AS IF: the blog

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So what makes you the expert??

15/08/2018

How can you prove your clients are the zen masters they say they are? PR Pro Debbie Smith goes in search of those elusive proof points.

We know journalists get hundreds of pitches every day. Their mailboxes and twitter feeds are full of companies competing for airtime, all offering informed, relevant comment. But why should a journalist listen to what they have to say?

Your client may be a world expert in their field, whether that’s digital widgets, cloud computing or new legislation.

But if you can’t make them instantly credible in the eyes of the journalist, they’ll go straight to the deleted folder.

I’ve been thinking about this since one client wanted to remove a statistic from our pitch because a) he thought it wasn’t that strong and b) he wasn’t sure it was accurate. We pointed out that, while we understood his concerns, we needed something concrete to show that they were well established, had delivered a lot of great work and hence were worth listening to. We thought the number was convincing, but if it couldn’t be used, it was vital to have an alternative.

One way of gaining credibility is to name high profile customers. This isn’t easy, unless you can persuade your client to include ‘permission to be named in marketing materials’ in their standard contract (yes this can happen). However, there are creative alternatives. For example, when one customer mentioned that they worked with one-third of the London Boroughs, we didn’t need names – the statistic was enough. Similarly, the phrase ‘working with law enforcement agencies’, as was the case with one Comms Crowd client, speaks for itself.

Demonstrating credibility can be even more difficult in the finance sector, where every ‘expert’ has professional qualifications and offers similar services, and you will have to dig a little deeper. Links to topical issues can help, as can the ability to understand both sides of an issue. I’ve obtained a lot of coverage for one client on the topic of angel investment because not only does he advise clients on obtaining investment, two of those clients have appeared on Dragons’ Den and he also invests as a business angel himself. So he is extremely credible.

Another option is to work with experts whose credibility is a given, such as academics. Hitching your wagon to a star, to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, can be an effective way of enhancing your own credibility, particularly if your opinions complement those of the expert.

If you’re still struggling for hard facts, the solution may be your client themselves. One of our favourite clients is someone who really ‘gets it’ where journalists are concerned. No matter how busy he is, he’ll quickly give us a short, snappy, often controversial comment to pitch which shows he knows his topic inside out, then makes himself available at short notice if the journalist wants to speak to him. As a result, he punches well above his weight in terms of influence and coverage.

It’s not easy finding proof points and can eb even harder to persuade your client to let you make them public. However, it will be time well spent in establishing them as a credible source.

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Brexit – speak now, or forever hold your peace

12/07/2016

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.

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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?

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Welcoming the new wave of PR Punks

08/10/2014

So the PR industry is hiring again, hurrah, but who exactly is going to manage this new wave of talent and teach them our ways, and do we even want to?

vintage sam

London Calling

Just looking at the last few copywriting jobs we’ve had come in: a complete re-write of a careers’ website and a brochure to attract the best young talent – it’s clear things are on the up for our clients and finally for interns, with graduate recruitment in the UK at its highest since 2007.

For the past four years, I’ve run a London PR internship programme for a US university. In the past, it has often taken around six months to secure suitable internships for 15 or so MA students. But 2014 saw a marked increase in demand and they were snapped up in around three months, in fact I unearthed more great opportunities than I had interns. Hurrah!

But it occurred to me, who exactly is going to manage these bright young things and what will happen if we don’t?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The present generation of account directors (ADs) grew up in the equivalent of war-time rationing, working with reduced client budgets, non-existent internal budgets and being forced to adopt a recession-based management style: cautious, risk averse and desperate to keep the account at all costs. Sounds like fun don’t it? Is it any wonder that agency ADs are moving in-house, looking for a saner, more stable environment, one that’s more conducive to seeing let alone raising a family? And with today’s trend for bulking up the corporate comms team set to continue in-house is only too glad to hire them.So not the ADs then.

Career Opportunities

We all know ‘a good account manager is hard to find,’ as Fergal Sharkey once meant to say, but these days they are rare beasties indeed. In fact anyone with two to five years’ experience is hard to find in any industry. Thanks to the recession we have skipped a hiring generation. Not only that, but for many years, training, development and general people investment have all been corners that were first to be cut. So those few who were recruited and managed to survive and thrive, were tough self-starters. Not necessarily the types to want to micro-manage or molly-coddle junior talent, they are much more likely to have their eyes on the prize of filling in an AD role. So not the AMs then.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope

MEANWHILE: The PR business contributes £9.62bn to the UK economy, with agency revenues doubling in the last ten years – but what about the profits? It’s generally recognised that a healthy agency wants to be looking at a 15 – 20% margin, but the last figure I saw said in 2013, agencies was averaging around 10.6%. The cause was due to our fear of putting up our rates, and over-servicing reaching an industry average of 20%. In an effort to hang on to the account at all costs, over-worked and over-wrought ADs and thinly spread AMs have been giving away one hour in every five, just to keep everyone (apart from the CFO) ‘happy’.So do we want to pass this working model to the newbies, now the dark days are receding?

Revolution Rock

So could this be a recipe for Change?
· A thin upper and middle management layer with little time for micro management, structure and process.
· A business model that’s been coerced into giving it away.

· An influx of Generation Y emerging like butterflies into a boom time eco-climate, where risk is rewarded and disruption applauded. Recognised as the natural collaborators, masters of abstract and conceptual thinking. theis new genre of talent are highly ambitious, socially confident, relational, and the girls at least, highly organised – could this tech-savvy, upbeat, civic-minded, confident generation be the ones to reinvent us, rejuvenate us?

All The Young Punks

With a coincidental lack of hands on management, and so ample opportunity to enjoy the natural freedom they need to experiment and take a few risks, will this new wave of PR Punks be the ones to make us proud, a bt loud and profitable once more?

A modified version of this article and without all The Clash references, first appeared in PR Moment on 9th September 2014.

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How the storyteller got her PR stripes

13/08/2014

Are you stiing comfortably? Then I’ll tell you how I fell into PR

Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a very bored admin manager who worked for a software development company. She found her job excessively dull, and so would spend much of the day quietly sitting at her computer, writing short stories. For some six months, she (barely) managed to perform her admin duties while working tirelessly on her craft, and soon enough her stories started to get the literary recognition she so desperately craved.

But then one day, the CEO – an entirely overly motivated individual, in her opinion, whom she’d successfully managed to avoid in the main – summoned her to his office. Her heart sunk when she saw upon his desk a sheaf of printouts, not of the latest tedious project timelines, but varying drafts of her stories and poems.

She braced herself to be fired: what cared she? She would live in an attic, make a career move out of being miserable and thin, wear fingerless gloves and die a fine and beautiful death of consumption.

“These are rather good,” he said evenly.

Momentarily thrown off balance but determined to remain on the offensive, she replied, “Well if you can’t give me enough to do, I have to get through the terminable day somehow.”

“My fault entirely,” he concurred with a half-smile.

She glared at him balefully. Was he just passing time waiting for the HR lackey to come in and do his dirty work for him?

Apparently not. “So I was wondering if I might prevail upon you to apply your talents to writing a few stories about the company, our solutions and how we help our customers grow and so forth…”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” she interrupted, immediately seeing a flaw in his plan. “They’d be so boring: who would want to read those?”

“Ah, yes,” he replied with a mere smidge of a vindictive twinkle in his eye. “But it would be your job to make them interesting, tell a good story, engage the reader and what not. Then, maybe, you might talk to a journalist or two, see if you could interest them in writing their own stories about us…”

She looked at him aghast. Why, just the thought of it made her feel queasy. “PR! You want me to do PR??” How very dare he? ”I shan’t do it, I shan’t! You can’t make me!” she wailed.

“Well, no need to agree the brief right now. Why don’t you have the rest of the afternoon off to think about it?”

She grabbed her papers from his desk and stalked with great dignity from his office, not trusting herself to speak.

And so it was that after a sodden gin review of her overdraft facility, our heroine reluctantly conceded that just possibly there were worse things one could do for a living than telling corporate stories.

She’d just do it for a few months before she went and found herself a proper job ­or, at least had saved enough for a deposit on an attic and a pair of fingerless gloves…

And so, best beloveds, thanks to the thankless intervention of a remarkable CEO, I began my twenty year, hugely enjoyable and vastly rewarding career in PR.

Funny that now, ‘PR is all about telling stories.’ I thought it always was…

 

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Why is US B2B PR so difficult?

12/04/2014

Just so happy to be doing transatlantic PR again, here’s a post from our US PR partner on why it’s not easy securing the US column inches. Lorraine Russell

It doesn’t matter where in the world you want PR coverage, you will find the journalists you need are a busy lot. Their publications are under competitive attack, staff have been cut, acquisitions and closures are commonplace, everyone is doing more with less and covering more areas and, well, it all sounds rather familiar doesn’t it?

Journalists and their organizations face many of the same issues you do in your business. And just like any busy company expert, journalists want only the most insightful and relevant information and sources to ensure they do the best job possible. That makes getting their attention, building a relationship and winning their trust all the more challenging and important.

The U.S. journalistic landscape is similar to the UK although larger. According to Pew Research’s “State of the News Media 2014” report there are 38,000 full time journalists employed within the traditional U.S. newspaper industry alone (not to mention TV, magazines, etc.). Comparatively, the European Journalism Centre reports similar full time newspaper journalists in the UK. Digital native sites are growing on both sides of the pond, yet still employ only a small numbers with about 5,000 full-time U.S.-based editorial jobs at nearly 500 digital news outlets.

Whether traditional or digital, one big difference is ownership. Certainly there are U.S. conglomerate owners, however the UK newspaper market is generally far more nationalistic with fewer owners.

What does all this mean to you? Obviously you aren’t after every US journalist. You want only a logical niche of decision makers to notice your new product/service or entry into the market. As you should. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easier.

Here’s why. Think about your competition. How many companies will you compete with in the U.S.? 10? 20? 50? More? How many of your European competitors are also entering or active in the U.S.? How many non-industry companies are nipping at your heels trying to steal the same potential customers?

Each of those and all the ones not yet identified are engaging PR to contact the same journalist you want. Whilst there are about 50,000 PR professionals in the UK, there are nearly 230,000 PR professionals in the U.S. Talk about competition!

Now think back to that busy journalist looking for someone to validate or negate the premise of an article (yes that has a lot to do with it). The journalist must be accurate. And the editor and the publisher need them to have a differentiated story than the other media outlets in their niche. After all, eyes on their story and their publication translate into revenue for survival.

So, who does the journo turn to? Someone they know will deliver. And yes, despite journalistic outcry, the line is blurring between editorial coverage and those who do or could buy advertising or sponsorships. Remember how different the ownership of US media outlets is compared to the UK? That can increase in importance when those paid and earned media lines blur.

So the number 1 reason it is trickier to get your story told by a U.S. journalist is pure and simple -competition.

And #2? Your story absolutely must be relevant to the U.S. reader/viewer. It is not enough to believe your product/service is right for them. It means understanding U.S. centric issues and trends – not just of your potential customers, but of the journalist as well.

Your chances will significantly improve if you can produce a U.S. customer. Some journos won’t talk to “vendors” without one. If you don’t have a U.S.-specific example, the challenge for coverage is even greater. Not impossible, but challenging. It is very likely you will share the story with one of those U.S. competitors you identified.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Truly, it’s not. You just need the experienced insight of localized PR. That’s the same in any country. A world view is quite important strategically but localized insight is invaluable.

As for the U.S., remember those growing digital outlets? Turns out, whilst mainstream U.S. media are sharply decreasing their global coverage, digital is on a quest to include more global coverage. And that spells opportunity! Plan your strategy wisely. This is the perfect time to think global and act local.

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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

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Award-winning clients – I’m basking in their reflective glory

25/11/2013

Tips for entering Tech Awards

Last week, BJSS, a CommsCrowd client, won the TechWorld Award for Best Public Sector project. It’s a genuinely cool project, re-engineering a very big data warehouse, bringing it in house, fully automating it and helping the NHS to save on human resource and money – both scarce commodities in the public sector these days.

if you had to guess which one of us was not an
award-winning software engineer, who would you pick?

The awards themselves were also impressive, in a transparently objective kind of way, projects were free to enter, award ceremony free to attend and they even gave an award to a company that couldn’t make it – in all my days I’ve never seen that before – fair play.

So I am very pleased for my client, it’s a huge validation of the great work they are doing and I’m pretty pleased for us too. I didn’t write the award-winning software but I did have a hand in writing the award-winning entry.

Here’s some tips for drafting those perfect 1,000 words:

  • Get buy in – you can’t do these on your own, work as close as you can with the client ping pong the entry back and forth until it’s perfect.
  • Allow enough time  – we think it takes about a day and a half on average to draft and edit a standard 1.000 word award entry and that’s assuming you already know the story.
  • Start early – it at least three weeks before – get information from source, ie the people that worked on the project.
  • Answer the question – every award has a bias so be sure to answer the questions exactly as asked.
  • Word count – keep it tight and don’t waffle.
  • Before and after stats demonstrating ROI – without these don’t bother to enter.
  • Have a heart – think of the poor judges and how many submission they have to read, do make an effort to tell a darn good yarn, keep the narrative sparkly and fluid.
If you found this interesting you might want to read a brief case study on our public sector campaign for BJSS

Post Script: other award winning entries include:

  • 15/04/2013 Caplin wins Best Web Implemntation at the Sell Side Technology Awards
  • 02/12/2013 BJSS wins Best Big Data Project at the Tech Success Awards.
  • 15/04/2014 Caplin wins Best Web Development Platform at the Sell Side Technology Awards.
  • 14/06/2014 BJSS wins Best Information Technology at the Best Business Awards
  • 14/07/2014 BJSS ranked fourth for International Growth in Sunday Times Tech Track 200
  • 15/07/2014 Caplin wins Best Trading Technology Vendor at the FX Week Awards
Gonna need a bigger banner

 

 

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Made by clever people for clever people

19/01/2013

In fintech Sam Howard asks can comms people add value or are they the weakest link?

I’m a comms person in b2b tech, primarily fintech. Fintech – that’s software geeks creating awesome stuff for banking geeks.And all fintech comms people have to do is wrap their pretty little heads around how the the global markets work, how a financial institution works and how it makes its money; then evaluate the opportunities and obstacles created by the latest market conditions and regulations that might help or hinder it making that money and just piece together how their client’s technology taps into those opportunities/overcomes those obstacles, so that a bank might want to buy it.

Anyone got a PHD in anything at all they are not using right now?

Dear software geeks, we understand your fear of getting us comms people involved, we share your fear. We have reoccurring nightmares where Anne Robinson is sufficiently underwhelmed by our efforts. But Einstein once said if you can’t explain it to a six year old, you can’t explain it. Let’s assume all the people in the room are clever, it is the common denominator, so there is no need to posture on that. Don’t be tempted to use content as an opportunity to show off how much you know – they know you know.The key then is to add some value to the debate, to explain the complex lucidly, to ensure that overarching points are not lost in the minutiae of the detail and that those points stack up to a logical argument leading to an insightful conclusion.

It’s not as ‘easy’ as it looks, I can tell ya, getting the people with the PHDs to look up not down, out not in. And if in so doing we tend to simplify things, rather than wonder if we haven’t dumbed down your whole reason d’etre, just trust, you know how to build software, we know how to build reputations.

In the kingdom of the big and the clever, it’s the six year old kid you need to impress.

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Ten tips for better media interviews

01/10/2012

Sam Howard advises on how tech companies can give better interviews.

Media training – that’s a terrible phrase isn’t it? Makes you think of all those awful politicians that enunciate every syllable emphatically, use all their fingers to underline each phrase and talk at you as if you were Jeremy Paxman. So let’s not go there. But there is still much you can do to make sure your conversations with journalists go well. Key, is to remember the journalist has very little time to create a very good story, and it’s your job to help them with that.

Some sensible tips for sensible interviews:

so it’s adaptable scalable innovate and flexible is it? Yeah you lost me at ‘it’s’

1) The Press as a whole are more concerned with business arguments than technology methodologies so the WHY needs to be answered way before the HOW and this is where many tech companies need to lift up their heads. The WHO is pretty interesting too, so whatever you do, don’t tone down your colourful characters.

2) The old truism,’ no-one is that interested in you’ is – erm – true. They are interested in issues though, so if you can help solve them, then that’s the angle to go in on.

3) Journalists are very busy people, so PLEASE get to the point. Work out how your issue-based messages can be delivered top down, so  if you’ve struck a chord you can drill down with more insight or leave it as a one liner if it gets no traction.

4) It sounds obvious, but actively listen to the question and genuinely try to answer it.You need to answer questions as best you can and weave in your messaging where appropriate and leave it out where it isn’t. It’s critical to be seen as someone who understands the market and how it ticks. This is more important than getting all your messages across in each and every interview, euch! You may manage it the first time, but I doubt if anyone will want to talk to you a second time. However if you can establish yourself as a credible and trusted source, then the journalist is more likely to make time to talk to you when you do have relevant news.

5) The journalist is looking to create a compelling story from a mixture of background information, intelligent argument and quotes, so if you want to be quoted you need to have a view and be incisive; otherwise you find most of your effort gets swallowed up in unattributed body copy or as background information. Answers can be your own thoughts based on experience or theory, statistically or anecdotally-based or ideally a mixture of the lot.

6) Spokespeople should be reading a weekly digest of relevant hot stories, remember head up!

7) It should go without saying but follow the publication and the journalists you are hoping to meet, so you can assess what messaging will resonate best for that particular journalist.

8) Be courteous, Allow time for the journalist to finish their note taking and prepare their next question, do not dictate or just talk into the silence. Offer sustenance, and DO NOT look at your phones.

9) Remember this is a two way conversation, ask what the journalist is seeing and hearing in the market and future story ideas he is working on.

10) Every interview is different but you should be able to answer the following fundamental questions:
. In these cash strapped times, where are your customers spending their IT budget in your sector?
. What are the drivers behind this (i.e. sticks and carrots)?
. So where do you fit in?
. Other companies do what you do why are you better?
. What tech Holy Grail are you customers chasing right now?
. What’s preventing organisations from achieving it?
. What are the key trends in your technology sector right now?
. What’s your sector going to look like in five years’ time?

You can download these tips in a handy pdf if you like to keep on your desk and front of mind.

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