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Plunge into freelancing it refreshes your soul…

30/07/2016

From newest member of the team, digital marketing diva –  Simona Cotta Ramusino 

Reality has finally hit. I have updated my LinkedIn profile with my new job title so it must be true: I am a PR And Digital Marketing Freelancer.

After 20 years of working for top class agencies and in-house marketing departments of international brands I have decided to take the plunge into freelancing. Making the decision to go freelance was a scary moment and I am just beginning to get to grips with my new status. It is something that, in just a short period of time, I have already come to appreciate and enjoy and won’t change my mind any time soon. Why? Well you need to know how I got into freelancing.

It’s really thanks to Sam.

Sam and I worked together a few years ago, and one of her talents back then was the ability to read people’s strengths and personalities and make it work well within a team. When I asked Sam for advice on whether I should join her band of freelancers she knew my type well: I am not a risk taker, I am someone who always has to think things through, always needs to have a Plan B (or C or D). So Sam not only laid out the naked truth about the freelance world but she also made sure I didn’t have too much time to think over the cons the new path would entail and got me straight to work as part of the Comms Crowd gang.

The “plunge” came with an important life lesson. As I started reconnecting and talking to previous colleagues, they all agreed it was a great career move for me, some even wondered why I hadn’t done this sooner. It surprised me. They knew more about me, about my skills and talent than I did. At the end it was their support and comments that gave me that final push and made me realise it was indeed a career change, it wasn’t something temporary, something I could do in my spare time or just as I was looking for something else. It was my new job title.

To answer my initial question on why I wouldn’t change being a freelancer this is because it lets me use all the communications skills I have learned through the years and apply them for a variety of clients that an agency wouldn’t even have on their books. I also feel it has elevated me professionally and it is giving me so much satisfaction, both professionally and personally. Because the relationships I establish with my clients seem to be more on a par, the recognition I receive for my work feels more personal and genuine.

So while some people may decide to go down the freelance route because they want a better work/life balance or be their own boss, for me these are just by-products. Freelancing means doing what you do best and enjoying it!

 


The Comms Crowd goes global!

24/04/2016

Sam Howard On how we are growing (albeit vicariously).

areas where we can provide on the ground support

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…

So we have joined a network, courtesy of Manzer Communications in the US – a great fit for us and our clients.

  • 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.


Piggybacking on the headlines

08/11/2015

PR Pro, Debbie Smith looks at how to ‘ride’ a current news story to raise your client’s profile…

George Wright

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?


In going solo you can be part of something bigger

22/08/2015
 What happens when you swap the daily commute and a 100-strong team of colleagues across the UK for the spare room? Something unexpected and inspiring, says guest blogger and latest PR team member Debbie Smith.

When I said goodbye to early mornings at Cheltenham station and trains to PR offices around the UK, one of my main worries (apart from finding work of course!) was whether I’d miss the daily contact with colleagues. According to psychometric tests, one of my characteristics is ‘extraversion’, which means I get my energy by interacting with other people. I’ve always found this to be true, so how could I combine it with a freelance life?

To make things more difficult, I’d been commuting since I moved to Cheltenham, which had left me little time to make friends in the area. At one stage I joined a running club, but two weeks later I began a project which meant lots of time in London, so my only friends in the area were those I’d met via my partner.

The answer came from an unexpected and low-tech source – a noticeboard by my local shops, where I spotted a poster for a business talk organised by a group called ‘Cheltenham Connect’. I thought I’d give it a try and duly went along. The speaker was interesting, the people welcoming and I decided to go again the following month. It might help me make new contacts and would at least get me out of the house. The group also organised an informal co-working session in a local café every week, called Laptop Friday, and this helped me put some structure into my early weeks of freelance life.

Fast forward a few months and Wendy, the human dynamo who’d set up the organisation, invited me out for coffee. That’s nice, I thought – and then she sweet-talked into doing their PR! I didn’t really enjoy local PR but – oh well, why not help out for a few months? The first activity I had to promote was a business conference/exhibition, and before I knew it I was exhibiting and helping with event planning too. But it wasn’t all business related; there was a Christmas craft fair, a music festival with bands from the area….and local PR stopped being a chore because I could see the positive impact these events had on the community. They really mattered to the people involved, and they started to matter to me too.

But this was about more than feeling good by doing some pro bono work: I found I’d tapped into a ready-made support community. We swapped information on local activities, bounced around ideas, tipped each other off on new business opportunities and shared lifts to events. You could ask for a second opinion, or discuss something that was bothering you about running a business – chances were that someone would be able to help. If I had a week with no meetings, I’d arrange to meet one of my new contacts for coffee to swap ideas and recharge my extrovert batteries.

The year rolled round and my business grew, but I stayed involved with the group. I’ve become co-organiser of the business event, which has grown every year and now has 200+ attendees. Through it I’ve met a wide variety of people, from our MP and councillors to entrepreneurs running all types of businesses. I’ve also used it to try new things, such as chairing a discussion panel last year (it went really well, so it’s back again this year!).

As I specialise in technology PR, I didn’t expect any of this generate any business, but surprisingly it did. People sent me leads they’d seen on social media, recommended me to designers needing copywriters and passed on work they were too busy to handle. I even swapped writing a press release for attending a course on social media.

Five years on and as well as a positive glow from doing something for the community, I have a local support network I never dreamed of when I first became a freelance. Many of the people I’ve met have also become good friends. Three of us have had operations over the summer and we’ve had practical support and lots of encouragement during our recovery. My partner is continually surprised by how many people I know – and now he’s offered to help out one of the team with dog walking!

So my message to freelancers everywhere is use that extra time and contribute to your community as part of getting that elusive work-life balance right. You’ve nothing to lose except your inhibitions…


The fourth year – finding her forever clients

10/02/2015

Sam Howard is hitting her prime

Perhaps freelance years are like dog years, for I’m starting feel like I’m in my freelance prime! Four years in, and, as they say on those talent shows, ‘it feels like this is my time’! Oh why’s that then? Well I’ll tell ya.

A cuddly pineapple! It’s perfect! It’s what I always wanted!

Tech in general and fintech in partciular is finally hot!

After some 20 years of apologizing for working in a sector of which nobody has ever heard; countless conversations explaining what I do to those whose eyes glaze over in the time it takes  to say ‘enterprise-wide trading systems’ – all of a sudden our sector is hot!

Ya baby!

Not only is our sector hot, my home town for some 30 years, London, is fit to burst with tech startups and I do love a startup – always have! Not for me the 200 page branding guideline bible, the 83 slide PowerPoint on our ‘core’ USPs. Where’s the opportunity to add value to that (other than rip it up)?

I love the pace, the energy, vibrancy that comes with  young tech companies. They are brave, bold and, my lot at least, quite audaciously brilliant. But it’s always struck me, that at the point a young company needs the most care, nurturing and attention to its comms, is just when it can least afford it. Sometimes, that’s not a good fit for a standard agency, where there can be an expectation mismatch, (a big PR budget for a small company is still a small client for a big PR agency). But it’s a great fit for collaborations and small networks of specialist freelancers like The Comms Crowd. Freelancers by our very career choices have often rejected the status quo and defined ourselves as fellow disruptors.

Another great thing about working with young tech companies is the absolute lack of formality. This suits me down to the ground, I want to use my time helping that company do smart comms, not validating how smart I am. Decisions are quick, turnarounds fast, reporting is a spreadsheet in google docs and emails are brief, often littered with typos from both sides. Witness recent email exchange, informing client CEO that we had secured media interest from a noted publication.

ME – OMG We’ve got Forbes!
CEO – F*** yeah!

And of course when you work in a hot sector, in a hot city, with hot clients, you get to talk to media that you have never had the temerity to approach before, but that, it turns out, are really just like us, if you have a decent story to tell. And call me a easily impressed but for a long-toothed B2B fintech PR to be suddenly talking to the nationals, is just really rather cool!

So yeah, in this the fourth year, I find myself, in the right place, with the right business model at the right time – happy freelance birthday to me and the crew, being four rocks!


Fintech PR – How to get a bank to put its name to a story

28/11/2014

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.

Listening banks are great but talking ones are my favourite

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:

  1. 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
  2.  Incentivize your bank by giving them a discount in the contract if they agree to do press, get dates.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.


The G-Cloud, where some vendors are more equal than others

03/11/2014

Eria Odhuba, resident analyst relations lead ooks at the opportunities and challenges for those public sector tech vendors mining the G-Cloud.

what’s the forcast for G-Cloud?

Over the last few years we’ve been working with vendors that have won significant projects through G-Cloud. From this vantage point it has got us thinking about the G-Cloud business opportunities available to small IT vendors and service providers, and some of the serious challenges they might face.

While 2015 might not necessarily be ‘make or break’ time for suppliers if they don’t get a bigger slice of the G-Cloud pie, we think one trend that will become more entrenched: there will be a small group of providers winning a disproportionately larger share of contracts, leaving the rest fighting over the scraps.

There are some vendors that are excellent at articulating their value propositions clearly and have the right staff, or well-designed systems, in place to get their messages out to their target market. More often than not, they will attract a bigger share of leads which, in turn, gives them more opportunities to convert these into contracts.Now, the UK government is no longer dragging its feet when it comes to exploring new and innovative models for IT spend and execution. As belts are tightened, it really wants to make sure it is getting value for money and look out for a larger number of suppliers that could potentially contribute to its success.
So discussions about cloud computing, agile software development, security, BYOD etc will be as intense. This should not be a surprise to anybody. The rise of the Public Services Network (PSN) and increased awareness of the benefits PaaS offerings could provide will see more government departments exploring cloud adoption and / or sourcing more complex requirements via the CloudStore.
So the opportunity is clearly there to make a mark via G-Cloud, which is great for smaller suppliers. However, it also throws up a massive challenge for them. With more suppliers signing up to G-Cloud month after month, it is getting harder to reach the key public sector decision makers who need to understand what is on offer. Being human, they can’t process indefinite amounts of information and spend their time talking to every supplier there is.
Success in one area of the public sector is increasingly noted in other parts, so whoever is in charge of implementing a new IT system or product might want that success replicated in their departments using the same supplier. In many ways, this makes sense. If you know a supplier can consistently deliver quickly, without going over budget, you’d be crazy not to speak to them. So suppliers that have got a string of wins under their belt are in a great position.Suppliers that are only signing up now or who have not had a chance to show what they can really deliver need to find a way of providing the evidence they can do so. T
hey also need a creative way of informing the public sector decision makers and IT community about their solutions or products, engage with them appropriately via social media and participate at the right events. Quite a lot to think about which, if not done properly, will mean they don’t get to sit at the table with the other winners.Some industry analysts predict more commoditisation of products and services in subsequent iterations of the G-Cloud Framework. If this results in further commoditization of IT and lower costs, many would argue that is great for the public sector.For suppliers, there is a trap to avoid though.
The last thing many want to do is simply fight contracts based on cost. This tends to be a quick route to disaster. Value is what suppliers should be thinking of. What value do they bring to the table and how will this benefit their customers?Getting to the stage where suppliers can articulate their value propositions clearly and hit their target market effectively, with evidence to support what they say, will be the keys to survival within G-Cloud.2015 will be a good year for those that do, and a pretty harsh one for those that don’t.

Lessons learned in B2B social media managment

18/09/2014

PR junior Hiwot Wolde-Senbet shares her learning experiences on managing social media channels in B2B.

finding out B2B does not stand for Bunny to Bunny

Most of us in this game know how to use the main social media platforms; along with some measurement tools such as Sprout and Hootsuit. If your target audience is the average Joe and you are doing social media for B2C, you can share something a bit witty with a fairly attractive photo of your favorite product to generate likes and build up your followers.Growing up as a part of the social media generation, I have seen many of my PR and marketing counterparts adopt different practices. And of course, some are better than others and some are simply laughable. We all know those that send out mass messages to their families and friends on Facebook asking them to like and follow a certain company. Sure, it could work if your company sells milkshake that appeals to everyone. However, in B2B, your friend’s aunt that works at Asda isn’t really going to help you spread the word about the merits of enterprise wide trading systems. In B2B you must know your audience and really understand their issues.

 

However, I’ve learned that you have to work that bit harder with social media management in B2B. You have to demonstrate understanding of your market and its needs and most importantly – interact with your niche.

Your objectives in B2B must go beyond creating a buzz for your business and need to work towards creating a platform that is credible and attracts the power brokers and the influencers. It is also important to remember, social media is more than a communication platform; it is part of your marketing, PR, customer services, business development and sales. Therefore, managing it in a way that reaches the right people and shares appropriate insights is vital.

Since clients have to find you relevant and interesting to follow and engage, here’s some tips that I have picked up along the way to make sure your social media comms don’t sound like a broken record but resonates with those that will affect your business’s performance.

  • Clear messaging: Identify and clarify what you want to say about your company and how you want to say it. This can help promote the services or the products you provide along with your company’s values and mission.
  • A targeted audience: Know who your industry’s leaders are, who your current and potential clients are, anybody who is anybody in your industry that is relevant to you and ensure you connect with them.
  • Relevant talking points: Identify issues, trends and regulations that impact your audience’s business and share relevant news.
  • Platform consistency: Ensure your platforms are up to date and consistent.
  • Listen as well as talk: They say the best way to lead is to listen more and talk less, so tune into what your followers are discussing and participate when relevant.

Subsequently, you need to put some performance measurements in place, regularly track your progress and re-evaluate. By following the steps above, you are on a road to growing your B2B social media platforms in an organic and sustainable way and ensuring ROI.

 


Sibos – no rest for the wicked or even the wise

30/06/2014

Eria Odhuba, resident analyst relations lead reviews the ‘dos and don’ts’ for getting the best out of the mighty trade show.

Sibos  – comes round quicker than Christmas

So I’ve just been to a couple of big industry events, and it got me thinking about the preparation exhibitors need to do to make them worthwhile. I am going to use Sibos 2014, this year in Boston, as an example here as I have shed so many tears getting clients Sibos-ready over the years.

Obviously there are many exhibitors who have got Sibos running through their veins and if they had time, could write this post with their eyes shut, but here’s a guide for Sibos newbies, or a useful checklist for the seasoned salts.

What are some of the issues with events like Sibos 2014?

  1. ROI – if you’re going to exhibit, you want to make sure you recoup your costs and some! It’s a very expensive line item, the return needs to be quantifiable and equally impressive.
  2. Poor preparation before the event – If you don’t plan your communications and resources properly, you will look amateurish and it will show compared to those companies that have this event down pat.
  3. Being heard above the white noise – if you don’t know your key message, if it’s not relevant, fresh and exciting, then you won’t get heard.
  4. Thinking lead generation begins at the event – People come to Sibos to continue conversations, not to start them, Sibos needs to be the culmination of a campaign that results in a face to face meeting.
  5. Recruitment consultants – not much you can do about this. I remember a consultant at Sibos who told me, at a party, that he had received or processed CVs for about 25 people in the room. The recession is over; it’s a seller’s market.

What should you NOT do before Sibos 2014? 

  1. Panic (!) i.e. wait until it is too late before preparing for the event.
  2. Keep your head in the sand and ignore industry trends leading up to the event – you need to know what pain delegates are feeling so you know what your products and services best address it.
  3. Miss the opportunity to try and connect with signed-up delegates before the event (more on this later).
  4. Prepare conference material that is bland or off topic.

How should you prepare for Sibos 2014?

  1. First of all, you need a three-month activity timeline with specific actions and deadlines, allocating responsibility for each action. So, with Sibos 2014 in October, you need to start planning now, July.
  2. If you’re reading this and you haven’t booked your hotels and flights yet, suggest you stop reading right now and get on it 🙂
  3. To stay ahead of the game, read the Sibos 2013 summary by Aite Group here and other post-event summaries.
  4. Read Sibos Issues and other news to understand what people will be talking about this year. Don’t repeat the last year’s messages or themes – find something new and relevant to attract attention in the lead up to the event. If you can’t figure out how to articulate your value proposition, get help.
  5. Think how this event falls into your sales funnel. Identify key prospects from the delegate list, and plan multi-step communications or lead generation activities to get them to want to talk to you at the event. Each step should add value to the relationship, so use content to increase interest. Get delegates to self-select themselves to contact you for a meeting based on the content you have provided BEFORE the event.
  6. Plan your press and industry analyst engagements now. Influencers don’t have time to speak to everyone so make sure you know how and what to pitch to them. If you don’t know how, get an expert in. Don’t be unprofessional about this and ignore the value of great influencer meetings.
  7. Focus on meeting influencers you rarely see, rather than those that are down the road from you who you can catch up with any time.
  8. Go for feature opportunities that get you in the news the week of Sibos, and make sure whatever news announcement you have is actually informative and not simply white noise.
  9. Contribute or link to pre-event social media communications to help build your profile before the event.
  10. Plan your post-Sibos steps now – what content or steps will you follow up with and who will be responsible for these steps? What you do after the event is even more important if you want to convert prospects into sales?

What to do at Sibos 2014?

  1. Make sure you set time and proper spaces aside to speak to delegates you have meetings planned with.
  2. Document your meetings and make someone responsible for managing follow up actions.
  3. Plan how each contact will be communicated with after the event and when.
  4. Get someone to walk the floor to see what other exhibitors are displaying. You need to understand what competitors are saying and how they might be getting their message across.
  5. Have content that is sharp and precise enough for someone to read in two minutes that would make them want to ask questions.
  6. Enjoy yourself; ergo no rest for the wicked!

 


PR – Five reasons why it’s called ‘earned media’

20/03/2014

If your’re a software compnay thinking of doing PR, this one is for you:
 http://www.sofarbeyond.com/pr-5-reasons-why-its-not-called-earned-media-for-nothing