It’s eight years since Sam Howard set up the freelance collective that is The Comms Crowd. This year she learned the real value of belonging to a team, and it doesn’t have a price tag…
Running a firm, however funky, is always a blur of highs and lows, and this year was even blurrier.
Highs: new team babies, client weddings, discovering a brilliant junior (yes Marcel – who knew there was more than one of you!), finding a prime pitcher, winning another ‘tech for good’ client and so doing some good ourselves, getting to work with some of my favourite PR people now holed up in-house and chucking some great projects our way, and even the odd trip to Belgium.
Lows: personal life was rubbish! When fate dealt her hand this year I almost folded.
But when I had to take a step back from work, the team stepped up and said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got this.’ And they had.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that freelancing encourages propagation of the self-centred gene. After all, every day you wake up and in theory you don’t know where the next pound is coming from, and even when you do you don’t know when you are going to actually get it.
But somehow, even though we are freelance and virtual so don’t even hang out in the same office every day, we are a true team. And we are there for each other – not just to cover high days and the holidays but when the kitchen floods, or the car breaks down, or we have one child freaking out, or two children screaming, or three of them fighting, or when we get sick, or our parents get sick, or our dogs get sick -and all in all we are just too distracted to work.
2019 is already shaping up to be a brighter year in so many ways, not least with the addition of our latest recruit, Dill a Mastador pup, a girl this time.
I have always been so proud of the Comms Crowd and what we have achieved but this year I am also thankful.
It’s widely acknowledged that going freelance enables you to spend more time with your family, but what about maternity leave how does that work? No safety net of paid maternity leave for us, so how do you manage? Fellow PR and proud mum of two, Lianne Robinson explains how she does it.
Before you swipe left, please be assured that this is not another blog about your right to claim statutory maternity pay when you have a baby like all the other ‘how to take maternity leave when you’re self-employed’ blogs! This, I hope, is helping to address the real fears of taking some time out when you’re a freelancer – will my clients find someone else? Will I have to start again?
When you start to tell people your baby news, their immediate reaction is to talk about how lucky you are to be getting maternity leave – people ask will you take a year off, or just nine months? But when you work for yourself the reality is that neither of those options are probably going to be possible.
When you decide to become a freelancer it takes a lot of hard work and determination to build up a client portfolio and secure a regular stream of work. It certainly doesn’t happen overnight. So when you find out your family is growing it’s impossible to comprehend the thought that you might just walk away from all of that.
Beyond that there are the financial difficulties. Going a year or even just a few months with no income is a very scary concept, especially when you are self-employed. For me, the thought of not having any money coming in would actually cause me more anxiety than working.
I’m realistic enough to know that when the baby comes along I will want to have some quality family time without the distraction of work. So I do plan to take it much easier, but not for long. One of my more time-consuming projects comes to an end just before my due date and I made the decision early on not to look for more work to fill that void until a few months down the line once I have established more of a routine.
As for my more regular retained gigs, I’m very lucky to work with some lovely clients who totally understand the situation and could not be more accommodating. One of the many reasons why I wanted to go freelance in the first place was to work for nice people and times like this are testament to that. If all goes well I will be back on line after two weeks – and no, I probably won’t be back up to full speed immediately and it’s likely I may be sending emails in the middle of the night but my clients respect that. They encourage me to take as much time as I need and they’ll be there waiting when I get back.
My worries about them finding someone else to look after their PR were soon dissolved when I realise that the relationship and rapport we have built up over the years means that they respect me as a person, as well as a professional and that’s why we work well together.
I’m also very lucky to be part of the Comms Crowd, a collective of like-minded freelance individuals. We work on clients as part of a team so when I disappear on my ‘mat-leave’, I know that our clients will still continue to get great results and opportunities as I leave them in the very safe and capable hands of my colleagues. That support is invaluable and it’s incredibly reassuring to know that I can take time off and focus on my family safe in the knowledge that the team are there to pick things up. As such we’ve also been able to do a gradual handover over the last few months which has also really taken the pressure off.
When I tell other friends and other expectant mothers that I plan to be back online after just a couple weeks they look at me with that discerning look and I know they are judging me. But that’s okay. You see one of the main reasons that I wanted to work for myself was to make sure that I can take my kids to school, be there for nativity plays and sports days and be able to look after them when they’re sick. So the very small sacrifices I might have to make now, will pay dividends in the long run.
When those disapproving friends are heading back into the City with an hour long commute each way after just 12 months, hands tied by a corporate environment that frowns on people leaving on time or taking time off for dependents, I will be at home still managing to build up my business and spend time with the family. I’m in the driving seat and there is nothing better!
Jo Detavernier, vice president of Swyft our US partner and the founding firm of our global network, First PR Alliance provides this helpful two part guide for UK tech companies on how not to get lost in translation when venturing across the pond:
Part two UK marketing to US: getting it right
Any modern marketing and PR campaign must be integrated. Integration implies that you will try to have your ‘owned’ (your website, blog, etc.), earned (media coverage) and paid (advertising) channels working together to reinforce one another as much as possible. In many cases ‘shared’ (online shares) is added to the mix, which when added equates to PESO (paid, earned, shared & owned). In what follows we stick to the first three tracks and count shared with earned.
Here is a list oof tools that are available for a marketing and PR campaign in the US. For each campaign you will be making a very unique selection of building blocks. And since you have now been fairly warned about selecting the right market segment, speaking the right language, funding your effort sufficiently and employing the right channels, all of your marketing activities will now be poised to yield the highest possible return.
- Website with content and style tuned to an American audience (either a U.S. site or American pages on your global site) and plenty of call-to-actions to help people convert through the sales funnel.
- Blog with articles that depart from the benefits of your products or services as they are relevant to American buyer personas.
- Newsletter to send out content that is geared towards different buyer personas.
- Video content aimed at providing valuable information to prospective buyers.
- Distribution of press releases to American news outlets that serve your target audience and to wire services (e.g., Business Wire) when warranted.
- Offering interviews to journalists that attend a trade show at which you have a booth.
- Pitching of stories, on an exclusive basis where practical, to journalists.
- Press tour whereby you visit the offices of journalists for one-on-one talks (this assumes you are a sizable player in your respective industry or are first-to-market with disruptive technology).
- Contributed articles to trade magazines.
- Advertising in print or online media.
- Promoted content and/or ads on social media.
- SEA on Google and/or Bing.
- Sponsored posts (native advertising) / advertorials in print or online media.
- Sponsoring of podcasts.
Integrating owned, earned and paid
As mentioned earlier, marketing and PR campaigns that yield the best results are ones that are fully integrated. Pitching interviews on a story in October, promoting posts on Facebook in January and paying for a sponsored article in March can and will have some impact, but they are not nearly as powerful as a fully integrated campaign where you bring everything together in ways that are mutually reinforcing.
Let’s illustrate this with an example. Let’s say you have just conducted a survey about a hot issue in your industry. How can you maximize the impact of that survey to increase brand awareness and stimulate lead generation?
- Owned: You can make the survey report available on your site for people who leave their email address (make sure you respect American CAN-SPAM regulations while you are at it); write a series of blog posts on the results, illustrated by an infographic; dedicate a status update to the survey on your Facebook page; and publish a slide deck on your SlideShare account.
- Earned: You can send out a release about the survey (after negotiating a scoop with a major tech news outlet or a trade publication if it’s got strong enough news value), pitch interviews with your CEO about the results and use the survey to feed your proof points for a contributed article in a key trade magazine.
- Paid: Companies will typically not pay to promote a survey, but the buzz that is created by the survey will allow your now ‘primed’ audiences to be extra receptive to any advertising campaign that you would want to run in the months following the campaign.
In these two blogs we have discussed what some common mistakes are that European companies that are looking to expand in the US will typically make and what advice these companies should heed if they want to succeed across the pond. The American market is in many regards very different from aThe UK and those entrepreneurs and marketing managers who stick to their UK playbook when arriving in the US will do themselves a huge disservice.
This white paper is based on the Swyft white paper How Should European Companies Write Their American Marketing and PR playbook? Swyft is the founding member and organizer of First PR Alliance. For more information on Swyft, visit growswyft.com
First PR Alliance is a network of independent PR and marketing agencies that offers highly-coordinated support spanning borders, time zones, languages and cultures. For more information, visit firstpralliance.com.
Jo Detavernier, vice president of Swyft our US partner and founding firm of our global network, First PR Alliance provides this helpful two part guide for UK tech companies on how not to get lost in translation when venturing across the pond:
Part one UK marketing to US: Common pitfalls
Promoting services and products on the American market looks at first sight very close to how it is done in the UK. Are Americans B2B buyers not comparable to their counterparts across the pond? And are the best means to reach them the same as in the UK? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer to both questions is a resounding ‘NO.’ UK companies need a dedicated American marketing and PR playbook if they want to be successful on the American market.
So in the next two posts we look at what not to do and what to do to crack the US market.
What UK companies do wrong (most of the time)
- Trying to ‘boil the ocean’
Trying to ‘boil the ocean’ is an American expression referring to the trying to accomplish an insurmountable task, or making a project unnecessarily difficult.
Here’s the thing, the American market is simply way too large for any European company to attack all at once, at least not with the kind of budget one normally allocates to attack a single European country (or even Western Europe for that matter).
Omar Mohout, a prominent Belgian professor in Enterprise who teaches at the Solvay Brussels School of Business and Economics, recommends that European companies first target one specific American socio-demographic or geographic segment. For instance, say you developed a SaaS accounting solution perfect for small and mid-sized professional services organizations in the US. You might choose to first target only American law offices in a handful of major metro areas rather than attempt to sell the solution across multiple industries and geographic markets. In other words, figure out how to thrive and be successful in one specific niche, possibly one specific geographic market (for example, the state of Texas). Then you will have something to show when it’s time to convince investors to participate in your next big push to grow market share. Both your organic growth and the extra funding will help make the next chapter in your American expansion story become reality.
- Underfunding the effort
This second mistake is closely related to the first one. Not picking a segment that is small enough for you to thrive in will cause you to underfund your marketing and PR effort. But even the ones that do manage to pick a realistic segment will unfortunately often commit critical budgeting mistakes. For instance, marketing and PR agency costs run higher in the United States than they do in the UK (especially if you are contracting agencies on the West and East Coast). It stands to reason that the cost of any effort aimed at brand awareness and lead generation in one European country is much smaller than attacking the EU as a whole. The same rationale applies to the US, only on a potentially larger scale
The per unit cost of acquiring leads may vary in the US as well, if only because the degree of competition in the tech space is incredibly intense. Even the cost of sponsored posts in national trade websites will cost much more than counterparts in Europe. Google Adwords campaigns are tricky given the competitive nature of many U.S. tech businesses; it’s not uncommon for bidding amounts run so high as to make the ROI on leads untenable. Talking about Google AdWords, is about 13% more in the US than the UK.
What can you do to avoid underfunding your marketing efforts? Aim for what you can reasonably afford — don’t attempt to overreach on market size and in the process underfund the effort. Do plenty of research into your target market and what works and doesn’t work when it comes to marketing and PR. Don’t be shy about reaching out to local agencies for advice. What you learn from them could be the difference between success and failure.
- Not speaking the language
Well we do share a language but speaking the right language doesn’t only pertain to how things are said. It also has to do with the core messages of your marketing campaigns and the manner in which you articulate them. Clearly American culture is very different from UK culture. A simple edit of a brochure or website into American English will not suffice. You have to ‘think’ like an American to attract their attention in an authentic way. Otherwise, you risk alienating your target audience within seconds.
- Picking the wrong channels
You have selected a segment that you want to target, but now the work begins. You will need to select the best mix of channels to achieve your marketing and PR objectives given your budget and target audience. If you are new to the market you will have to spend a majority of your time creating awareness. Don’t forget to track your inbound leads and properly attribute their source (e.g., Twitter ad, Google AdWords campaign, trade show, etc.) in some kind of spreadsheet. Fortunately, many marketing automation platforms (HubSpot, Pardot, etc.) do a reasonably good job at lead attribution. That said, lead attribution will only partially help inform your marcom spending decisions. Take SEA (Search Engine Advertising) for example: For European marketers, SEA equals Google AdWords. But Bing had in January 2018 a 23.7 % share of the American search engine market (source: Statista). While it’s not the largest search engine in terms of search volumes and ad spend, you can’t afford to ignore it in the long run if you hope to pick up market share against your competitors.
Now we know the mistakes to avoid, the next post will look at how UK companies should write their American marketing and PR playbook.
On the prowl for freelance B2B tech and fintech PRs
Due to continued growth we’re looking for an experienced hardcore freelance b2b tech PRand or fintech PR who has a passion for pitching and strong media relationship skills, to join our team.
We think you’d like to work with us because:
There’s no need to come into the office because we don’t have one, but you’ll be working in a fully supportive, collaborative environment. You’ll work in a small team of fellow freelance PRs and writers on several accounts so you have cover and support as well as access to the best media and digital tools to get the job done. Most importantly, we are utterly best practise and genuinely nice people to work with. And we do meet face to face from time to time!
Our clients are pretty cool too. We’re retained by some very smart b2b tech start-ups as well as more established firms working in fintech, civic tech and public sector so you need to be familiar with the latest technologies and digital developments as well as be able to shape compelling stories and pitch them to the trade and national tech and business media.
If this sounds of interest please check us out and get in touch with our founder with your pitch! email@example.com.
Sam Howard writes:
Seven years ago when I gave up my ‘proper job’ running the PR division of a large London agency, the primary motivations were to get back to doing real PR, spend more time with my son and to finally, finally have a dog.
After serving a six month probation to prove I could hack freelance life, I ‘rescued’ Moby – a five month old Labrador cross (crossed with ‘something huge’ was all the charity could tell me). So that was it – no going back. Moby was my insurance policy to make sure I never took a proper job again!
In the early days it was fortuitous that my skills were not so much in demand, as Moby, it turned out, wasn’t sure he was best suited to being a PR hound. As vocations go I think his early preferences would have been to be the companion of a side-order chef, a WWE wrestler or a clown.
He was a turbo-charged Labrador. Owners of bull breeds would put their dogs on leads when they saw Moby tearing across the field in their direction. On an early foray, an experienced dog walker eyed him with reservation as he tussled a Rottweiler to the ground and chewed affectionately on its throat. “Hmm,” she said as we discussed potential heritage, “I’d say he’s part black lab part something awful.”
Whatever he was, he was not office material. He chewed my chair, my shoes and my arms when nothing else was available and only interrupted his endeavours to work out how to open the fridge door or to bay loudly like a Baskerville hound if he noticed I was on a conference call.
Eventually shamed into admitting we had the worst behaved dog in the park we registered for duplicate dog training classes in two boroughs as one class didn’t seem to be enough to quell his, er, enthusiasms. Thinking back I should have expensed this as ‘staff training’.
But in our own way life began to settle down into some sort of freelance fashion; mornings began with Moby pinning me down in my sheets and barking into my face. After breakfast, and Pilates in which he insisted in partaking, a very long walk and then lunch, Moby would finally concede to have a power nap while I got on with some work. On waking it was no rest for the busy with a full on training session, again with hindsight not sure who was training who given how many sausages we got through. Finally a few more hours of focused napping until Elliot came home and Moby could torment him for a few hours while I finished off. End of work was announced by my streaming The Archers as I pottered around the kitchen, and on hearing the theme tune Moby would be ecstatic and parade round the house for at least half an hour with a cushion in his mouth to celebrate the imminence of meal time.
By now Moby was enormous, he towered over proper Labradors, and with his domed head, golden eyes, heavy jowls, velvet ears, sleek coat and beautifully muscled physique, he was a real head turner, the office Romeo if you will. For he was, it turned out, a Labrador Mastiff cross. Here, in the UK that’s a happy accident but in the US it’s a deliberate combination and they are called Mastadors, a breed much prized for their impressive physical build and also their wonderful temperament.
We still had to wait a bit longer for the temperament…
But after a somewhat protracted adolescence, Moby was around two when the fog finally lifted, there he was, the most majestic, most level-headed, dignified dog, an absolute ambassador for the breed – he went from being the worst to the best behaved dog in the park.
And Moby excelled as an office hound, a perfect patient companion, and accordingly went on to receive employee of the month every month for the next five years. He was excellent on and off the lead, in cars, on trains and buses. And thanks to flexible working, he got to go to the seaside every month to dig in the dunes and paddle in the sea by day and lay by an open fire and dream of sheep while I worked in the evening. He regularly went to business meetings where the techie boys tried so hard to not lose their thread, and to uni lectures, where his Barrack Obama good looks and Bill Clinton charisma had the USC girls swooning in unison. He was even the inspiration for our brand identity – how many dogs can say that?
And in return Moby made sure that every working day was a pleasure: that Mondays were no biggie; that office politics were no more than an insistent stare if I had the temerity to sit down at the laptop before finding him a treat; and that in seven years, I never once knew the loneliness that others talk of when working from home.
So as my former agency colleagues continue to climb the corporate ladder and now have every right to look down on all they survey from truly impressive heights, I am jealous not at all – for they may have the power and the glory, but I had Moby, Moby the Mastador.
How can you prove your clients are the zen masters they say they are? PR Pro Debbie Smith goes in search of those elusive proof points.
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?
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.
Sam Howard set up our virtual PR agency six years ago, and the business model is now gaining in popularity, so the demand for freelance comms proffesionals is out there. But just because you can freelance doesn’t mean you should. Here are her top tips for determining if you would be happy as a freelance PR:
Reasons to go Freelance: 1, 2, 3…
Because you want to – not because you don’t want to do something else
1) You actully want to freelance – sounds obvious but don’t do it just as the lesser of two evils 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.
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.