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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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…
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- Panic (!) i.e. wait until it is too late before preparing for the event.
- 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.
- Miss the opportunity to try and connect with signed-up delegates before the event (more on this later).
- Prepare conference material that is bland or off topic.
How should you prepare for Sibos 2014?
- 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.
- 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 🙂
- To stay ahead of the game, read the Sibos 2013 summary by Aite Group here and other post-event summaries.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Contribute or link to pre-event social media communications to help build your profile before the event.
- 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?
- Make sure you set time and proper spaces aside to speak to delegates you have meetings planned with.
- Document your meetings and make someone responsible for managing follow up actions.
- Plan how each contact will be communicated with after the event and when.
- 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.
- Have content that is sharp and precise enough for someone to read in two minutes that would make them want to ask questions.
- Enjoy yourself; ergo no rest for the wicked!
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.
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.
If your’re a software compnay thinking of doing PR, this one is for you:
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.
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|
Sam Howard lives to regret and for that at least she is grateful…
In its latest initiative to bridge the diversity gap, the CIPR is to go into secondary schools to explain what a career in PR entails. On the back of my work with The Taylor Bennett Foundation, and USC Annenberg, I’ll be looking to lend a hand. Odd how things turn out – given that my first ever careers’ talk was possibly a tad off message…
Admittedly the weekend before the gig, it did occur to me that possibly the standard company creds deck, designed to impress your most hard bitten city type, didn’t have quite the right content nor tone for a ten year old from an underprivileged, wildly diverse school in Neasden. But either I built a deck from scratch which would take a couple of days and I would never use it again, or I could just make it up as I went along, after all, what would they know? My talk was scheduled for Thursday.Although not entirely sure of my proffesion, my son’s primary school knew I rushed around a lot, shouted into my phone, and muttered darkly about jet lag. And so the headmistress made inquiries as to what it was that was so important, I had yet to attend a single cake sale. On discovering it was comms, she offered me a slot on careers’ week, saying it would, ‘make a nice change’. I love public speaking me, so penciled it in without a thought.
On Monday, Elliot was, buzzin’. A midwife had kept them enthralled with heart-warming tales of delivering babies, saving lives and what not. “How super!” I said, though this midwife person sounded like bit of a show off to me.On Tuesday, when I picked him up, he was equally full of it. The local policemen had visited with his dog, Blaze, who by all accounts was a magnificent beastie. “Hasn’t he got better things to do?” I miffed, as Elliot noted I was doing 35 in a 30 and that technically he should make a citizen’s arrest right there and then.
On Wednesday, a bloody bastard fireman rocked up.
“Perhaps I should bring in my awards,” I wondered out loud.
“He parked his fire engine in the playground,” said Elli cheerfully, “Let us climb all over it.”
“That’s cheating!” I howled in dismay.
My boy looked at me levelly. “Yep. You’re really up against it now Mum.”
Now, I know at this point, I could have built a deck that talked earnestly about reputation management and CSR. But people, my back was against the wall here and besides my kid was in the audience. That night I dug deep for inspiration and the shiny new deck, was unlike any other deck I have ever built before or after, and ready in the early hours of Thursday morning.
And so it was that I sashayed into that classroom dressed for a full on six-way City pitch. I cast a disdainful eye over my charges.
“So, I hear you’ve met a mid-wife, a policemen and a fireman already. Was it just great hearing about how all those clever, kind and brave people have dedicated their lives to helping others?” And they chorused that it was, it really really was.
“Well I can tell you now,” I said fixing them with a steely gaze.
“I don’t do anything like that at all.” An attentive hush seeped through the room.
“What I do, is a very, very TERRIBLE thing.” There was a collective intake of breath.
“You see,” I said archly as I span neatly on my highest heels and began to pace the room. “I work for the dark side.”
I had them.
“What I do is make MONEY – by helping other people make MONEY. Lots AND lots of it.” The headmistress actually seemed to be sliding down the wall, but the kids, they were on the edge of their seats…An adrenalin-fueled hour later, sharing a celebratory MacDonald’s with the boy, he passed his judgment.
“I liked the bit when you talked about trainers and celebrity endorsement and brand advocacy. Like, who knew there was no such thing as free will.” And he munched on his onion rings reflectively.Looking at me with a sly pride he pronounced, “You did good mum, you did good.”
Though strangely I was never invited back…
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.
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:
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.