Founder Sam Howard reflects on how it’s easy to forget to talk the talk when you’re so busy walking that walk.
Simply put, our role at The Comms Crowd is to help companies best articulate what they do, how they help their customers, and why they do it better than their competitors. Once we have that position defined, that’s what we roll out in varying engaging formats across the most appropriate comms channels for their target audiences: website, content, PR, social media, etc. We have all built our careers focused on this and only this, so we have become really rather good at it, and as a result we have enjoyed eight years of strong and steady growth.
But then we made the CLASSIC MISTAKE:
We were so busy looking after our clients we fell behind on our own positioning and comms – fairly embarrassing for a comms agency!
Just like the firms we work with, our strengths have evolved over the years, which means our competitive advantage has shifted, and as a result, the type of clients we work with.
In the early days we sported the start-up vibe of, ‘we are small, agile and affordable’ and of course we were, and still are. However, over time we attracted and retained some of the best independent talent in the industry and developed a deep pool of sector knowledge, as well as a wider skill set. And, as a consequence, we have enjoyed working with a much wider range of companies, so alongside our first loves, the start ups, we find ourselves increasingly working with larger firms too.
Yet our website did not reflect this evolution at all… nor our blog content… nor our social feeds.
Having identified the problem, there have been a few long weeks at the keyboard as we overhauled everything from the ground up. Now, our website and all our social content clearly articulate our core value and how we are best able to help our clients. We have created the space to demonstrate our fintech and tech/cyber experience and our comms expertise, and made sure we have lots of lovely client stories to go with.
So now we are all set! Bring it on 2020, we’re ready for ya!
So you’re a B2B Tech firm and your marketing team has agreed that a blog is the way forward (and indeed it is). This is the blog you need to read next. Sandra Vogel, who heads up tech content for The Crowd and ghost blogs for a range of firms, passes on her advice.
So what does a great blog look like? The answer depends on what you want to get out of a blog, so for the sake of argument let’s say you run a business that sells goods or services. There’s a lot of competition for whatever it is you do, and you need to remind people you exist. You use a range of different methods to do this – a blog on your web site is part of the mix.
To meet the requirements of your business, your blog needs to keep people coming back. It’s a tool for you to deliver useful information to existing and potential customers or clients. It’s a way of showing off your organisational personality. And it’s a way of helping people understand more about your products, new launches, upgrades, exciting ideas and plans you have for the business.
That’s a lot for a blog to do. Here are some guidelines for better blogging:
- Keep it short. In general try for no more than 600 to 700 words. People will get bored if they have to read more than that, and you might easily stray off the topic at hand.
- Keep it simple. Don’t try to cram all your wisdom into a single blog. Have a point to make, make it, expand a little, maybe give some examples. Develop your point of course, but be careful not to make things too complex.
- Do you need a call to action? I see some blogs that include a call to action every single time. As a reader I know how the blog will end – it’ll be ‘now go and look at our great product’. If that happens every time readers know a blog is a glorified advertisement. They’ll get bored, go away, and maybe never come back. Calls to action are important. But you probably don’t need one in every blog.
- Connect well with the rest of the site. Do you publish white papers, news releases, new product updates? Of course you do. Tie blogs in so that there is continuity, and so you can link to other resources where possible. Don’t leave the blog out on a limb.
- It’s a good idea to have a forward plan so that you don’t get to ‘blog day’ and sit staring at a blank screen wondering what to write. If you work with an agency – and that’s a really sensible idea – then they’ll help with this.
- Be regular. It’s a good idea to have a schedule. Perhaps you want to put a new post online every two weeks. If that’s what you want to do, stick to it. When you make your plan (above), make your schedule too. Both plan and schedule can change in the light of events, but if they’re not in place a blog is the kind of thing that an organisation can let slip if it is busy. A blog that’s not up to date is arguably worse than no blog at all.
- Look from the outside in. Visitors might not use your product or service, might not know your business at all, might just be passing by. Think about it from their point of view. This can be hard to do in-house. It’s another area where an agency can be really helpful.
There’s another guideline that’s overarching on all of the above. It’s about the writing quality. The tone, writing style, grammatical accuracy and readability of your blog speaks volumes – it’s probably more important than the content. Really. You might have the most fantastic point to make, but if the message is garbled, nobody is going to get to the bottom of the screen.
If a blog is going to work for you, you need to put energy, effort and expertise into it. Writing a blog is hard work, and it is a skill people learn and hone through years of experience. Ensuring that the blog plan and schedule are well managed and that topics are spot-on can also be tricky in a busy business. There is no shame in lacking the skills or the time that’s needed in-house. Bringing them in from outside can take your business blog to the next level.
Lauren Bowden, who looks after FinTech Content Marketing here at The Crowd, draws on her in-house experience to outline the foundations of a solid content marketing plan.
I moved into a content marketing role around six years ago after a decade as a PR practitioner, and while certain aspects of the two disciplines were very similar – story crafting, messaging, creativity, etc. – my eyes were fully opened to the commercial side of the business and how the various parts of an organisation fit together. Earlier this year I was asked to be one of 11 content marketing experts to participate in an eBook on ‘using the content lifecycle to maximise content ROI’. Below is a summary of my contribution, with some additional insight I have gathered recently.
1. Pool your knowledge
The FinTech sales cycle can easily take around 18 months and usually involves a plethora of decision-makers that marketeers need to know all about in order to best target their content marketing campaigns. It requires serious teamwork and buy-in from all key stakeholders, not just the sales team who often are positioned as the only conduit to the client and therefore the main go-to for marketing. Professional services team members have invaluable on-the-ground insight into the daily dealings at client sites, while product management ideally has a macro view of the industry and can point to future trends, so tapping into their knowledge is crucial when devising a content marketing plan.
2. Do your research
It is rare that only one product or solution will need to be pushed to the market through the course of the year and so content marketing plans should be drawn up for each area of focus. Some plans will be more detailed than others to reflect the organisation’s priorities, but at the very least they should cover information on market drivers, solution description, key messages, target market, buyers’ journey mapping, key competitors, challenges, localisation plans and a content calendar. This will take time but always pays dividends when it comes to managing workloads and budget effectively, and ultimately measuring effectiveness over the year.
3. Plan well – but leave some room to wiggle
Budgeting requires you to have a clear idea of the goals you need to achieve in each campaign—goals that have been communicated to and accepted by stakeholders. This does not mean planning and budgeting for every detail of every content piece with no wiggle room over the year. Even the most robust plan and organised team will have unexpected opportunities that are too good to pass up over the year. That’s why it’s always important to have at least a 10 percent contingency built into the budget.
Another benefit of a strong content plan is that it helps you manage supplier costs. With a well-thought-out plan, many items can be budgeted for upfront, suppliers notified in advance about what work you have planned over the year, and packages negotiated accordingly, giving you a bigger bang for your buck.
It is also crucial to keep up to date with your existing suppliers’ new offerings, and to explore the marketplace for other suppliers who can help you execute new tactics. This kind of market scanning is particularly important for in-house marketing teams so they can keep abreast of the latest techniques and methods.
4. Embrace the data
Making sure you’re hitting the right audiences with your content can be a challenge, especially when you are targeting multiple stakeholders who make decisions as a group. When you look back on this kind of win, it’s difficult to pinpoint the influence specific content pieces had on that sale. You’re not going to turn around to a salesperson after an 18-month-long sales process and tell her the real reason she got that deal was because of a video or white paper – unless you want to be laughed out of the sales meeting.
Marketing Technology (aka MarTech) can be your best friend here. Whether it’s CRM, marketing automation or content management systems, they can be crucial in making sure content is getting into the hands of key audiences. With CRM data, for example, you can build up a picture of what is happened during a sales cycle. Retrospective analyses can reveal how many people in an organisation engaged with which content pieces. When it turns out that 12 different people from the same firm have all clicked on multiple pieces of content, or if the person clicked on multiple pieces of content, you have a much stronger case to prove your campaign’s effectiveness.
If the content is not hitting the mark – messages are either not reaching their targets or they are simply not resonating – it’s essential that tweaks are made on the fly. This shouldn’t happen too much with campaigns that are well thought out at the planning stage. However, sometimes you must adjust, try different things and then stay in constant communication with campaign stakeholders to ensure you remain on the right path.
5. Stay curious
Another useful tool to help you dive deeper into campaign effectiveness was shared by Raconteur Media recently. They applied the well-known BCG Matrix to the business of content creation:
Figure 1 Content Creation Matrix from Raconteur Media
The general guidance with this is that you milk the cows to feed the stars. That is, dedicate around 70 per cent of your resources to creating more of your best performing content types, positioning them prominently in the customer journey and optimising the process as much as possible.
The remaining 30 percent of resource budget should be set aside for experimentation. Depending on your appetite for risk, you might split this allocation further between moderate‐ and high‐risk activities.
At The Comms Crowd we can not only help you create winning content pieces but can also work with you to plot those pieces along your customer journeys and find out the best way to resonate with the right decision-makers at the right time. Email us to find out more.
PR pro Alicia Broadest looks at how podcasts are rapidly becoming the favourite child in the B2B maketing class of 2019.
Podcasts are thriving in the UK, nearly 6 million people now tune in each week, according to a survey from Ofcom (September 2018) – with the number of weekly podcast listeners having almost doubled in five years – from 3.2 million in 2013 to 5.9 million in 2018.
While podcasts were traditionally created with consumers in mind, now thanks to the tech evolution, brands large and small are getting in on the action.
They may not quite be the new op-ed, but their soaring popularity has seen many B2B publications introduce podcasts to their websites. Be it paid for ops, interview placements or the opportunity to submit pre-recorded material, the rise of the podcast is certainly opening new avenues to B2B PR professionals like us looking to get clients seen, or in this case, heard.
So should your client be hopping on the podcasting bandwagon?
While podcasts are relatively easy to make, producing and managing a regular branded podcast is a big commitment, and not something I would recommend to any client taking their first steps into the realm of podcasting. Clients need to think realistically about how much time they can dedicate to recording, and the frequency with which they can publish content. The key to podcasts is consistency – if you want to be effective, you should offer something that listeners can tune into regularly.
My recommendation is to make podcasts part of your existing PR and marketing and strategy, complementing other activity. As PRs, we should familiarise ourselves with existing podcasts in our client’s sector, in our case, technology. We should then be engaging with these, and the editors producing them, to establish the opportunities available, such as guest speaker slots, or themes of the month with which clients may be able to get involved. You should then monitor these, and invest time in pitching for slots, or establishing if there are ongoing opps to submit client speakers, or even submit pre-recorded material on a regular basis.
The great thing about podcasts, other than ease of production, is that you don’t necessarily need to duplicate on content as you can utilise written articles as topics for discussion and kill two birds with one stone. In addition, is the advantage of longevity since content can be listened to time and time again.
As PR consultants, we should certainly be looking for opportunities for clients to contribute to podcast conversations (as we do with all other forms of media). It allows the speaker to convey information in a manner much more interactive and engaging than simply words on a page. We should be encouraging clients to augment their PR strategies with podcasts and start honing their broadcast skills in preparation.
Sandra Vogel editor-in-residence issues her survival guide for live tweeting.
- 500 million tweets are sent every day
- 5,787 tweets are sent every second
- 326 million people use Twitter every month
There are some more mind-blowing stats here.
Now, of course we’re not all exposed to every tweet. But sometimes it is necessary to tweet on behalf of a client, and these are useful stats to bear in mind. Here are two more:
- The half-life of a tweet is apparently 24 minutes. If people haven’t read your tweet within half an hour, then the averages suggest they are not likely to get to it, because a tweet gets half of all its interactions within half an hour of being posted.
- Tweets with an image get 55% more engagement. So the image can matter even more than the words.
Nowhere is tweeting for a client quite so important and quite as stressful as when you are live tweeting an event. There will be a lot riding on what you do because live tweeted events can deliver great profile and original and interesting content. Events can be fast and furious, and it’s not easy to stay on top of everything. You only have one opportunity to get things right – or wrong.
Ten things you can do before you go live so you don’t die trying:
- Get the detailed insider version of the event programme, including whether there are to be any special announcements or launches that the public won’t be privy to till they happen because they won’t be on the public programme. You can pre-prepare a tweet or two with appropriate images so you are not caught on the hop.
- Know exactly who is speaking or otherwise on stage at every moment. Prepare a file that includes their name – spelt correctly – their job title in full, their Twitter handle and any other Twitter handles associated with them – the obvious one is their employer, but there may be others as well. Include any nuggets of info that might be useful for a tweet. Make this file something you can easily access at the event so you can flick in and out of it when you need to.
- Get the lowdown on any special announcements taking place both within and outside of scheduled sessions. If awards are being given get the list of winners, nominees and runners up – whatever is going to be announced live. Get photos of the people in case it’s not possible to take or otherwise obtain live shots at the time. Pre write your tweets and they will be ready to check through and fire off as announcements are made.
- Get as many graphics as you can. Are there slides from presentations that will be useful in a tweet? Get them. You don’t need to have tweet prepared and ready to go for every image, but the images may prove useful to have when you are live tweeting especially if it is tricky getting live photos.
- Prepare at least one tweet for every session you are covering. You might not use it on the day, but then again it might just be what you need to get you out of a problem moment.
- Sort out your hashtags. There will likely be several hashtags that will be in use over the course of the event. Agree the list with your client and anyone who you expect to be tweeting the event live from the client side. If some hashtags must be used in particular sessions, make a note of that beforehand in the same document you’re using to store the speaker details. Keep it structured so it’s easy to find what you need when you need it at speed.
- Set some standards for language and tone. The client may already have some agreed forms of words or phrases – make sure you are fully aware of them and if you think you might lose touch with them in the heat of the moment during the event, put them in your handy reference document. Agree too on the use of punctuation (exclamation marks are the domain of 13 year olds, not professionals), any acceptable or non-acceptable abbreviations, and any words that are never to be used and so on.
- Have an open discussion with the client about logistics – Have an open discussion with the client about logistics – who is tweeting, what are they tweeting, how are you going to divide and conquer? When are you going to get your breaks? Sometimes a client is looking for back-to-back live session coverage. Is that practical? Plan your schedule carefully. You can’t be in two places at once – so where will you be? If two or more sessions running at the same time need to be live tweeted how is that going to happen? Get full sign off on the schedule.
- Do you need access to a backup person or even two – maybe back at the office – who you know will be on hand to do whatever you need from double checking facts to doing on the spot research or taking over from you if there is an emergency?
- Finally, think about what might go wrong and set things in place to head problems off before they happen. Preparation will help you deal with on the day problems either because you’ve already thought of them so they’re not problems at all, or because the process of all that preparation has given you added confidence that you can handle anything.
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.
When you work for a company you can get so immersed in it and the technicalities around how it works that to come up with a simple sentence to describe what it does exactly can be the hardest thing. We see this a lot in PR too. When I ask a company for 800-1000 word article on a chosen subject its easy. When I ask for a two-sentence reactive comment, it seems to take all day. And it’s the same for me too. For some reason writing less always takes more.
Let’s take the example above with Tom Knowles. Tom is the property reporter at The Times so we can assume that this is a property company (if the PR has got the pitch right!) but what they actually do is anyone’s guess.
Tom’s a busy man. He needs to sift through hundreds if not thousands of emails every day looking for the best news stories all while writing insightful copy for tomorrow’s paper under tight deadlines. He doesn’t have time to read 800 word emails. Tom needs to understand clearly from the outset why this company is great and unique and why it is that he should be speaking to them.
Think about how you read a news article or blog. If you read the first 100 words and you’re either a) not interested or b) you can’t see where it is going, then you are going to switch off and move on to something else. It’s the same with PR pitches. You’ve got to be succinct right from the start and make it very clear why your client is so interesting.
I’ve often questioned if my pitches to journalists can at times be too simplistic. I go back through them trying to add in fancy adjectives and make things sound perhaps more revolutionary than they actually are. What my clients are paying me to do is make sure that the journalist understands why they are so great and why I think it will make a good story. Translating this 800 word description in to two or three easily digestible sentences that get the journalist interested and want to find out more.
So next time you’re thinking about your ‘story’ find the three things that you think make it unique and interesting and express these points high up in your pitch. If you can capture the journalist’s attention in the first two sentences, then that’s half the battle won. If you’re not entirely sure what these key messages are, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and start the process again.
You don’t need to give the journalist a life story about the company and the 30-year career of the chairman
Keep it brief. If the journalist is interested in the story that you are pitching then they will come back to you with questions. Keep it clear, to the point and highlight why it’s interesting in a couple of short sentences. Keep it simple.
OK so she does get out of bed for somewhat less then £10k, but Comms Crowd content writer Sandra Vogel, sets out her terms for keeping us all singing from the same song sheet…
Over the years I’ve been commisioned by some of the biggest names in Tech, national newspapers, and some of the best known technology web sites. I’ve also worked with lots of small companies, mostly but not all with a technology angle, with voluntary organisations, and with communications agencies.I’ve found good and bad clients across the spectrum. It’s not the size or sector that matters – it’s the approach and attitude of the client to using freelancers.The good clients value, support and nurture their freelancers, and in particular they get three very important things right.
Respecting my time. If I say I don’t work Friday afternoons and weekends, although i may make the odd exception, don’t expect me to be free to work as a matter of course. Similarly, if I am set to work for you, say, Mondays and Wednesdays, then if you need to change the day please give me lead time. In return I’ll only change our fixed days if it’s impossible not to, and I’ll give you as much lead time as I possibly can.
Keeping me in the loop. If I’m contracted to work on a specific project, then knowing what’s going on with that project is helpful. Rather than just being asked, ‘please do A, B and C this week’, it can be useful to know how A B and C fit into the bigger picture and what others are working on. I appreciate that if I’m not in the office full time stuff will happen without me. Of course it will. But it’s useful to be briefed on the bigger picture, not just because it makes me feel like one of the team (it does, it really does), but because I can take wider points into account in my work. Even extra-busy clients that fall into my ‘love to work with’ group manage this.
Paying on time, and at the agreed rate. It should be unnecessary to make this point, but sadly it’s not. Renegotiating rates downwards during a contract or paying late are simply not on. Freelancers are working for a living. They are not volunteers. Trust me, you’ll soon get called out, word will get around. In exchange for paying on time I will deliver on time. And if there’s a chance I’ll be unable to do that, I’ll let you know well in advance.
Now, there’s circularity in this. You treat me well, I’ll treat you well. We’ll have a grown up, professional relationship that we will both enjoy. Heck, I might even work for you on a Friday afternoon. Now and then.
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.
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…