FinTech PR lead Chanda Shingadia recalls the days of the editorial calendar when features where spoon fed and compares that to how our skills have evolved in order to still be part of the conversation today.
Pitching has evolved in different ways since I started working in PR over 17 years ago. Back when I was a sprightly and eager account executive we spent hours calling and emailing publications at the end of the year to get their upcoming editorial calendars. These editorial calendars were an integral part of our PR programmes and many of us would trawl through these to see which features would be relevant for our clients and ensure we pitched for them in advance of the publication date.
How times have changed. Only a handful of publications now create these editorial calendars and those that still have them chop and change the features around. A lot of this has to do with many print publications moving to online platforms. They are therefore not tied to advertising and can be more flexible with their themes and topics which are more relevant to current market activity and world events.
So if the mountain isn’t coming to the prophet… then we have to get proactive with our pitching.
Reading around the subject, working out where the sweet spot is, where our clients can add value to the debate of the day and then distilling this down to a succinct and compelling pitch – that’s where a decent PR demonstrates their worth.
Proactive pitching and good relationships with journalists are more important now than they have ever been to ensure clients are still getting their spokespeople in upcoming features and articles that the journalists are writing. Relying on forward features lists simply won’t do and speaking to key journalists that are relevant for your clients on a regular basis is imperative. We like to check in with our journalists to see what’s their focus and suggest a proactive topic that might make a good feature or contributed article idea that fits in with their thinking.
As the industry and media landscape evolves, our job as PRs doesn’t get any easier for sure, but being a more intrinsic part of the editorial process is a reward in itself.
Tech PR Katrin Naefe suggests taking a step back before embarking on a thought leadership comms programme.
So you’ve got news …
Yes, which PR consultant hasn’t heard this one before: “Our new [insert latest product name here] is the best/biggest/most efficient/etc. …” If it really is: congratulations. You will be able to leave your mark on your industry and be remembered for this innovation. If it isn’t: you will still be able to contribute to the market with a product or service that your customers will appreciate and which will, in all likelihood, enhance and complement your and the market’s existing product offering.
Now the new product is finally ready, you’ll want to give it all the support possible to get sales off the ground quickly. You have done your research and know exactly which products you are competing with and who your target audience is. Now all you need to do is advertise your product and issue a press release. Can it really be that simple? It rarely is.
New technology products and services are being launched every day. Marketing messages promising all kinds of benefits flood your target audience on all channels. How can you make sure that your message is heard and noticed over and above the general chatter? By leveraging your position as an industry expert and thought leader.
Thought leadership is not created overnight. Take some of the most eminent experts in your field of specialism. What are they known for? How long have you been aware of them as industry experts? Where have you heard about them? Do you know them in connection with one specific product? Probably not.
True thought leadership is based on industry expertise, not just product knowledge. You know your market and how your product range fits. You are probably very aware of a number of vertical sectors in which your product is being specified and their particular issues. Take advantage of this knowledge and you take the first step on the road to thought leadership.
It is extremely important to be honest with yourself and your communications team about whether your product is a true first and really unique in the market or not. It will harm your thought leadership standing if advertised as such when it really isn’t. If it isn’t unique, concentrate your messaging on other important features and how it fits with existing technology and improves it.
Take a mental step back from your product and the sales target figures it is supposed to achieve soon after launch. Consider the wider industry and the impact your technology can make on this environment. Perhaps there are solutions in development that will make a difference in a few months or years? Are you aware of the latest relevant scientific research?
Preparing the ground by establishing thought leadership takes time and effort. But, once a reputation is established, it is much easier to maintain it with regular communication and information and will benefit you and your team in the long run.
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.
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.
We look 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.
Back then Property PR 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.
PR Pro, Debbie Smith looks at how to ‘ride’ a current news story to raise your client’s profile…
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?
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…
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: