and most important step in creating business case studies is determining what you want to communicate and to whom. All ensuing research and/or development should serve that core determination.

And regardless of how many metrics and mounds of impressive data you have on hand, you’ll want to approach your case studies in terms of telling a compelling story. As we’re fond of proselytizing here at Sterling

“Our brains are greedy for stories. A tale told well is always more memorable and compelling and delicious than any bar chart or cold hard list of facts. Storytelling is how we best communicate the essence of who we are to each other. More than ever, and particularly in the realm of technology, companies need opportunities to humanize their positions, connect with their communities, and differentiate themselves in a noisy and erratic environment. Storytelling makes the difference.

Good stories, in other words, are good for business.”

We love case studies!

If you are interested in learning more about case studies, we’re here to help with everything from how to go about approaching partners and/or customers for quotes or participation in development, to case study design, drafting and delivery. Reach out to us at go@sterlingpr.com.

Developing Surveys to Use in Your Public Relations Efforts, Part 2

In my previous article about survey development, I described some issues relating to survey participant pool sizes and tips for developing better questionnaires to lead to more media friendly and attention-grabbing data points for public relations.

Common questions I get from clients tend toward: “Do I have to pay for a survey company? Can’t we just do our own using our own lists? Or do it on social media?” Yes, you can use a cost-effective tool like Survey Monkey if the goal of your survey is to get some fun facts. But if you are surveying your existing lists of customers, partners, and prospects — or doing a simple Twitter poll — the audience is not representative. The media won’t find your survey credible.

survey for public relations

“Surveys based on self-selected volunteers, such as opt-in online polls, do not have a grounded statistical tie to the population. Estimates from self-selected volunteers are subject to unknown errors that cannot be measured,” said the American Association for Public Opinion Research about what it calls a “credibility interval.” If you want your research to be taken seriously by mainstream media, you need a serious survey partner — professional reporters will ask the source of your data and the margin of sampling error.

Paying for what you get

Consider working with a reputable research partner that is an expert in conducting surveys. A few that Sterling Communications clients have worked with — or that have been recommended by other public relations professionals — include these U.S. and U.K.-based firms (listed in alphabetical order): Audience Audit, Cite Research, Dimensional Research, Harris Poll, OnePoll, Qualtrics, Researchscape International, Sapio Research, Toluna, Uncover Research, Vitreous World, and Wakefield Research.

Some of these companies are full-service research vendors that will help you develop the survey questionnaire, identify and recruit the participants, tabulate results, provide reports and charts and graphics in varying detail, and even assemble pitch guides for use with media. Others may focus more on just the surveying steps and data analysis. If you have your own resources for design and media relations who are already expert at your branding and messaging, then you might opt for cost-effective options that will allow you to cherry-pick the stages of the process for which you need support.

If you have deep pockets, you can also commission surveys from respected analyst firms such as Gartner, IDC, Forrester, and Frost & Sullivan; or from a customer publishing house like MIT Technology Review Insights. Their logo will give your survey project the burnished patina of serious qualitative and/or quantitative research. However, they are also highly protective of their brand reputation, so will have more restrictions over how you promote the research.

Doing survey development right

Survey projects require planning and a great deal of thought to ensure you get a useful outcome. “Garbage in, garbage out” really does apply.

Don’t forget to get buy-in from senior management, as you want someone to act as survey spokesperson for follow-on public relations activities. If you don’t have their support, then they won’t be excited to tout the survey’s output at conferences, in podcasts, and throughout the company’s marketing content.

Happy surveying!

If you’d like more help in developing a survey or you have exciting research to promote to the media, send us an email at go@sterlingpr.com.

Developing Surveys to Use in Your Public Relations Efforts, Part 1

Surveys can be powerful tools for public relations teams as well as product marketing teams. They can serve dual purposes, demonstrating thought leadership and/or collecting data to provide insight into a particular market segment or audience stance on an issue. 

surveys for public relations

But a survey developed for PR purposes — say, to elicit “fun facts” to weave into contributed articles, blog posts, and media pitches — may not produce the quantitative and qualitative insights that a product marketing team needs for refining products and services. If you simply want a data point to validate a marketing point, it may be more effective to find publicly available data or pay a third-party for reuse rights. 

Before developing a survey, it’s important to agree up front on intended purpose and hard-data-versus-soft goals, as that will guide the questions and format, and determine the necessary survey respondent pool size. Those in turn affect cost and final product — report, slides, standalone graphics, landing page, etc.

Surveys do require a lot of effort to do well. In developing PR-focused surveys for clients, I have found three key stumbling blocks:

  • Survey pool sizes (and traps)
  • Questionnaire development
  • DIY or tapping a vendor (Part 2)

How big is the pool?

For your survey to be viewed as credible, you need to be transparent regarding the survey pool size and the source of the respondents. That’s why a press release or article or slide deck about survey results will have fine print disclosing the demographics.

If your survey data is collected from a group that isn’t a good approximation of the population as a whole, then it may be biased. When a survey vendor looked at a corpus of press releases to determine common sample sizes for PR-focused surveys, the median size was about 1,000. A survey of 1,000 people in Australia (26 million in 2021) is obviously far more statistically valid for consumer sentiment than a survey of 1,000 people in the U.S. (332 million).

Business-to-business (B2B) surveys of highly targeted audiences (say, IT professionals at North American companies with a minimum of 1,000 employees) do typically have lower sample sizes than surveys of general consumers, voters, or employees. The same survey vendor found the median size of a B2B survey was 377 respondents vs. 1,032 respondents for a business-to-consumer (B2C) survey.

The trap of Simpson’s paradox

Be wary of pooling survey results to get “global” or “multi-country” results. Simpson’s paradox, also known as the amalgamation paradox, is a phenomenon in probability and statistics in which a trend appears in several different groups of data but reverses or disappears when these groups are combined. 

Comparisons of results across countries is interesting for the cultural perspective, but consolidated, averaged data may not accurately represent the population sentiment of any country. 

For example, perhaps you do business in Latin America as well as the U.S. Your product marketing team wants a survey that reflects a Latin American market that is similar in size to that of the U.S. You may survey the same number of people in three countries of vastly different sizes — Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil, for example. If you look at the data country-to-country, there may be significant differences among them, as well as in comparison to the United States. But when you pool the data across the three countries for an overall “Latin American” result to compare to the U.S., the combined result may give you very misleading impressions. That can lead to poor decisions related to any product aimed at those countries.

That is the question

I have learned the hard way that the more time and analysis that goes into the development of the survey questionnaire, the more useful the data will be. 

Screening questions. Decide how finely you want to slice and dice your data, depending on whether you’re using the data for general PR visibility or for true market research. You’ll want some screening questions, but do you need to know age, gender, race, geographic region, company size? Those questions “count” toward the number of questions you are asking. You don’t want the survey to be too long, as the participant may get frustrated and quit. You may also be paying for a certain number of questions.

Yes/No questions. A survey that you’re conducting for PR purposes should produce bigger extremes in responses, in order to get more headline-worthy numbers. Meanwhile, a survey designed to produce true marketing insight may need questions that will result in more nuanced responses. Yes/no, black/white questions that force people to choose a single option instead of multiple choice or carousel “choose all that apply” responses will result in bigger numbers for stronger statements. In that way, if 30% said Yes, you can accurately assume 70% said No — instead of 40% No and 15% Sometimes and 15% Frequently. It’s easier to “reverse the math” or flip statements from a negative to a positive in order to get a headline-worthy number.

Avoid negative assumptions. Try to avoid questions that will result in twisty logic and false assumptions. For example, “Which of these options do you dislike the most?” or “Which do you like the least”? assumes all are disliked. Therefore, you can’t assume reverse statements are true (that people like X most). It’s better to ask positive questions (“Which do you like the most?” or “Rank by the order you like most”) and then assume the option with the lowest ranking is most disliked/least preferred/least favorite. 

Question language and flow. Your questions should have a natural, logical order and build upon each other to help steer the thought process of the survey respondent. Sometimes new questions are added late in the development process but there’s a related question elsewhere in the survey. If you want to keep them both, it makes sense to have them appear consecutively. And be sure you’re using consistent terminology or have a reason for variance, for example, “customer support” versus “customer service” versus “customer experience.”

Second-guess yourself. Review each question in the survey and consider, “Why are we asking this? Who wants this info? What will be the resulting statement and will it be interesting or useful?” As noted above regarding screening questions, if you don’t have a good reason or know how the data will be used, then don’t bother with the question.


Always leave your audience wanting more!  In my next blog post, I’ll provide some advice on determining when it’s appropriate to do your own survey versus getting outside help. And I’ll list some qualified survey vendors. 

In the meantime, please reach out to go@sterlingpr.com if you could use help in your PR or marketing efforts.

Live and In-Person Again! Preparing for Public Presentations

Just in time for summer, pandemic restrictions are easing in Silicon Valley. The weather is great, the Bay Area boasts impressive vaccination stats, and many people are venturing back into public to socialize.

Naturally, we’re also starting to see more opportunities for in-person professional interaction. Some people are going to the office again or attending meetings in the flesh. And there are even high-profile tech events scheduled to take place in live formats.  

And while no one we know has mentioned any plans to ditch Zoom entirely, the budding prospects of some real face time indicate it’s also a good time to brush up on non-remote communications skills for public presentations.

public presentation

After days on end of distancing, the idea of professional gatherings and appearances may feel daunting (or at least a little awkward). But we’ve done this before people. I promise, we can do it again!

At Sterling, we regularly provide personalized presentation support and training for our clients. This kind of preparation can help smooth re-entry for all kinds of IRL communications duties. Whether taking part in a panel discussion, presenting to a group, or getting interviewed by a journalist, here are a few public presentation refreshers to aid in transitioning from virtual to live presentation:

Prepare your mind

If you’re giving a talk or presentation, practice it out loud (and not just in your head). Try recording yourself to check your cadence and clarity. If you plan to serve on a panel or sit for an interview, make sure you’re informed about who you’ll be speaking with, for how long, and what subjects are likely to be covered. Stand in front of a bathroom mirror and practice offering prospective commentary or replying to questions. You may feel silly doing it, but it will improve your delivery. You don’t have to memorize a script. But take time to get comfortable with the fear of embarrassment, how you appear, and how you sound. It helps you present more confidently in public.

Prepare your body

Wear comfortable shoes and clothing (no, this doesn’t mean pajamas are permissible — you just don’t want to feel corseted). Stretch. Drink a glass of water. Take some deep breaths before you walk into the room or onto a stage. Unless you are delivering grave news, go ahead and smile. Check your posture and try not to let your shoulders hunch up whether standing or sitting (this actually helps project your voice). 

Prepare to be engaged

Recognize that public presentation is an interaction — a shared encounter with other human beings. So be respectful and attentive. Avoid rambling: short examples, relatable anecdotes, and clever soundbites can frame concepts you want to communicate and leave a lasting impression. Decide in advance what you’d like people to take away from your presentation, commentary, or interview. Stay focused on those ideas to avoid straying from your desired message. 

Above all, remember that being out in the big beautiful world amongst people can be extremely gratifying — both personally and professionally. When it comes to presenting live and in-person, a little preparation goes a long way toward ensuring a positive experience for all involved.

I’ll Be Your Mirror: A 3-Question Brand Identity Assessment

brand identity

A brand identity should reflect the “personality” of a company. But do you feel like the same person you were a year ago today? 

After 12 months of unprecedented upheaval and adaptation, life for many is very different than it once was. Your organization probably isn’t really the same, either. 

In the face of enormous changes to customary work practices and service delivery, many companies have shuffled priorities and adopted new processes. Some have even retargeted products, mission, and scope. 

Now is a good time to reflect on all that alteration — and consider whether your brand identity still holds true. Or if it could use a refresh. 

Here are three questions to help you assess whether your brand identity might need a full facelift — or maybe just a shot of Botox.

1. Who Are You?

Take a cue from Lou Reed, get a proverbial mirror and hold it up to your brand in the harsh light of day. Give it a long, hard look — and try to be honest rather than aspirational as you consider the reflection. What’s changed about your organization and its goals in the past 12 months? What’s changed in your customers? How do you stack up against your competitors? Does any of this impact your existing brand identity?

2. How Are You Seen?

Your personal preferences may be interesting, but they aren’t particularly relevant here. Your brand image should speak to what your target audiences care about and value. Does it? Many people will make snap decisions based on the “virtual” first impression your company makes in today’s largely digital world. With fresh and critical eyes, carefully review your brand’s current touch points. What impression would your preferred customer take away from a first visit to your website, or your company’s presence on LinkedIn or Twitter? Does it positively reflect your current position? Brand promise? Desired trajectory?

3. Are You In Sync?

Your website and social channels aren’t the only things communicating your brand identity to the world. Every single person in your company is a brand ambassador — and your own colleagues may be feeling out of touch and less than certain about the company’s shared mission in our turbulent times. Does everyone who works at your company know what you collectively stand for? How you operate? The kind of customer experience you intend to deliver? Customers like knowing what to expect from the interactions they have with companies. This means delivering brand-consistent experiences across operations — sales, support, direct marketing, social media channels, PR and advertising programs, etc. Is that happening?

Brand Identity = True Reflection

In any business environment, it’s wise to periodically assess your organization’s unique attributes — and position them to best attract the type of partners and customers you want to work with, now and in the future. But after such a tumultuous year, it’s important to review those qualities — and determine whether your brand identity is still accurately conveying them.

If your answers to any of the assessment questions indicate room for improvement, it may be time for a brand identity refresh. Reach out if you need help or guidance. Developing and polishing effective brand communications are Sterling’s specialty.

Photo Credit: Nick Youngson, CC BY-SA 3.0.