As PRs we need to demonstrate our clients’ credibility if we want to get their voices heard – but first we have to make them understand why journalists won’t just take their word for it. PR Pro Debbie Smith hunts for those elusive proof points.

my speciality supbject is ‘how to be special’

We know journalists get hundreds of pitches every day. Their mailboxes and twitter feeds are full of companies competing for airtime, all offering informed, relevant comment. But why should a journalist listen to what they have to say?

Your client may be a world expert in their field, whether that’s digital widgets, cloud computing or new legislation. But if you can’t make them instantly credible in the eyes of the journalist, they’ll go straight to the deleted folder.

I’ve been thinking about this since one client wanted to remove a statistic from our pitch because a) he thought it wasn’t that strong and b) he wasn’t sure it was accurate. We pointed out that, while we understood his concerns, we needed something concrete to show that they were well established, had delivered a lot of great work and hence were worth listening to. We thought the number was convincing, but if it couldn’t be used, it was vital to have an alternative.

One way of gaining credibility is to name high profile customers. This isn’t easy, unless you can persuade your client to include ‘permission to be named in marketing materials’ in their standard contract (yes this can happen). However, there are creative alternatives. For example, when one customer mentioned that they worked with one-third of the London Boroughs, we didn’t need names – the statistic was enough. Similarly, the phrase ‘working with law enforcement agencies’, as was the case with one Comms Crowd client, speaks for itself.

Demonstrating credibility can be even more difficult in the finance sector, where every ‘expert’ has professional qualifications and offers similar services, and you will have to dig a little deeper. Links to topical issues can help, as can the ability to understand both sides of an issue. I’ve obtained a lot of coverage for one client on the topic of angel investment because not only does he advise clients on obtaining investment, two of those clients have appeared on Dragons’ Den and he also invests as a business angel himself. So he is extremely credible.

Another option is to work with experts whose credibility is a given, such as academics. Hitching your wagon to a star, to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, can be an effective way of enhancing your own credibility, particularly if your opinions complement those of the expert.

If you’re still struggling for hard facts, the solution may be your client themselves. One of our favourite clients is someone who really ‘gets it’ where journalists are concerned. No matter how busy he is, he’ll quickly give us a short, snappy, often controversial comment to pitch which shows he knows his topic inside out, then makes himself available at short notice if the journalist wants to speak to him. As a result, he punches well above his weight in terms of influence and coverage.

It’s not easy finding proof points and can eb even harder to persuade your client to let you make them public. However, it will be time well spent in establishing them as a credible source.

Can a  journalist comfortably hang out with PRs ? Our in house writer and working tech journalist Sandra Vogel explains how it works for her…

There are some who say journalists and PRs are chalk and cheese. They want different things, they see the world in different ways, and it is impossible to work in both camps. But that’s not true. It is possible to be a freelance journalists who also works with PRs.There can be significant benefits to working in both camps. I can bring to PR clients an understanding of what journalists might be looking for because I know what I would be looking for. Meanwhile when doing freelance journalism I have a feel for what it is like to be in a PR’s shoes, which can help me get the best from them and their clients.

But working on both sides of ‘the divide’ isn’t something to be taken on lightly. There can be difficult situations, and challenges which can sometimes mean saying ‘no’ to particular opportunities.

For example, it is important not to write about an organisation as a journalist while working with them as a PR. In my book, the only exception to this rule is if whoever has commissioned work is fully aware of the PR side of things and gives the OK, and the PR side is also fully aware and gives consent. If a commissioning editor asks me to write about something and I work for, or have recently worked for the company involved I say so, giving them the option to find another writer. If a PR wants me to do a piece of work that might compromise or affect my relationship with an editor, I’ll turn it down and tell them why.

Similarly, it is completely wrong to break confidences. As a journalist I am told many things I can’t make public until a certain time – or indeed I can’t ever make public. The same goes as when working with PRs. Often agreements are signed which prohibit disclosure. But even where there aren’t formal agreements, keeping schtum when it comes to insider information really matters.

I don’t find any of this to be a problem. Keeping a professional distance between the two ‘sides’ is not difficult when you work with editors and PR bosses who understand and share the same ethics. A good PR boss simply won’t ask a journalist to push a particular client forwards with a commissioning editor. And frankly, if a PR ever did ask me to do that, I’d just walk away.

As long as professional respect remains in tact, the relationships can flourish.

 

We set up our virtual PR agency six years ago, and it’s good to see the business model is gaining in popularity, so the demand for freelance PRs is out there.

But just because you can freelance doesn’t mean you should

Here are my top three tips for determining if you would be happy as a freelance PR:

1) Because you want to do it – not because you don’t want to do something else or because you can’t find a ‘proper’ job or because you think you will make way more money than you do now. In my view, going freelance so you can hope to work every hour of every day to make loads of money is a guaranteed formula to make yourself utterly miserable.

Myteam and I, all chose to go freelance, we left great jobs to do it, so we brought commitment to the role from day one and are in it for the long haul. And we are all able to ride out the occasional lean month  with a shrug of the shoulders rather than a wringing of hands.

2) Because you don’t need a boss  – don’t mistake not wanting a boss with the same as not needing one. In a ‘proper’ job the structure provides sticks and carrots, but you have neither when you work for yourself. Sure there are no petty rules but there are no promotions either.

But if you have a big and burly work ethic combined with a very small ego then you’re able to push yourself to get results and when you bring in that piece for the FT be content with a ‘well done me’ cup of coffee and an adoring look from the dog.

3) Because you are actually able to implement a healthy work life balance – we all talk about it but unless you can be bold enough to actually implement it you’re just going to stare at the laptop 52 weeks a year stressing that there is not enough work.

The one overriding factor my team and I share is not just our love of work but also our love of not working. 

Whether it’s kicking off each day with a long walk in the park with the hounds, or the weekly art classes, or the sax summer school – we schedule to take time off. Sure we take advantage of the portable desk and it’s great to be able to get in a few days’ work when visiting family elsewhere. But it’s not just about working away, it’s about not working at all and booking those amazing trips you’ve always promised yourself, for as long as you want to take them.

Our holiday calendar looks like the Conde Nast to do list, and in the last couple of years our small crew have ticked off holidays in:

Sussex, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Guernsey, France, Corsica, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria, Finland (northern lights), Spain, Lanzarote, Majorca, Ibiza, Greece, Italy, Barbados, Tobago, St Lucia, Mauritius and Uzbekistan.

Freelancing is a bit like hand gliding: tentatively trip off the edge of the cliff and it will be bloody all the way down. Instead, we recommend you whole heartedly hurl yourself off it and see where the thermals take you!

Fellow freelance PR Lianne Robinson makes it brief.

I saw this tweet from Tom Knowles a few weeks ago, And it stayed with me. I see this type of thing all the time. Paragraphs beyond paragraphs of long clunky words with no clear explanation as to what it is they are trying to say.You can spend what seems like an age watching a company description going around the various the heads and powers that be of a company. I know this as I’ve worked in-house too. Everyone wants to add their own point of view, something that makes them feel that they played a part in the creation of the copy. But in doing so, adding a long word here and a bit of jargon there, we can completely lose all sense of what we’re trying to say.

When you work for a company you can get so immersed in it and the technicalities around how it works that to come up with a simple sentence to describe what it does exactly can be the hardest thing. We see this a lot in PR too. When I ask a company for 800-1000 word article on a chosen subject its easy. When I ask for a two-sentence reactive comment, it seems to take all day. And it’s the same for me too. For some reason writing less always takes more.

Let’s take the example above with Tom Knowles. Tom is the property reporter at The Times so we can assume that this is a property company (if the PR has got the pitch right!) but what they actually do is anyone’s guess.

Tom’s a busy man. He needs to sift through hundreds if not thousands of emails every day looking for the best news stories all while writing insightful copy for tomorrow’s paper under tight deadlines. He doesn’t have time to read 800 word emails. Tom needs to understand clearly from the outset why this company is great and unique and why it is that he should be speaking to them.

Think about how you read a news article or blog. If you read the first 100 words and you’re either a) not interested or b) you can’t see where it is going, then you are going to switch off and move on to something else. It’s the same with PR pitches. You’ve got to be succinct right from the start and make it very clear why your client is so interesting.

I’ve often questioned if my pitches to journalists can at times be too simplistic. I go back through them trying to add in fancy adjectives and make things sound perhaps more revolutionary than they actually are. What my clients are paying me to do is make sure that the journalist understands why they are so great and why I think it will make a good story. Translating this 800 word description in to two or three easily digestible sentences that get the journalist interested and want to find out more.

So next time you’re thinking about your ‘story’ find the three things that you think make it unique and interesting and express these points high up in your pitch. If you can capture the journalist’s attention in the first two sentences, then that’s half the battle won. If you’re not entirely sure what these key messages are, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and start the process again.

You don’t need to give the journalist a life story about the company and the 30-year career of the chairman

Keep it brief. If the journalist is interested in the story that you are pitching then they will come back to you with questions. Keep it clear, to the point and highlight why it’s interesting in a couple of short sentences. Keep it simple.

 

OK so she does get out of bed for somwhat less then £10k, but Comms Crowd content writer Sandra, sets out her terms for keeping it all zen on the client relationship front…

Over the years I’ve freelanced for some of the biggest names in tech, for national newspapers, and for some of the best known technology web sites. I’ve also worked with lots of small companies, mostly but not all with a technology angle, with voluntary organisations, and with communications agencies.I’ve found good and bad clients across the spectrum. It’s not the size or sector that matters – it’s the approach and attitude of the client to using freelancers. The good clients value, support and nurture their freelancers, and in particular they get three very important things right.

Respecting my time. If I say I don’t work Friday afternoons and weekends, although i may make the odd exception, don’t expect me to be free to work as a matter of course. Similarly, if I am set to work for you, say, Mondays and Wednesdays, then if you need to change the day please give me lead time. In return I’ll only change our fixed days if it’s impossible not to, and I’ll give you as much lead time as I possibly can.

Keeping me in the loop. If I’m contracted to work on a specific project, then knowing what’s going on with that project is helpful. Rather than just being asked, ‘please do A, B and C this week’, it can be useful to know how A B and C fit into the bigger picture and what others are working on. I appreciate that if I’m not in the office full time stuff will happen without me. Of course it will. But it’s useful to be briefed on the bigger picture, not just because it makes me feel like one of the team (it does, it really does), but because I can take wider points into account in my work. Even extra-busy clients that fall into my ‘love to work with’ group manage this.

Paying on time, and at the agreed rate. It should be unnecessary to make this point, but sadly it’s not. Renegotiating rates downwards during a contract or paying late are simply not on. Freelancers are working for a living. They are not volunteers. Trust me, you’ll soon get called out, word will get around. In exchange for paying on time I will deliver on time. And if there’s a chance I’ll be unable to do that, I’ll let you know well in advance.

Now, there’s circularity in this. You treat me well, I’ll treat you well. We’ll have a grown up, professional relationship that we will both enjoy. Heck, I might even work for you on a Friday afternoon. Now and then.

It’s seven years this month since I walked away from the big West End PR agency to set up office in the dining room, buy a domain name and a dog.

You got you a seven-year itch goin’ on?

In that time working life has evolved from lone PR freelancer to freelance collaborator, to creating a collective and now to running our (cloud-based) PR agency that continues to grow at around 25% a year.

So what does the seventh year herald? Am I going to get itchy feet and chuck it all in to become a landscape gardener, a masseuse or apply for Bake-Off? Or should I consider taking a back seat and let the team take the strain?

I think not. After seven years of being my own boss I still love the buzz of running a business and the challenges our kind of work brings. Still love my team and nearly all of our clients, nearly all of the time. I get a huge thrill when a campaign goes well, and I feel the pain if ever it doesn’t. I am alive to it.

Although I get to take a fair few holidays, I never have the blues on my return, and Monday mornings are much of a muchness to me. Among all my friends I never have one moment of work envy, not even when they are essentially paid to get plastered at Ascot under some vague notion of corporate hospitality. They are welcome to it – it’s small recompense for those inhuman early morning commutes, petty office politics and stingy levels of annual leave.

As for taking a back seat now that we are way up and running… Our clients have bought into the whole team and while there is no ‘I’ in team there is a ‘me’. We’re not going to become one of those agencies where you only see the founder on pitch day. Instead we’ll keep our growth to manageable proportions so we can continue to be an all-in kind of crew, as therein is where the happiness lies.

Turns out for me a seven year anniversary is less about an itch more an affirmation of vows.

Was it worth it?

As Holly’s three-year PR degree draws to an end and the student loan looms large, she asks: Was it worth it? 

Ultimately only time will tell (although I would
like to think YES) as I am yet to graduate and secure a job in the industry.
However, I can still look back on my time studying PR at UAL and pick out the positves and negatives.

Firstly, I do think studying in London brings such an advantage to any student, particularly a PR student, as your University is located on the door step of some of the biggest PR agencies in the UK. Additionally, my Uni has fantastic connections with a variety of PR professionals, with completely differing backgrounds.

Consequently, every week we received a guest lecture from somebody different,
who would provide us with an insight of their experience in the PR industry and
offer advice to those wanting to take a similar path. For me this has been one
of the highlights of my PR degree experience. The talks have opened my eyes to the different paths, sectors and opportunities working in the industry has to offer.

The opportunity the university provides to being exposed to different PR professionals gives you the ability to be proactive and make connections. In
my case, if it wasn’t for Sam being one of my guest lecturers in my second year, I wouldn’t have landed an internship at the tech PR agency Hotwire in the summer of 2017. This then led to me landing my role as a junior for The Comms Crowd.

However, if I am being completely honest, if someone was to say to me do you
think a PR degree is worth it, I would struggle to definitely say yes. This is simply because I feel as though the duration of three years is far too long for the work that you do. In addition to this, obviously this differs depending on where you study, however my course has been primarily theory based. It has been interesting to unveil the theories and history behind PR, although I feel it could be argued whether it is necessary to have this knowledge to succeed in the PR industry.

So although I have obtained a great deal from studying a PR degree, I do feel three years is too long and nor do I believe it is essential if you want to go into the industry. In my experience, PR internships are not too hard to come across, once you
have gained the necessary experience from carrying them out. If you are hard
working, passionate and approachable it is possible to secure a role in PR without a PR degree.

 

PR Pro,Debbie Smith, on expanding your work horizons.

You’ve so got this…

It’s more than six years since I became an independent PR consultant, and I’ve enjoyed (almost) all of it. I’m still here and still working on interesting projects with great clients. We freelancers often swap advice but there’s one thing I haven’t seen much conversation around about and that’s the need to keep challenging yourself and venture outside your work ‘comfort zone’. It can be nerve-wracking, but there’s nothing better than the sense of achievement it brings.Most of us go freelance because we’re good at what we do (if we’re not we’ll soon stop winning work) and we want to keep doing it rather than running teams and playing office politics. We stay up to date on our clients’ areas of expertise, keep up with a changing media landscape, and of course there’s CPD available from our professional bodies the CIPR and PRCA.

But what we can miss out on is the opportunity to take on different types of work. In a large organisation new things often come your way and you can take the opportunity safe in the knowledge that your colleagues are there to support you. When you’re working from your home office, it’s more of a risk.

However, opportunities do come along and it’s important to grasp them firmly with both hands if you don’t want to do the same thing every day. If they’re relevant to your core skills, you’ll find that with research, hard work and a deep breath you can do it. My mum used to say, “You can only do your best,”and if you’re well prepared and confident your best will probably be just fine. And then it’s another skill to add to your portfolio.

I was delighted when I was asked  to help with positioning and messaging for a large international business. Interesting client, that enabled me to use my degree subject as well as my PR skills, overseas travel…what could be better? I then discovered they wanted  a crucial piece of business analysis, something I wasn’t familiar with. But I reasoned that it was a logical extension of a SWOT analysis, did my research and came up with the results. Happy  client and a new skill for me.

Sometimes the challenge can be of your own making. I co-organise a local business conference and exhibition for several hundred people and after attending similar events suggested that we replaced one of our speaker slots with a panel interview to make it more interesting. My co-organisers agreed enthusiastically and then asked who’d do the interviewing. There was only one possible answer – me. In the run-up I wondered what I’d let myself in for and the butterflies were fluttering in my stomach on the day. However, I’d prepared my questions and pre-briefed my panel, so everything went to plan. It was so well received that we’ve continued it at the next two events.

So don’t rest on your laurels, fellow freelancers – keep challenging yourselves and get outside that comfort zone!

even wonder women can’t do it all on their own

In this post PR Pro Lianne – looks at how freelancers can outsource the business of running a business.

Yesterday my website finally went live! Well ok, it’s a holding page but it’s a start. I actually bought my domain name two years ago when I decided to take the plunge into the freelance world. But the reality is that work gathered pace quite quickly (thank you Sam ;-)) and I have been so busy since then helping clients manage their PR and marketing that I haven’t had time to do my own. And while I’ve managed to get a home page up, the rest of the content will simply have to wait until I catch a breath!

And I know I’m not alone in this. In fact, the chap that designed my ‘holding page’ said that he has had the exact same thing on his website for over seven years. He just hasn’t found the time to do it yet.

I was going to do it. But the truth is, designing a website and sorting out all the technicalities around hosting it is not my sweet spot. So it kept falling further and further down my to-do list.

A friend of mine recently asked for some help with marketing her new VA business (Virtual Assistant for those who like me didn’t know). I thought she was crazy at first. Being an ‘outsource’ resource to help busy business owners manage their admin – who would do that? But when I looked into it further, I saw that my friend was joining a whole army of other VA’s who offer this exact service. And who have done so successfully for many years.

And it dawned on me. My clients outsource their PR and marketing needs to me. They simply don’t have the time or the expertise to do it themselves. I looked at my own business. It wasn’t just the website that I had outsourced. My logo has been designed by a local graphic designer. My accounts are done by a local accountant….without realising it I have outsourced much of my own business admin. It’s not even that I can’t do any of these things. It’s just that these skills are not my forte and it’s far more efficient to let someone who is an expert in that field take the pressure. And if I want to find time to sleep and spend time with my son over the next twenty years then I need relinquish total control.

Being a freelancer can feel a bit isolated at times. You work for yourself and it’s a real driver. I often put in 18 hour days because I love what I do and it’s really easy to get carried away. But you can’t be a jack of all trades and expect to have a life at the same time. It took a couple of years to see it, but by letting the experts take care of certain tasks it’s a huge weight off my shoulders. Not to mention the fact that these tasks are now actually getting done! It took me two years to outsource my website – it took the designer five days to get it online.

Now I can focus on what I’m good at. And spend more time on the work that actually excites me! My only regret is that I could have done this all two years ago. But I guess that’s the learning curve that comes with the territory.

For some the joy of freelance work is being able to get your head down, get on with it and then get out (thus being the first to the bar). But for others the isolation can be an issue, in this post our new fintech writer and researcher, David Black looks at measures you can take to replicate those ‘water cooler’ moments.

Remember, a dog is for llife not just for freelance coompanionship

There are pros and cons of being a freelancer ranging from flexibility on the plus side to occasional periods of lack of work as a negative. But one aspect that particularly affects those working from home is feeling a tad isolated: and if you’re thinking about making the leap in to the freelance world you should contemplatecarefully.

Some will have more difficulty than others in acclimatizing to the peace and quiet but there are many tactics which freelancers can adopt to perk up the day.

Without having to endure the time, and cost, of the daily commute to work, you don’t need to feel guilty if you take exercise before, during or after your working day. For some it may be taking the dog for a walk, going for a run or swimming. Your choice.

Maybe meet up with an ex-colleague for lunch, or other freelancers in your local area. You are time rich compared to your fellow commuters.

Advances in technology have made it much easier to work from home, but you can harness this for interaction by making more use of things like Skype and Google Hangouts. Social media is also an option but remember time is money. There’s also the phone – you don’t have to do everything by email.

It’s useful to develop a network of other freelancers who you can meet, discuss things and bounce ideas off. There may be a local professional organisation that you can join or help set up. People have different skills and one of your network may be able to help if you’ve got a problem, say computer related or whatever, and vice versa.

There will be numerous industry events that you can attend.Ok, you may not be earning anything when you go to them, but they may well provide useful networking opportunities.

It’s commonplace to have business meetings in a coffee shop and there’s nothing to stop you going to a coffee shop with your laptop to do your work just so you can have the buzz of having other people around ( you may need to rotate coffee shops if it’s a regular habit).

If you enjoy the work t but really can’t cope with the isolation maybe consider using a co-working office space. Yes it increases your overheads, but there are synergies to be had that can off set these including networking, shared costs, reduced taxes etc.

You don’ t have to be a recluse to be a freelancer, in fact the joy of being your own boss might well make you the life and soul of the party.