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.
Sam Howard On how we are growing (albeit vicariously).
When you go freelance, you quickly realise the limitations of what you can competently do and therefore the nature of the projects you can take on. So then, if you’re smart, you collaborate playing to your strengths working with others similarly smart but with complementary skills. Here at the Comms Crowd we have been sublimely happy in that phase for the last few years – steadily adding interesting clients that appreciate the hands on approach and building up the merits of the crew in a wholly organic stylee, even getting nominated for an award along the way. But what does our next iteration look like?
When I founded Comms Crowd it was not to become the next Edelman or even to get into the PR Top 100. In my experience bigger does not correlate to better – not for the clients, where more can buy you less; not for the staff, unless your job satisfaction depends on the length of your job title; nor even the bottom line, impressive offices and charismatic receptionist do not come cheap.
For me, small is truly beautiful and that’s the way we are going to stay. But that said who can deny the global nature of comms and the tech start-ups we work with, have global appeal and we need to secure them global attention without busting the budget…
- All the partner agencies are small independents like ourselves so we know all the work will be done by senior, accountable and personable teams and the buck stops with the founder.
- All the agencies focus on tech and start-ups so little will get lost in translation – geek is geek wherever you go.
- Between us we can provide PR support from Singapore to Sweden United Kingdom to the United States and stopping off in Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, The Netherlands and Poland along the way.
In tech comms at least, you don’t need to be big to be clever… just clever.
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?
Courtesy of Eria, our resident analyst relations guru, we look at engaging with the industry analysts via social media channels:
In the ‘good old days’ of analyst relations, things were easy. If you wanted to know what analysts thought about technology, markets or vendors, all you had to do was read their reports or, occasionally, get it direct when they spoke at events.With so many channels for information exchange now, AR teams have their work cut out tracking analyst opinions. This is even more difficult (though I should really say exciting) when you consider all the ‘disruptive’ analyst firms that have sprung up over the past five years.
Many analysts don’t just rely on reports, inquiries and speaking engagements to engage with their audiences. They use social media and, more importantly, use it so naturally that there are significant opportunities to interact with them in meaningful ways. Analysts that use social media successfully don’t see it as a separate project / strategy to what they do. It is simply part of a multi-faceted approach to engagement which fits in naturally with everything else they do, including paid engagements / products.So the big question for many vendors isn’t, “Should we spend valuable time and resources tracking relevant analysts on social media, and engage with them / their community?”
But, “How do we continue to engage with our important analysts using all the channels available so there is a seamless relationship experience?”
- First of all, we all need to understand that we have moved on to a time where social media is seen as part of normal day-to-day activity. It is, for many people, now simply a channel to engage with followers and/or communities where information sharing, recommendations and online reviews are fundamental parts of decision-making processes. If you still need to have a meeting to decide whether to have a social media strategy, you’ve missed the boat! So, in answering the key question, you have got to make sure you have the right reasons for doing so and realise that it can’t simply be a case of following analysts on twitter. A well-executed and comprehensive AR program will include many traditional elements (i.e. briefings, inquiries, speaking engagements, white papers etc.) but will also have adequate resources to track analyst conversations on social media. More importantly, there will be a willingness to engage with analysts via social channels by sharing useful information or providing comments that add value to conversations taking place (without the hard sell).
- Secondly, it means getting a better understanding of how end users or key decision makers use social media to help them engage with analysts and make purchase decisions. This is hard, really hard! Though the actual decision to select a particular IT vendor may never be known, engagement within relevant communities can sometimes give an indication of the views that end users have regarding particular technologies (though you have to look beyond the beliefs of die hard fans for specific ones such as the Apple fanzine), and analysts’ reactions to these views is important to understand what they think needs to be addressed.
- Thirdly, you have to accept that social media engagement with analysts will not necessarily result in their endorsement of your products / solutions. More often than not, you open yourself up for scrutiny and possible criticism which means being prepared to address community concerns in ‘real time’ just to maintain any credibility. Think crisis management on speed!
- Finally, the social media experience should give companies more information on the analyst they engage with, and form part of the wider intelligence they gather about analysts, including their views on the market and trends they see in the market.
We shouldn’t really be talking about social media for AR any more. We should think of it as seamless, multi-channel AR where we curate information from multiple sources to build better pictures of analysts and develop mutually-beneficial relationships with them.
Guest post: Eria Odhuba analyst relations lead asks, when it comes to conducting an analyst relations programme, does company size matter?
I’ve worked with every size of technology company – from mighty household names, to hungry start-ups. While many may differ, the goal is still the same for their AR programmes – they want to make sure they are on the radars of relevant analysts that cover their technologies and, hopefully, fall into conversations analysts have with their clients.
The key perception that vendors need to overcome is that they must have large budgets to be on the analyst radar. Well – that is just not true. Here is why:
For super large vendors – AR programmes are normally
multi-faceted (especially if there are different business groups that need to
build a story that shows they are fully integrated with each other, and where
the vendor needs to show growth in multiple markets). More often than not,
there are opportunities for numerous engagements with analysts as there is a
lot to update them on. Occasionally, analysts are writing reports looking at
key vendors and they need to keep in touch to make sure they represent the
vendor properly. Basically, there are more opportunities to build comprehensive
AR programmes that have an impact on the bottom line.
At the other end of the scale are the start-ups…. yikes,
where do you start? Actually, you start by first finding out what you’re
passionate about and what problems you are looking to solve. You may not have
the budgets larger vendors have, but you’re doing something interesting
(hopefully) and touching people they probably don’t want to or can’t, and
making your clients’ lives better. Crucially, you can be mavericks as you don’t
have to defend vested interests or fight internal political battles that
sometimes happen at larger vendors.
Whether you have large or small resources certain basic principles apply for an AR programme to succeed. These include:
- Doing some homework on your messaging to make sure you are
absolutely clear on what problems you are actually solving and what solutions
you have to help clients. You really need to make sure there actually is a
problem you are solving;
- Identifying who actually needs your solutions and ideally,
or if you’re lucky, finding out more about their decision-making process to see
how they use analyst research to select technology solutions;
- Finding out which analysts are covering the technology
solutions you provide, and tracking their research plans and speaking
- Using multiple communication channels, including social
media, to amplify your message and get people to follow what you say as you
drive or contribute to relevant discussions. If you’re a start-up – be
provocative. You have no time for timidity;
- Taking the plunge and speaking to the analysts you’ve
- Takeing on board their feedback and make sure they see you
addressing any concerns they have raised.
So, those are the basics. You really can’t do much more if you’re a smaller vendor simply looking to start engaging with analysts. That is a good start! You just need to be realistic about the frequency of interactions you have and depth of programmes possible. If you are a start up with 15-50 employees, you will not have the frequency and depth of engagements a mega vendor has, but you can still make waves. And analysts will speak to you if you’re willing to accept that they will not promise quarterly updates or publish a report four weeks after meeting you.
As you get bigger and perhaps have larger budgets, your challenges as an organisation will change. There are more opportunities for competitors to hit back at you and you have to show you can continue to grow and defend yourself from all the FUD competitors will throw at your clients or prospects.
Now you can start thinking about more commercial relationships with the analysts – white papers, subscriptions, speaking gigs or event support. And be sure any feedback is integrated into your internal market intelligence, and that sales / marketing teams benefit from the enhanced relationships.
If you’re careful, you will have made sure you’ve used the interactions with analysts to identify who actually impacts your target market and can actually help you (without compromising their independence). While respecting the analysts and how they work, you can make better decisions about which paid engagements to plan for and how these help your wider marketing and sales teams to do their jobs more effectively.
To phone or email? That is the dilemma. Our junior Hiwot Wolde-Senbet shares her learning experiences on pitching journalists.
When you work in public relations your relationship with the media is crucial to your performance. You can be as creative as you like but if you don’t generate coverage for your clients, it is pointless.
Having spent the best part of a year agency hopping, I have had to do my fair share of pitching, using phone and email. Therefore I have learnt that every agency has its own attitude towards phone pitching. Some ask for phone pitching experience and put a massive emphasis on one’s ability to pick up the phone and sell in. On the other hand, others, particularly those with journalism experience understand the pressure journalists face and wouldn’t dream of bombarding them with calls. And then there is me. I dread the silence you get from email pitches!
At the beginning of my career, as an intern, I spent hours after hours calling journalists, who I didn’t know from four pages of media lists, downloaded from Gorkana. Believe me, I am surprised how this experience hasn’t left me scarred for life, particularly when the phone is picked up by a weary and aggressive journalist. The whole process often made my heart race.
However, once in a while, there was ‘the match’, that resulted in a decent coverage making the whole experience bearable.
Specialising in fintech PR, we talk to the same people all the time and that gives us the advantage of knowing the stories they are interested in, so selling in doesn’t feel like cold calling – but exchange of services. However, even within this niche sector most journalists claim they don’t want to be bothered on the phone.
Taking that on board, I learned to be careful who I am calling, I had more success in placing an article if I knew the journalist and had researched and learnedall about the journalist than just hoping for the best.
So who and when do you call?
Taking my own experience and other PR pros that contributed to Sam’s debate on CIPR’s LinkedIn group discussion, I have compiled some steps that can help you establish that ‘phone relationship’ with your journalist.
- Understand journalists are always on a deadline and get to know their deadline. Better yet, plan in advance and look at their editorial calendar for the year ahead.
- What is your story? Does it match their criteria? Nothing annoys journalists more than PRs that pitch the wrong stories. Preparing a few points in advance helps with staying on track!
- Be polite! Ask if they have time to talk to you and keep it brief, just enough for you to be able to gage their interest. If they show interest, you can follow up if not, be respectful and don’t bother them again.
- Never ever waffle! I learned this the hard way! Know your story, and exactly what you want to say and why you are calling them and not other journalist.
- Have an email pitch ready to send as soon as you come off the phone. Email will always fill in the details you missed out.
Having said that, it is important to know everyone is different and should be treated accordingly so keep notes and follow through.
Throughout her career, Sam Howard has always maintained that providing PR for fintech companies isn’t rocket science, however it is a bit tricky.
Not only are you, the PR, the only person in the brain-chain without a PhD or three, which can leave you feeling perma-insecure; but also ‘tis hard to tell good stories if there are no good stories to tell.
Actually no news isn’t good news – but owing to the nature of the deals, it is not unusual for a small or a start-up fintech company to have just a few client signing announcements a year and those signings usually fall into three categories:
- The no comment: you may not mention the bank in anyway shape or form – great thank you sooo much for that one.
- The vanilla bean: you can prepare something but the details are to be so vanilla and that the quote so bland that it’s barely worth the effort.
- The never never: You get the go ahead on the Friday night, write it on a Saturday, it gets signed off by your team on the Sunday and it’s with the bank for approval first thing Monday morning. And there it will stay, stuck in the corporate food chain awaiting sign off forever more, never to be seen again.
Five tips for getting a bank to sign off a press release
Over the years, working for a fintech start-up, then a fintech multi-national and then a fintech PR agency, these are the tactics I have seen work. It’s a bit of a team effort:
- Incentivize your sales people to negotiate press as part of the contract. Cash bonuses for press releases and double again for a case study, seems to work well enough
- Incentivize your bank by giving them a discount in the contract if they agree to do press, get dates.
- During the sales process and the implementation, stay close to your champion in the bank and work directly with them on the story, using them as the spokesperson, and making sure your story shows your champion as the pioneer they truly are.
- Have the release written and ready to go so that it can be slipped under the nose of your happy, happy client the day everything goes live ahead of schedule and under budget.
- Make the release hardworking and insightful tell the story of the partnership between your company and the bank. Do not dwell on what was wrong in the first place, be realistic no bank is going to sign off a story that goes, ‘well it was just chaos here till you guys showed up’. And keep the quotes real and relevant not an unadulterated and shameless plug for your company. This will make it easier to get sign off, and more credible with the journalists, on whom you ultimate depend to publish it.
What if you hit an absolute wall and can’t get the bank to talk no way no how?
Rather than issuing a no name press release, which somewhat reeks of desperation, consider going down the analyst relations route where your client can freely talk about the project and its successes to the industry analysts under the comfort of NDA.