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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.


Writing the American Marketing & PR Playbook:Part I

03/12/2018

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)

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

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The home-based PR – it’s a (perfect) dog’s life

25/10/2018

Sam Howard writes:Sam Howard

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.

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So what makes you the expert??

15/08/2018

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?

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.

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Journalists working with PRs – how to avoid conflict of interests

16/07/2018

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.

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Just because you can freelance – doesn’t mean you should

05/06/2018

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.

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On K.I.S.S.ING – Keeping it simple, stupid!

01/05/2018

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.

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How to get the best out of your virtual agency

24/03/2018

OK so she does get out of bed for somewhat less then £10k, but Comms Crowd content writer Sandra Vogel, sets out her terms for keeping us all singing from the same song sheet…

Over the years I’ve been commisioned by some of the biggest names in Tech, national newspapers, and  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.

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The seventh year – renewing her vows

23/02/2018

It’s seven years this month since Sam Howard walked away from the big West End PR agency to set up office in her 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, 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.

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A PR degree – is it REALLY worth it?

21/01/2018

As our junior’s three year PR degree draws to an end and the student loan looms large, she asks: Was it really 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.

 

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How to be a fearless freelancer

27/12/2017

PR Pro, Debbie Smith, on getting out there and expanding your work horizons.

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’.

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