PR pro Debbie Smith looks at the evidence as she considers whether the four day working week is a realistic goal. Could it give regional agencies an edge when it comes to recruitment?
We’re currently seeing conflicting reports about optimum working hours hit the headlines. On one side of the divide are companies who’ve successfully introduced a four day working week, and those who are trying (and in some cases failing) to implement unlimited holiday. On the other is the head of Chinese internet giant Alibaba advocating 12 hour days, six days a week for those who want to be successful. It’s apparently a well-known trend in China, where it’s known as 996 (i.e. working 9am-9pm, six days a week) and is common in the country’s rapidly growing tech industry.
Why is this relevant to PRs? Because our sector is at the forefront of the struggle to find the right balance between work and personal time – and that’s not the just the always-on culture where we check our work messages all the time, but actual working hours at our desk/laptop.
In November 2018 PR Week reported research showing that 27% of PRs are working overtime on a daily basis, more than double the proportion (12%) of the average British worker. Apparently the average UK PR practitioner will work two full days (15 hours) every month on top of their scheduled hours – 24 days’ unpaid work a year. And that includes freelancers – we’re joint second in the overtime stakes, alongside agency group account directors but not quite as bad as agency CEOs and owners. This is having a serious impact on staff well-being.
Fortunately, alternatives are now emerging in the agency world. I recently went to a talk by the head of a Gloucester PR agency who has introduced a four day working week without reducing pay. He says that as a result margins haven’t changed, while sick days have reduced (down 75% in the first six months) and staff are happier. He pointed out that Fridays were largely spent collating results and reports, and technology means this takes less time, so the day wasn’t very productive. As I remember the days when preparing a coverage book really did mean ‘cut and paste’ with scissors and glue instead of using apps like Coverage Book, and we had to look journalists up on paper lists such as PR Planner, I agree he makes a good point!
Dig a little deeper though and it’s not as clear cut. PR means deadlines, last minute journalist requests and the occasional client crisis. What if these happen on a Friday? The Gloucester agency uses WhatsApp groups for each client, which have enabled them to handle anything urgent, and the MD admits that he ‘feels the benefits less’ than his team. This of course means that, although you are free to do other things on a Friday, you can’t be far from your phone. And the MD is putting in extra hours – which no doubt the head of Alibaba would say was perfectly natural! The agency has also reduced actual holiday time by 20%, lunch hours to 45 minutes, and staff will work on the Friday in a week where there’s a bank holiday Monday. To use a cliché, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
However, while this initiative has its pros and cons, I think it’s a welcome change and shows an agency prepared to move away from the culture of presenteeism which has been a big part of PR for many years. I’ve seen it in both London and regional agencies. There were the husband and wife owners who phoned the office from their holiday late on a Friday afternoon to make sure we were all still there – and we were, but the lack of trust didn’t exactly create strong loyalty. So when they got the time difference wrong and phoned at 4.15 rather than 5.15, we took the call and then promptly all went home! And the big London agency where you were expected to be at your desk well into the evening, when the head of department would then open a bottle of wine as a kind of reward, and where an application from an Orthodox Jewish candidate was rejected in part because they would need to be at home for Shabbat dinner by sundown on Friday, which in winter would be mid-afternoon (this would now be illegal).
As a freelancer, I’ve chose to step away from traditional working hours and inflexible holidays to achieve a work-life balance that suits me. This doesn’t mean I automatically work shorter hours, but I can aim for a balance that meets my financial, professional and personal needs. As Lianne pointed out in a previous post, good relationships with like-minded clients helps. For them, the benefits of working with an experienced freelancer outweigh the occasional absences and the emails sent late at night (although my tip is to draft them and save them, then press ‘go’ first thing in the morning!) And working as part of the Comms Crowd freelance collective means I can take holidays to remote places knowing that our clients will be well looked after. For example, a recent fracture meant I couldn’t make an overseas trip for a client, but a colleague stepped in and delivered great results.
We can’t all be freelancers, but I hope that discussions of four days weeks and the importance of a good work-life balance to mental health will make traditional agencies think hard about their inflexible approach. Perhaps it’s most applicable to regional agencies – as the Gloucester agency head points out, his margins are higher than those of a London agency, which no doubt was a factor in making his initiative work. This could be a smart move for other regional agencies, who often struggle to recruit staff, and the catalyst that finally moves PR from its stubbornly London-centric base. After all, the days when you needed to be in London to meet journalists face to face are long gone.
Most of all, I hope this empowers PRs to challenge traditional working practices. We’re a creative industry, so we need time to step back and recharge our batteries if we’re to deliver the best results.
Sandra Vogel editor-in-residence issues her survival guide for live tweeting.
- 500 million tweets are sent every day
- 5,787 tweets are sent every second
- 326 million people use Twitter every month
There are some more mind-blowing stats here.
Now, of course we’re not all exposed to every tweet. But sometimes it is necessary to tweet on behalf of a client, and these are useful stats to bear in mind. Here are two more:
- The half-life of a tweet is apparently 24 minutes. If people haven’t read your tweet within half an hour, then the averages suggest they are not likely to get to it, because a tweet gets half of all its interactions within half an hour of being posted.
- Tweets with an image get 55% more engagement. So the image can matter even more than the words.
Nowhere is tweeting for a client quite so important and quite as stressful as when you are live tweeting an event. There will be a lot riding on what you do because live tweeted events can deliver great profile and original and interesting content. Events can be fast and furious, and it’s not easy to stay on top of everything. You only have one opportunity to get things right – or wrong.
Ten things you can do before you go live so you don’t die trying:
- Get the detailed insider version of the event programme, including whether there are to be any special announcements or launches that the public won’t be privy to till they happen because they won’t be on the public programme. You can pre-prepare a tweet or two with appropriate images so you are not caught on the hop.
- Know exactly who is speaking or otherwise on stage at every moment. Prepare a file that includes their name – spelt correctly – their job title in full, their Twitter handle and any other Twitter handles associated with them – the obvious one is their employer, but there may be others as well. Include any nuggets of info that might be useful for a tweet. Make this file something you can easily access at the event so you can flick in and out of it when you need to.
- Get the lowdown on any special announcements taking place both within and outside of scheduled sessions. If awards are being given get the list of winners, nominees and runners up – whatever is going to be announced live. Get photos of the people in case it’s not possible to take or otherwise obtain live shots at the time. Pre write your tweets and they will be ready to check through and fire off as announcements are made.
- Get as many graphics as you can. Are there slides from presentations that will be useful in a tweet? Get them. You don’t need to have tweet prepared and ready to go for every image, but the images may prove useful to have when you are live tweeting especially if it is tricky getting live photos.
- Prepare at least one tweet for every session you are covering. You might not use it on the day, but then again it might just be what you need to get you out of a problem moment.
- Sort out your hashtags. There will likely be several hashtags that will be in use over the course of the event. Agree the list with your client and anyone who you expect to be tweeting the event live from the client side. If some hashtags must be used in particular sessions, make a note of that beforehand in the same document you’re using to store the speaker details. Keep it structured so it’s easy to find what you need when you need it at speed.
- Set some standards for language and tone. The client may already have some agreed forms of words or phrases – make sure you are fully aware of them and if you think you might lose touch with them in the heat of the moment during the event, put them in your handy reference document. Agree too on the use of punctuation (exclamation marks are the domain of 13 year olds, not professionals), any acceptable or non-acceptable abbreviations, and any words that are never to be used and so on.
- Have an open discussion with the client about logistics – Have an open discussion with the client about logistics – who is tweeting, what are they tweeting, how are you going to divide and conquer? When are you going to get your breaks? Sometimes a client is looking for back-to-back live session coverage. Is that practical? Plan your schedule carefully. You can’t be in two places at once – so where will you be? If two or more sessions running at the same time need to be live tweeted how is that going to happen? Get full sign off on the schedule.
- Do you need access to a backup person or even two – maybe back at the office – who you know will be on hand to do whatever you need from double checking facts to doing on the spot research or taking over from you if there is an emergency?
- Finally, think about what might go wrong and set things in place to head problems off before they happen. Preparation will help you deal with on the day problems either because you’ve already thought of them so they’re not problems at all, or because the process of all that preparation has given you added confidence that you can handle anything.
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.
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.
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.
Newest Comms Crowd recruit and PR Pro, Lianne Robinson, looks at how the brave and the bold can get the better of Brexit.
Any economic event brings with it a period of uncertainty. We saw it back in 2008 when the market crashed and we are seeing it again now courtesy of Brexit.
When situations like this happen, it’s tempting for a company to crawl under a rock and keep quiet. But, at a time when staff, clients and other stakeholders are looking for answers, it’s imperative to have a voice and adopt an honest and open communications strategy. Doing this not only helps to protect its reputation but it also reduces the risk of a negative fallout later down the line.
In 2006, I landed a job in property PR. Back then it was one of the most exciting and fastest moving sectors in which to work. The industry was booming and companies were reporting significant growth and opportunity across the board. Then at the turn of 2008 the recession hit and disaster struck.
In those dark early days of fear, the companies who realised that the situation could yield opportunity had to react fast and work closely with their PR teams to reassure their stakeholders. In such volatile markets, it became vital for businesses to be much more visible, open and out there promoting the positives. There was a real need for company spokespeople to provide shareholders with a degree of confidence that action was being taken and businesses needed advice on how best to proceed.
It is widely noted that the Brexit result came as quite a shock to many. But companies across the country would have spent months, even years, planning for the possible outcomes of the EU Referendum and discussing their business strategy. Most businesses will have a game plan to put into action and now is the time to engage with key stakeholders on the significance of the decision and what it means for the business.
When markets become nervous, it is important to be a voice of reassurance, emulating a sense of calm and trust in order to bring people with you and protect the reputation of the business. Companies who think carefully about the issues and position themselves with care, have a real opportunity to use recent events to help build their profile and garner support. There is a lot to be said for those who are among the first out there providing guidance and confidence.
With something like Brexit when the outcome as a surprise to many, it is difficult to know what the right thing to say is and easy to let other put their head above the parapet to offer their opinion. When no one knows the most appropriate thing to say, only the brave and the bold are prepared to go on the record.
Right now there is much speculation around the future of the United Kingdom might and there are no ‘right’ answers. And while it’s true that yesterday’s news is no longer today’s chip wrappers as the growth of online and digital means that what you say is here to stay: offering a level of insight can pay dividends for the sake of supporting your stakeholders and the continuity of your business as much as anything else.
Courtesy of Eria Odhuba, a founder member of the team and our resident analyst relations guru – is it about what you know or who you know?
When engaging with industry analysts, tech vendors and end users ALWAYS want to know what value they add and whether they can actually provide guidance to help them make crucial strategic decisions.
For some people, the fundamental reason they engage with analysts is to get advice about how to position themselves better (vendors) or which vendor technologies to consider (end users) because they genuinely can’t do so themselves and feel that analysts know more about certain aspects of the industry than they do.
When everything matches – i.e. connection with the right analyst, finding the best time to engage with them during the product life cycle or decision-making process, execution as advised, and progress reviews – we’re all happy and feel the whole process was worth it.
All this depends on:
1. The analyst adding to the knowledge that didn’t exist within the organisation, or did exist but no-one had a good idea how best to utilise it strategically;
2. The analyst using their extensive knowledge of various technologies, implementations and case studies to provide impartial advice and pro-actively guide their clients.
Now, occasionally, we hear “I definitely know more about this industry than XYZ analyst, what value will they really provide? I will be the one educating them!”
Time is precious and it is understandable if someone doesn’t want to waste time talking to analyst they don’t feel are relevant to them. What people should always remember is that it works the other way round as well. Analysts don’t want to talk to people that are not relevant to their research areas or can’t provide valuable information they can use to help advise their own clients.
So if an analyst wants to speak to you, they may not necessarily know more about the industry than you do but they do want to know more about your company, technology, services, GTM strategy, etc.
Fundamentally, you need to see this as an education process. Though you may know what you are doing, you need to get the message out. So, educate the analysts and let them educate the market / tell people about the value you provide.
For a normal briefing, the question to ask is “what gaps in the analyst’s knowledge exist that I need to fill in?” instead of “does this analyst know more than me?”
For consulting / inquiry-type engagements, you can think differently. You want to make sure the analyst you talk to is providing you with the necessary advice related to messaging, market positioning, technology development, etc. What you are looking for is an independent opinion which, given the opportunities analysts have to talk to end users (about deployments) and vendors (about technology solutions), allows them to give actionable advice that you can use.
Sometimes, all they can do is validate what you already know or do. But it is important to have that validation so you don’t get caught up navel gazing. A reality check is always good.
So, do analysts always know more about an industry than you do? No they don’t! But by carefully identifying and approaching the right analysts, you can engage with those (paid or not) that are driving conversations or have an impact on end user technology selection because someone somewhere finds their output valuable enough to engage with them.
Their independence, means people will be more open to them than to you, is something to take advantage of. So don’t ignore the newer / younger analysts – they could be your biggest advocates in years to come.
PR Pro, Debbie Smith looks at how to ‘ride’ a current news story to raise your client’s profile…
When you choose to work in B2B technology PR, most of your career is spent pitching to trade press and freelance journalists who specialise in the same area. Unless you’re working for a megabrand such as Microsoft or IBM, you’re not going to have many opportunities to pitch to the national press.
OK, let’s rephrase that – nothing’s stopping you pitching to them, but you’re unlikely to get much response unless your client’s invented a computer processor that isn’t based on silicon or found a solution to climate change. However, there’s a useful tool to add to your PR kit bag: link your story to something that’s already making the headlines, and your client suddenly becomes relevant to mainstream media.Critical to success are speed and relevance. The link has to be genuine, and you need to act fast. If you’ve spotted the link, you can be sure that another PR will have done so too. But if you get it right, you open up a whole new conversation for your client. Here’s how we made it work for Comms Crowd client, Elliptic.
Elliptic specialises in security and analytics for the blockchain. The firm was the founding member of the UK Digital Currency Association (UKDCA), and in this role provided input to a Government consultation on digital currencies. Earlier this year we thought the results of that consultation might be announced as part of the Budget a couple of days’ hence. This was an ideal opportunity to link Elliptic to a topic which would be given extensive coverage in the print media and online as journalists analysed every last detail of the Chancellor’s speech – assuming of course that digital currencies were included.
So we wrote a short alert to let key media know about the potential announcement and outline why Elliptic could provide expert comment. The following day we listened carefully to the Chancellor’s Budget speech – but no mention of digital currency. However, an online search led to the supporting papers for the Budget and there it was – the Government’s recommendations on how it proposed to make the UK a world leader in digital currency. We quickly followed up with our key media, providing a link to the announcement and offering comment.
The results exceeded all our expectations – interviews with the FT and the Guardian and several requests for written comment, resulting in 15 items of coverage including City AM, the Independent and the Wall Street Journal. Our client was delighted and so were we.
Opportunities like this don’t come around very often. It’s important to be aware of what’s making the headlines, think creatively and look for new and unusual ways in which you can link your client to a story. It may be straightforward, such as when a former colleague was working on a campaign against workplace bullying for a leading trade union and bullying in the Celebrity Big Brother house hit the headlines. A few media calls later and the client was on Sky News explaining what an individual should do if he or she was being bullied. But even if it’s a more tangential link, remember that journalists have pages to fill every day and may be looking for a different angle to keep the story alive. Why shouldn’t you be the one to provide it?