AS IF: the blog

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Adaptable. Scalable. Innovative. Flexible… AS IF

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Adaptable. Scalable. Innovative. Flexible. AS IF. The four most over-used words in tech PR. Perhaps here, we might be a little bit more authentic.

This blog was started by Sam Howard in February 2011, and accidentally chronicles her transition from fledgling freelancer to virtual agency MD. Horribly honest, but therefore insightful, The Crowd posts on how to keep your B2B comms credible while also providing guidance for starting your career in PR and becoming an effective freelancer.


The editorial calendar is dead – long live the proactive pitch

15/01/2021

FinTech PR lead Chanda Shingadia recalls the days of the editorial calendar when features where spoon fed and compares that to how our skills have evolved in order to still be part of the conversation today.

Pitching has evolved in different ways since I started working in PR over 17 years ago. Back when I was a sprightly and eager account executive we spent hours calling and emailing publications at the end of the year to get their upcoming editorial calendars. These editorial calendars were an integral part of our PR programmes and many of us would trawl through these to see which features would be relevant for our clients and ensure we pitched for them in advance of the publication date.

How times have changed. Only a handful of publications now create these editorial calendars and those that still have them chop and change the features around. A lot of this has to do with many print publications moving to online platforms. They are therefore not tied to advertising and can be more flexible with their themes and topics which are more relevant to current market activity and world events.

So if the mountain isn’t coming to the prophet… then we have to get proactive with our pitching.

Reading around the subject, working out where the sweet spot is, where our clients can add value to the debate of the day and then distilling this down to a succinct and compelling pitch – that’s where a decent PR demonstrates their worth.

Proactive pitching and good relationships with journalists are more important now than they have ever been to ensure clients are still getting their spokespeople in upcoming features and articles that the journalists are writing. Relying on forward features lists simply won’t do and speaking to key journalists that are relevant for your clients on a regular basis is imperative. We like to check in with our journalists to see what’s their focus and suggest a proactive topic that might make a good feature or contributed article idea that fits in with their thinking.

As the industry and media landscape evolves, our job as PRs doesn’t get any easier for sure, but being a more intrinsic part of the editorial process is a reward in itself.

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Counting our Blessings: #5 An ‘un-des’ res

21/12/2020

‘Tis the season to count our blessings and Sam has counted five of them. In her last four posts she gave thanks that we have been virtual from the start and entirely focused on B2B, with a distinct aversion for organising events and for being part of a team that understands life sometimes comes first. Here’s her final reason to be grateful:

The ‘Un-des res’

Hearing on the radio every day of the challenges so many people were faced with trying to work from home, in homes that were not set up for it, and full of people that were not supposed to be there in working hours, i.e. the rest of the family – I am so grateful never to have succumbed to the mantra location, location, location.

People look a bit sorry for me when I confess to where I live, which is in a deeply unfashionable part of London, on the wrong side of the North Circular, in a distinctly average suburban semi. Not for us warehouse living or the joys of open plan, indeed not one wall has ever been knocked through. In the immediate environs, there are no funky shops, no gastro pubs and no organic anything at all, although we’re spoilt for choice with fried chicken shops.

But for that rather ego-wounding trade-off, what we do have, is what this year became the new must have, was… SPACE.

Space enough to have a large and comfortable office with a door I can open when I go to work and shut behind me when I finish. And it has lovely old French windows that open up to a garden, a long unwieldy shady tangle of a garden that I’m never fully on top of, but it kept me sane and tan just trying. We even have a huge lake at the bottom of the road – no really! It was one of London’s best kept secrets, but not so much now.

And if you do have to share a home office with anyone, at least I get to share mine with Dill and Basil.

With Elli happily locked down at St Andrews for the autumn was I ever grateful to have the companionship of Dill the little labrador and new recruit five month old Basil, a bulldog/poodle or boodle if you will, and a total charmer like a little furry Hugh Grant. Together they get me out of the house every day, and watching them play is better than any water cooler moment I can ever recall.

Actually I could go on, but I’ll stop at five. To share the love and celebrate our good fortune we’re donating a day’s fee to the team’s chosen charities: The Trussell Trust, providers of food banks across the UK, Shelter, supporting the homeless, and Street Paws, looking after the animals of the homeless.

As this century comes of age, we sincerely hope it starts to behave itself with albeit an enlightened return to the old normal (even if it’s not that different for us) as soon as possible.

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Counting our Blessings: #4 A trouble shared

18/12/2020

‘Tis the season to count our blessings and Sam can count at least five of them. In her last three posts she gave thanks that we have been virtual from the start and entirely focused on B2B with a distinct aversion for organising events. Here’s blessing number four; the final one will follow in a few days.

A trouble shared

Maybe it’s because we have no office and that tends to keep the politics of it at bay, but one of the most significant things about our team is that we really do get on and we really do like each other.

So, as each of us inevitably had to duck out to deal with the maelstrom of COVID chaos and life events that came our way – sick loved ones, vulnerable parents, isolated relatives, trying to get food delivered, home schooling, doomed pet rescues, house moves, and even a new baby – the rest of the team stepped up and stepped in to keep the all the plates spinning. In fact the agency even experienced a growth spurt at this time.

Knowing there was instant financial support for anyone who needed it, and weekly Zoom lunches where all talk of work was banned but you could bring your knitting, helped us to stay connected in mind and spirit.

We even managed to volunteer our time to give a Career Ready mentee a content-rich one month virtual internship, which everyone enjoyed and we hope will help with her application to study media at university. Go Asah!

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Counting our Blessings: #3 An uneventful calendar

16/12/2020

‘Tis the season to count our blessings and Sam can count at least five of them. In her last two posts she gave thanks that we have been virtual from the start and entirely focused on B2B. Here’s blessing number three; the final two will follow in over the next few days.

An uneventful calendar

20 years ago with a three month-old baby, I was tasked with organising one of the biggest user group meetings in the fintech industry. 500 bankers, 200 staff, 12 partners and a five day event in Hotel Arts in Barcelona, just me with zero back-up or support.

Every single aspect of making the conference happen was my responsibility, from the big things like promoting the event and getting people to come in the first place to liaising with all the partners to the planning,  to the entertainment and the blasted buses; from tasting the menus and deciding how much coffee and wine to order to the onsite logisticslike getting up at 5am every morning to put the notepads on the seats in the break-out sessions. to being the last person on the bus every night trying to round up 500 bankers partying all over Barcelona…

Hand on heart I can tell you it was the worst project I have ever undertaken by a country MILE and while ultimately it was a success, the stress levels were horrendous and the trauma went deep.

I swore off events for the rest of my career and as an agency my anathema continued and I’ve steered us clear of them. Sure, we can provide PR and AR outreach support for our clients at events like Sibos, but it is not core for us, it’s just part of the wider PR remit.

Now, when you see the greats like Julie Ross and Profit & Loss with their brilliant global event programme having to close their doors at this time, I can only salute them for thei amazing skill set. It seeems  these things happen for a reason and there but for the grace of SunGard…

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Counting our blessings: #2 B2B is the place to be

13/12/2020

‘Tis the season to count our blessings and Sam can count at least five of them. In her last post she gave thanks that we have been a virtual communications agency from the start. Here’s blessing number two: the rest will follow over the next few days.

B2B is the place to be (vindication at last)

I’ve given many university lectures in PR over the years and I’ve always rhapsodised about B2B to a room of glassy-eyed students whose minds are made up already and can’t see past the bright lights of B2C. In a class of 70 you might get one student who goes, oh B2B might be cool, tell me more… they usually become our interns.

And who could blame them. Like most people I know I fell into B2B. For it has none of the glamour, accessibility or hype of B2C.

Let’s face it, producing and launching an industry white paper is never going to get us on the red carpet at the Cannes Lions Awards… No-one is queuing up to make AbDrab, a comedy series based on the hilarious adventures of a couple of slightly studious B2B PR ladies.

Of course the year has had its ups and downs but they do not appear to be related to the pandemic. It seems working only in hard-core B2B tech and fintech has given us a level of protection from the catastrophic impact COVID has had on so many sectors, all connected to B2C.

And for that we are truly grateful and can only wish our industry as a whole a speedy recovery.

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Counting our Blessings: #1 Virtual from the start

09/12/2020

As we emerge pale and wan from English lockdown 2.0 we look to put the year far, far behind us. But ‘tis the season to count our blessings, and although we’ve endured our sadnesses and setbacks, Sam can count at least five of them.

Here’s blessing number one; the rest will follow in a series of posts over the next few days.

Virtual from the start

No new normal here – we have always been a virtual office.

Having run PR functions for many years, when I set up The Comms Crowd in 2012, it was a no brainer to dispense with the hassle of a central office. Minimal overheads meant better customer rates, and I’d attract and retain a more experienced and talented team if they had the freedom to work the hours that best suited their lives.

We’re blessed as we’ve had all this time to perfect how we work together as a team and get past the rookie working from home mistakes: (think pjs, flaky IT, uncomfortable chairs and FaceTime burnout).

So when COVID hijacked 2020 there were no disruptions to our services, no calamities, it was business as normal for us.

Of course, the knock-on effect of being entirely virtual from the get-go was that I had very little appetite for anything else virtual, so I was the permanent no-show at the virtual choir, the virtual pub quiz and the virtual Tai Chi class…not sure anyone missed me.

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Counting our Blessings: #4 A trouble shared

08/12/2020

‘Tis the season to count our blessings and Sam can count at least five of them. In her last three posts she gave thanks that we have been virtual from the start and entirely focused on B2B with a distinct aversion for organising events. Here’s blessing number four; the final one will follow in a few days.

A trouble shared

Maybe it’s because we have no office and that tends to keep the politics of it at bay, but one of the most significant things about our team is that we really do get on and we really do like each other.

So, as each of us inevitably had to duck out to deal with the maelstrom of COVID chaos and life events that came our way – sick loved ones, vulnerable parents, isolated relatives, trying to get food delivered, home schooling, doomed pet rescues, house moves, and even a new baby – the rest of the team stepped up and stepped in to keep the all the plates spinning. In fact the agency even experienced a growth spurt at this time.

Knowing there was instant financial support for anyone who needed it, and weekly Zoom lunches where all talk of work was banned but you could bring your knitting, helped us to stay connected in mind and spirit.

We even managed to volunteer our time to give a Career Ready mentee a content-rich one month virtual internship, which everyone enjoyed and we hope will help with her application to study media at university. Go Asah!

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Can anyone be a Social Media Manager?

04/11/2020

Simona Cotta Ramusino shares her experience and the lessons  learned over the last six years working as a social media manager for several of our FinTech clients.

So many presume because they can happily curate their own personal feeds that the same rules apply when managing a corporate feed. But I have found the skills do not cross over as readily as you might hope.

Social media cannot stand alone

Social media is the mirror of corporate communications. It may be because of my PR background but for me social media has to mirror what the PR machine does: help communicate a clear profile of the company, of what it does and of its people and values; use the same key messages to help present a consistent and constant image of the company; and promote key spokespeople as thought leaders in their industry. I am quite lucky that in my current position I often cover both roles of PR and social media consultant so I am able to reflect the tone and type of language in social media posts. I know what news a client would be interested in amplifying and of course what owned content is coming out that we can repurpose for social media. It is likely that big global firms may have these two roles fulfilled by more than one person. If that’s the case, make sure you are only a desk or a Skype/Zoom/Microsoft Teams message away from the PR manager so that you can work in synergy.

Scheduling is the perfect mix of science and art.

Most scheduling tools provide suggestions on the best times to schedule a post on LinkedIn or twitter. Most of the time these are good and useful suggestions. However, don’t let the robots take over – this is where human intervention can make a difference. Who is the audience for this piece of news? Where are they located? Which channels do they favour? Is it a big piece of insight that may be better to read at the end of the day? Or is it a video that should be watched in your lunch break? Is this a good blog post to read as you sit at your desk in the morning? Where / when is this [virtual] event taking place? That’s at least what I think when scheduling posts: choosing the right time zone to make sure you catch your audience at the right time and picking the right social channels on which to post to make sure you reach the right audience.

Talk the talk of your audience

Using the correct language is key. I mostly cover corporate social media accounts where the audience mainly comprises journalists, analysts, entrepreneurs and financial services senior figures so for me it is paramount the language used by clients on social channels is appropriate to reach this audience. Here are my two key rules when writing posts:

  • Eats, shoots & leaves. Avoiding grammar mistakes and typos is key, particularly I would say on LinkedIn since this is where your peers and your clients’ peers are.
  • Appropriateness of tone. This is a tip you will probably see repeated in every social media guidance document or blog post and it is the most obvious one but…. you will be surprised by how many blunders are made daily, how often a brand (or an individual) has had to backtrack because of a tweet thought of as a joke but instead very offensive – see @PureGym post comparing a hard workout to ’12 Years of Slave’.
  • Apply a common sense filter e.g. when deciding whether a piece of company news is for internal consumption only or whether you should shout about it to all. Does the whole world need to see pictures of the company Christmas party? No. Are you issuing a release about an acquisition? If you are a listed company you may have some time restraints on when to do this so make sure you are aligned with your PR Communications Team.

Different platform, same rules

For me, managing corporate social media channels is like any other role in communications – you need to build your experience and knowledge, learn from your peers and ensure you always follow corporate communications best practices. Maybe not as much fun as you imagined, but very, very effective.

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Finding my Place in the Freelance World

06/10/2020

LaurenLauren Bowden, head of FinTech Content Marketing, reflects on following her heart and landing on her feet…

It is coming up to 18 months since I took the plunge and left full time employment to start freelancing. Unable to mentally and physically continue along the corporate path that I thought I was destined to walk, it almost felt like I was in free-fall when I left. It was weird, scary, and completely alien to me. I have been an employee of a company – whether that’s a dry cleaner, an IT helpdesk, or a multinational corporate – since I was 15.

What the hell was I thinking?

My descent into panic was in full flow. That was until I met up with my first ‘proper’ boss, mentor and all round great mate Sam Howard. Meandering around Regent’s Park with her delightful dog Dill on a lovely early summer’s day. Off-loading my stress, sharing war stories and catching up on RuPaul’s Drag Race (as you do), it emerged that Sam could have a spot for me in her Crowd.

I quickly realised the opportunity. The freedom of a freelance life with the stability of a trusted team handling a stream of sterling clients, and still able to pay the bills? Obviously, I grabbed it with both hands.

Next task was to find out where I fit. My most recent role as content marketer meant that I was five years out of the journo-PR loop, so I was no use there. I touched analyst relations extremely lightly, mainly as cover for a colleague on maternity leave – also roughly five years ago. No good there either.

Having already made the biggest leap in my career so far, I decided to stick with that approach and dive head-first into wherever I could be of use. That turned out to be as a writer. Who knew? Well, me, a bit. I have always enjoyed writing. And there was obviously plenty of writing throughout both my PR and Marketing jobs. But to be positioned as ‘the writer’ was a little daunting, to say the least.

Confidence with my new moniker started to build soon enough. Compliments from discerning clients, minimal edits from some of the best writers I have ever worked with. And then the clincher.

A psychometric test from Comms Crowd client Capp revealed, from assessment of strengths, skills, preferences, cognitive ability, personality, values and experience and using 100m+ data points, revealed that out 60 potential ‘types’, top of the list was, yep you guessed it…a writer.

Specifically, it told me that:

“You enjoy writing, finding a deep fulfilment in writing things for others to read. You have a natural ability to communicate through writing. The act of writing helps you to clarify your thoughts, so you write clearly and easily. Use wisely – you are likely to get pleasure from all types of writing – even emails!”

Overall, I would say that has been my experience over the last year and a half. Obviously, I have had my fair share of writer’s block, and I have come down to the wire with deadlines more than once. Luckily, I have also been extremely privileged to have interesting clients and incredible proof-readers/sub-editors to help me through it.

It’s also not all been writing. I have continued to create ‘content’ as part of the Crowd and my own clients. Yes, the other C-word that may as well be a swear word these days. I stand with friend-of-the-Crowd Ian Truscott’s view on this, as outlined in his excellent blog: “If you are managing a content process, it’s no different if the piece of content is a PDF datasheet, a YouTube “how-to” video, a set of instructions, or a blog post. It’s a unit of content traveling along a content supply chain from creator to consumer that should be optimised.”

Of course, I can’t be as involved in the strategic plans as I was client-side, but I have been able to use that experience to advise on content marketing pieces across all phases of the sales cycle. And I’ve loved it.

What I have figured out is whatever label we attach to what we do – whether it’s the written word in a thought leadership piece, audio in a podcast, visuals in an infographic – what it comes down to is good story telling delivered in the right place at the right time. That is what the Crowd do best. And I am thrilled to be a part of it.

 

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Five ways to get your dream job in the era of artificial intelligence

28/08/2020

Asah Adolphe joined us for the month of July 2020 as an intern, and many of the team were involved in giving her some experience of different aspects of our work. Peter Springett, our senior editor, volunteered to guide Asah through writing and editing a blog. Below you can read the result.

Could a machine really determine whether you get the job or not? Most likely yes, but here are some tips on how to improve your chances.

Applying for your dream job is a daunting process. What makes it even more nerve-wracking is the influence that technology has on the interviewing process.

A lot of importance has been placed on artificial intelligence in particular, as many companies use it to identify the best candidates for the job.

Being interviewed by an algorithm may be the new norm. However traditional face-to-face interviews are still prominent. Whatever interview process you may be facing, just follow these simple steps. You got this!

1. Search for a job listing

First, you need to devote your time to the job-hunting process by using a variety of resources. Be proactive by handing out your CV, e-mailing companies, looking through job advertisements by using apps such as LinkedIn. Treat your job search as a full-time responsibility. Maximise your options!

When looking for job vacancies you should consider all your skills and experiences. Your achievements will determine what jobs you will apply for.

2. Modify your CV

Now that you have seen job posts that have interested you it is time to revamp your CV, if you have not started one yet then writing one is a must. Remember that this is an important document as the focal point is to sell yourself. Master the art of selling yourself by demonstrating your achievements and explaining what lessons you have learned – it would also be helpful to include what you can offer a company if they choose to hire you.

3. Practice typical interview questions

Next, browse the internet for typical interview questions to make sure you are prepared so you have concise yet detailed answers that show you are a suitable candidate. As a suggestion (to maximise confidence), you could ask a friend or family member to test you on some interview questions so they can give you some advice or feedback on your interview technique. However, if they are unavailable, practicing in front of a mirror will do.

Practice! Practice! Practice! As the saying goes practice makes perfect!

4. Presentable/smart clothing

Whether you are being interviewed in person or your interview is going to be conducted by AI, appropriate clothing is essential as your aim should be to make a good first impression. Remember, first impressions count!

There is no need to break the bank and go above and beyond to buy expensive clothes, after all the most important thing is sophistication and professionalism. Even with AI interviews you could still be penalised if you are wearing inappropriate clothing, as a human will look at your interview at some point.

5. Be aware of who you are and what your story is

Have realistic expectations! Be mindful of your skills and experiences as this determines how far this will get you, although be open to new opportunities to expand your horizons. Do not be deterred by lack of experiences. Nevertheless, if your fortunate enough to get your dream job be conscious that any job has its highs and lows, there will be parts of it that you will enjoy and parts of it that you may dislike.

And finally, be mindful that employers are looking for employees who are enthusiastic so keep that passion and drive!

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