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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.


Ten tips for better tech 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.


On working with the brains you’ve got

18/11/2011

Sam Howard proposes you stop dwellling on what you can’t do and make sure you tap into what you can…

Tim France

if the suit fits…

The most perplexing thing about writing this blog, is not coming up with the ideas or the opinions, or creating the content and making it interesting and engaging – but noticing days after I’ve posted something, that it’s full of typos. A recent blog post saw me pen the phrase, ‘pig picture thinker’ for heaven’s sake!

I really struggle with the detail, to be honest I don’t even see the detail. Does this make me stupid? I’d like to reassure you it doesn’t it’s just my brain works very differently to your brain and your brain works very differently to the person you sit next to, or at least we should hope it does.

In the words of Groove Armada: “If everybody looked the same, We’d get tired looking at each other.” Usually in team of people you get a great mixture or analytics, inventors, empathisers and doers so why not just let each person do what they like doing best and stop bemoaning that the most organised person in the room is not so hot at brainstorming or your most creative copy writer can never get to a meeting on time. Let people be what they want to be and great things can happen.

The trick is to understand how your brain ticks and how to get the best out of it and then surround yourself with people that tick to different rhythms so between you you have the surround sound sorted.Nicky Imrie, co-founder of the PR Network explains a recent profiling session we did together…Are you playing to your strengths?


Searching for your soul role

21/10/2011

Sam Howard On how the right career will find you, regardless of how hard you try to cram you curves into that square box.

Moby’s just found his soul mate, a boy that spills his food.

I’ve been to a couple of reunions recently. The first, a writers’ group that we formed about fifteen years ago when I was still collecting my boss’s dry cleaning. The second, a work reunion of some five years’ back when I was  a programme director and about to hurtle through several glass ceilings.

What hit me at both events was the way we had all progressed or should that be digressed…E.g. Writer mate 15 years ago – working for the council, now runs his own charity helping other charities set up social enterprises. Another writer mate 15 years ago – a highly ambitious, bright young thing, already head of comms for a funky major brand. Now a lecturer in philosophy at Oxford University. On the work front, a smart account manager I once hired who went on to head up a division at a rival agency, now follows the sun around the globe, to practice yoga on mountain tops. While my boss at that time, now writes tech copy from a caravan in his back garden and is very much in demand…

In my tiny survey of ten friends, 20% were pretty much where we had left them, having accumulated mortgages, pets, partners and babies along the way, 20% had straight-arrowed in terms of career path and were kindly paying for more than their fair share of the drinks, but a whopping 60% had done some weird tangential or perverse U-turn in terms of their career. What did we have in common? We were all pretty pleased with our lot.

So what can I conclude from my poll? That I am and always have been attracted to eccentrics? True. But also, in time you’ll end up where you are supposed to be, no matter how much you conform to someone else’s or even your own image of what you should be ‘doing with your life’.

Our brains are muscles and we can train them to do anything if we have to, if we want it badly enough. But at the same time we all have some natural talents and some natural aversions. So is it any surprise, that among my reunited friends  the cool tech heads are now suited and booted swanning round The City; us big risk takers are all working for ourselves careening form one inspired moment to one unmitigated disaster; the expressives are now pursuing harmonious lives that makes ethical sense; and the structured organisers are going about their lives in some semblance of order, focused on the job in hand and taking no small satisfaction in that.

It seems eventually you do gravitate to roles that tap into your natural talents and spare you the pain of shining a high beam on your weak spots. Very few of us seem lucky enough to land in the right place, right away. But take heart in knowing, that unlike the quest for a soul mate, your ‘soul role’ actually is out there somewhere, and it will find you.


Go on step on the grass… when it’s OK to go off message

15/02/2011

Another of Sam Howard’s pet rants subjects:

In PR you hear a lot about being ‘On Message’. This is very important isn’t it? Being On Message, having your people rehearsed and slick, so they can always be On Message? Oh pulllease.

If a journalist knows what you’re going to say before you open your mouth why would he/she bother to rock up for the interview? I mean seriously, what’s in it for them? If they just want the corporate spiel, they’ll check out your website. If they want to talk to you it’s cos there’s a vague hope that in and around the adaptable-scalable-innovative-flexible monologue you might actually have a view, say something interesting, topical, original, human even, and actually provide some decent copy.

The best view to have, I think, is one that runs contra to the stream. Back in the mid 90s when I laboured over my very first press release, I was super diligent about being fact-based and succinct, (I had been trained well, forever in debt Mr Springett) but I didn’t have the confidence to write the quote for my boss. So instead, I wrote, “Say something contentious here.” And he did, and it worked a treat. Mr Caplin, gotta love him and even if you don’t, he always makes great copy.

On occasion, it’s OK to fess up to that slightly dodgy implementation when your record is normally great, and you can demonstrate you have learned from it. Or to admit the recession might be taking its toll on you too, but you are gonna haul your weary backside out of it, or die trying.

You see the joy of sometimes wondering off message means that when you do get back on it, your audience might actually believe you. And isn’t that quite important? Besides, whoever wants to hear somebody else’s diet is going really really well?

When I work with my PR clients we work hard on looking at where we can first and foremost add some value/originality to the debate. You know not everything that comes out of your mouth is necessarily going to be that great and that’s where your trusted PR comes in – they can tell you what to run with and what not to bother banging on about, because it is irrelevant or just actually not that interesting. Sometimes it is all about the team singing from the same hymn sheet, but other times you just need to know a good tune.