‘Tis the season to count our blessings and Sam can count at least five of them. In her last two posts she gave thanks that we have been virtual from the start and entirely focused on B2B. Here’s blessing number three; the final two will follow in over the next few days.
An uneventful calendar
20 years ago with a three month-old baby, I was tasked with organising one of the biggest user group meetings in the fintech industry. 500 bankers, 200 staff, 12 partners and a five day event in Hotel Arts in Barcelona, just me with zero back-up or support.
Every single aspect of making the conference happen was my responsibility, from the big things like promoting the event and getting people to come in the first place to liaising with all the partners to the planning, to the entertainment and the blasted buses; from tasting the menus and deciding how much coffee and wine to order to the onsite logisticslike getting up at 5am every morning to put the notepads on the seats in the break-out sessions. to being the last person on the bus every night trying to round up 500 bankers partying all over Barcelona…
Hand on heart I can tell you it was the worst project I have ever undertaken by a country MILE and while ultimately it was a success, the stress levels were horrendous and the trauma went deep.
I swore off events for the rest of my career and as an agency my anathema continued and I’ve steered us clear of them. Sure, we can provide PR and AR outreach support for our clients at events like Sibos, but it is not core for us, it’s just part of the wider PR remit.
Now, when you see the greats like Julie Ross and Profit & Loss with their brilliant global event programme having to close their doors at this time, I can only salute them for thei amazing skill set. It seeems these things happen for a reason and there but for the grace of SunGard…
‘Tis the season to count our blessings and Sam can count at least five of them. In her last post she gave thanks that we have been a virtual communications agency from the start. Here’s blessing number two: the rest will follow over the next few days.
B2B is the place to be (vindication at last)
I’ve given many university lectures in PR over the years and I’ve always rhapsodised about B2B to a room of glassy-eyed students whose minds are made up already and can’t see past the bright lights of B2C. In a class of 70 you might get one student who goes, oh B2B might be cool, tell me more… they usually become our interns.
And who could blame them. Like most people I know I fell into B2B. For it has none of the glamour, accessibility or hype of B2C.
Let’s face it, producing and launching an industry white paper is never going to get us on the red carpet at the Cannes Lions Awards… No-one is queuing up to make AbDrab, a comedy series based on the hilarious adventures of a couple of slightly studious B2B PR ladies.
Of course the year has had its ups and downs but they do not appear to be related to the pandemic. It seems working only in hard-core B2B tech and fintech has given us a level of protection from the catastrophic impact COVID has had on so many sectors, all connected to B2C.
And for that we are truly grateful and can only wish our industry as a whole a speedy recovery.
As we emerge pale and wan from English lockdown 2.0 we look to put the year far, far behind us. But ‘tis the season to count our blessings, and although we’ve endured our sadnesses and setbacks, Sam can count at least five of them.
Here’s blessing number one; the rest will follow in a series of posts over the next few days.
Virtual from the start
No new normal here – we have always been a virtual office.
Having run PR functions for many years, when I set up The Comms Crowd in 2012, it was a no brainer to dispense with the hassle of a central office. Minimal overheads meant better customer rates, and I’d attract and retain a more experienced and talented team if they had the freedom to work the hours that best suited their lives.
We’re blessed as we’ve had all this time to perfect how we work together as a team and get past the rookie working from home mistakes: (think pjs, flaky IT, uncomfortable chairs and FaceTime burnout).
So when COVID hijacked 2020 there were no disruptions to our services, no calamities, it was business as normal for us.
Of course, the knock-on effect of being entirely virtual from the get-go was that I had very little appetite for anything else virtual, so I was the permanent no-show at the virtual choir, the virtual pub quiz and the virtual Tai Chi class…not sure anyone missed me.
‘Tis the season to count our blessings and Sam can count at least five of them. In her last three posts she gave thanks that we have been virtual from the start and entirely focused on B2B with a distinct aversion for organising events. Here’s blessing number four; the final one will follow in a few days.
A trouble shared
Maybe it’s because we have no office and that tends to keep the politics of it at bay, but one of the most significant things about our team is that we really do get on and we really do like each other.
So, as each of us inevitably had to duck out to deal with the maelstrom of COVID chaos and life events that came our way – sick loved ones, vulnerable parents, isolated relatives, trying to get food delivered, home schooling, doomed pet rescues, house moves, and even a new baby – the rest of the team stepped up and stepped in to keep the all the plates spinning. In fact the agency even experienced a growth spurt at this time.
Knowing there was instant financial support for anyone who needed it, and weekly Zoom lunches where all talk of work was banned but you could bring your knitting, helped us to stay connected in mind and spirit.
We even managed to volunteer our time to give a Career Ready mentee a content-rich one month virtual internship, which everyone enjoyed and we hope will help with her application to study media at university. Go Asah!
Simona Cotta Ramusino shares her experience and the lessons learned over the last six years working as a social media manager for several of our FinTech clients.
So many presume because they can happily curate their own personal feeds that the same rules apply when managing a corporate feed. But I have found the skills do not cross over as readily as you might hope.
Social media cannot stand alone
Social media is the mirror of corporate communications. It may be because of my PR background but for me social media has to mirror what the PR machine does: help communicate a clear profile of the company, of what it does and of its people and values; use the same key messages to help present a consistent and constant image of the company; and promote key spokespeople as thought leaders in their industry. I am quite lucky that in my current position I often cover both roles of PR and social media consultant so I am able to reflect the tone and type of language in social media posts. I know what news a client would be interested in amplifying and of course what owned content is coming out that we can repurpose for social media. It is likely that big global firms may have these two roles fulfilled by more than one person. If that’s the case, make sure you are only a desk or a Skype/Zoom/Microsoft Teams message away from the PR manager so that you can work in synergy.
Scheduling is the perfect mix of science and art.
Most scheduling tools provide suggestions on the best times to schedule a post on LinkedIn or twitter. Most of the time these are good and useful suggestions. However, don’t let the robots take over – this is where human intervention can make a difference. Who is the audience for this piece of news? Where are they located? Which channels do they favour? Is it a big piece of insight that may be better to read at the end of the day? Or is it a video that should be watched in your lunch break? Is this a good blog post to read as you sit at your desk in the morning? Where / when is this [virtual] event taking place? That’s at least what I think when scheduling posts: choosing the right time zone to make sure you catch your audience at the right time and picking the right social channels on which to post to make sure you reach the right audience.
Talk the talk of your audience
Using the correct language is key. I mostly cover corporate social media accounts where the audience mainly comprises journalists, analysts, entrepreneurs and financial services senior figures so for me it is paramount the language used by clients on social channels is appropriate to reach this audience. Here are my two key rules when writing posts:
- Eats, shoots & leaves. Avoiding grammar mistakes and typos is key, particularly I would say on LinkedIn since this is where your peers and your clients’ peers are.
- Appropriateness of tone. This is a tip you will probably see repeated in every social media guidance document or blog post and it is the most obvious one but…. you will be surprised by how many blunders are made daily, how often a brand (or an individual) has had to backtrack because of a tweet thought of as a joke but instead very offensive – see @PureGym post comparing a hard workout to ’12 Years of Slave’.
- Apply a common sense filter e.g. when deciding whether a piece of company news is for internal consumption only or whether you should shout about it to all. Does the whole world need to see pictures of the company Christmas party? No. Are you issuing a release about an acquisition? If you are a listed company you may have some time restraints on when to do this so make sure you are aligned with your PR Communications Team.
Different platform, same rules
For me, managing corporate social media channels is like any other role in communications – you need to build your experience and knowledge, learn from your peers and ensure you always follow corporate communications best practices. Maybe not as much fun as you imagined, but very, very effective.
Lauren Bowden, head of FinTech Content Marketing, reflects on following her heart and landing on her feet…
It is coming up to 18 months since I took the plunge and left full time employment to start freelancing. Unable to mentally and physically continue along the corporate path that I thought I was destined to walk, it almost felt like I was in free-fall when I left. It was weird, scary, and completely alien to me. I have been an employee of a company – whether that’s a dry cleaner, an IT helpdesk, or a multinational corporate – since I was 15.
What the hell was I thinking?
My descent into panic was in full flow. That was until I met up with my first ‘proper’ boss, mentor and all round great mate Sam Howard. Meandering around Regent’s Park with her delightful dog Dill on a lovely early summer’s day. Off-loading my stress, sharing war stories and catching up on RuPaul’s Drag Race (as you do), it emerged that Sam could have a spot for me in her Crowd.
I quickly realised the opportunity. The freedom of a freelance life with the stability of a trusted team handling a stream of sterling clients, and still able to pay the bills? Obviously, I grabbed it with both hands.
Next task was to find out where I fit. My most recent role as content marketer meant that I was five years out of the journo-PR loop, so I was no use there. I touched analyst relations extremely lightly, mainly as cover for a colleague on maternity leave – also roughly five years ago. No good there either.
Having already made the biggest leap in my career so far, I decided to stick with that approach and dive head-first into wherever I could be of use. That turned out to be as a writer. Who knew? Well, me, a bit. I have always enjoyed writing. And there was obviously plenty of writing throughout both my PR and Marketing jobs. But to be positioned as ‘the writer’ was a little daunting, to say the least.
Confidence with my new moniker started to build soon enough. Compliments from discerning clients, minimal edits from some of the best writers I have ever worked with. And then the clincher.
A psychometric test from Comms Crowd client Capp revealed, from assessment of strengths, skills, preferences, cognitive ability, personality, values and experience and using 100m+ data points, revealed that out 60 potential ‘types’, top of the list was, yep you guessed it…a writer.
Specifically, it told me that:
“You enjoy writing, finding a deep fulfilment in writing things for others to read. You have a natural ability to communicate through writing. The act of writing helps you to clarify your thoughts, so you write clearly and easily. Use wisely – you are likely to get pleasure from all types of writing – even emails!”
Overall, I would say that has been my experience over the last year and a half. Obviously, I have had my fair share of writer’s block, and I have come down to the wire with deadlines more than once. Luckily, I have also been extremely privileged to have interesting clients and incredible proof-readers/sub-editors to help me through it.
It’s also not all been writing. I have continued to create ‘content’ as part of the Crowd and my own clients. Yes, the other C-word that may as well be a swear word these days. I stand with friend-of-the-Crowd Ian Truscott’s view on this, as outlined in his excellent blog: “If you are managing a content process, it’s no different if the piece of content is a PDF datasheet, a YouTube “how-to” video, a set of instructions, or a blog post. It’s a unit of content traveling along a content supply chain from creator to consumer that should be optimised.”
Of course, I can’t be as involved in the strategic plans as I was client-side, but I have been able to use that experience to advise on content marketing pieces across all phases of the sales cycle. And I’ve loved it.
What I have figured out is whatever label we attach to what we do – whether it’s the written word in a thought leadership piece, audio in a podcast, visuals in an infographic – what it comes down to is good story telling delivered in the right place at the right time. That is what the Crowd do best. And I am thrilled to be a part of it.
Asah Adolphe joined us for the month of July 2020 as an intern, and many of the team were involved in giving her some experience of different aspects of our work. Peter Springett, our senior editor, volunteered to guide Asah through writing and editing a blog. Below you can read the result.
Could a machine really determine whether you get the job or not? Most likely yes, but here are some tips on how to improve your chances.
Applying for your dream job is a daunting process. What makes it even more nerve-wracking is the influence that technology has on the interviewing process.
A lot of importance has been placed on artificial intelligence in particular, as many companies use it to identify the best candidates for the job.
Being interviewed by an algorithm may be the new norm. However traditional face-to-face interviews are still prominent. Whatever interview process you may be facing, just follow these simple steps. You got this!
1. Search for a job listing
First, you need to devote your time to the job-hunting process by using a variety of resources. Be proactive by handing out your CV, e-mailing companies, looking through job advertisements by using apps such as LinkedIn. Treat your job search as a full-time responsibility. Maximise your options!
When looking for job vacancies you should consider all your skills and experiences. Your achievements will determine what jobs you will apply for.
2. Modify your CV
Now that you have seen job posts that have interested you it is time to revamp your CV, if you have not started one yet then writing one is a must. Remember that this is an important document as the focal point is to sell yourself. Master the art of selling yourself by demonstrating your achievements and explaining what lessons you have learned – it would also be helpful to include what you can offer a company if they choose to hire you.
3. Practice typical interview questions
Next, browse the internet for typical interview questions to make sure you are prepared so you have concise yet detailed answers that show you are a suitable candidate. As a suggestion (to maximise confidence), you could ask a friend or family member to test you on some interview questions so they can give you some advice or feedback on your interview technique. However, if they are unavailable, practicing in front of a mirror will do.
Practice! Practice! Practice! As the saying goes practice makes perfect!
4. Presentable/smart clothing
Whether you are being interviewed in person or your interview is going to be conducted by AI, appropriate clothing is essential as your aim should be to make a good first impression. Remember, first impressions count!
There is no need to break the bank and go above and beyond to buy expensive clothes, after all the most important thing is sophistication and professionalism. Even with AI interviews you could still be penalised if you are wearing inappropriate clothing, as a human will look at your interview at some point.
5. Be aware of who you are and what your story is
Have realistic expectations! Be mindful of your skills and experiences as this determines how far this will get you, although be open to new opportunities to expand your horizons. Do not be deterred by lack of experiences. Nevertheless, if your fortunate enough to get your dream job be conscious that any job has its highs and lows, there will be parts of it that you will enjoy and parts of it that you may dislike.
And finally, be mindful that employers are looking for employees who are enthusiastic so keep that passion and drive!
Asah Adolphe joined us for the month of July 2020 as an intern, and many of the team were involved in giving her some experience of different aspects of our work. Sandra Vogel, head of tech content and working journalist, volunteered to guide Asah through conducting and writing up an interview. This involves several different skills, including researching your subject, working out interview questions that will get you the results you think you need, and crafting an article out of what you learn. Below you can read the result – Asah’s interview with our founder Sam Howard.
It has been eight years since Sam Howard started The Comms Crowd, and it has never been more of a success than it is today. She discloses all in this interview from her favourite procrastination habits to her greatest career achievements and even admits how it was never her initial career plan to work in PR.
Earlier on in Sam’s professional journey she did not consider that PR would be her future career path and even resented the suggestion when her boss recommended it to her. Nevertheless, we can now understand that the software CEO had the right idea as his encouragement led her into the right direction, as she is now the head of a thriving comms agency.
As the creator of a ‘new breed of communications agency’, Sam’s main responsibilities are to ensure that the company is healthy, financially balanced and that that their clients are happy as she emphasises, ‘good enough is never ever good enough.’ Her determined mindset filtrated through every response she made to the questions I asked and accentuated why not only the company but her professional career has been such a triumph.
When asked about the key to developing an efficient team she explained that it is vital that each member is articulate, maintains a technical understanding and exhibits an interest in their role as this all contributes to the smooth sailing of the business. After all, an enthusiastic team builds the foundation for a successful, prosperous organisation.
In any professional field every individual is guaranteed to face hurdles and experience failure, Sam even acknowledged that to fail ‘is how you learn to become better at what you do’ and I could not agree more. When I queried the award-winning writer on the topic of failure, she confessed that she had failed on numerous occasions, which is understandable when you have twenty plus years’ experience in B2B tech PR. She recalled one ‘unpleasant’ experience which happened to be when she was relatively new to the industry and was approached with a new role in the city that she was not prepared for at that point in her career. She expressed it was an honour to be chosen for the job, so she completely ignored the skill level it actually required and ended up ‘leaping in’ and being devastatingly inadequate. Although, she added that headhunting is common in the industry, so it is all too tempting to take a role that you are not yet qualified to do.
It is fair to say that failure can open the door to many successes, Sam’s professional experiences reinforce this as she has accomplished a lot within her time in the industry. However, her greatest achievement she claimed was her having the incentive to start the Comms Crowd. In 2012 traditional work environments made it mandatory for employees to work in offices for long hours, and even getting a 4-day week or working one day a week from home was still frowned upon. Sam decided to go against this model entirely and set up a fully virtual agency with no office at all (and none of the overheads so no extortionate agency rates). Now in the midst of a pandemic, the model is finally recognised as the way to go, but Sam has been making it a success as she has ‘pulled-off’ managing a dynamic, efficient, and professional team that operates from various locations across the country.
The determination and passion that built this tech comms agency stemmed from Sam’s desire to collaborate and work with people she respected. She recognised from early on that it was unfair of the PR industry to have impractical expectations of its mainly female work force, therefore her aim was to embrace these expectations and create a flexible supportive environment, as she stresses that ‘your personal life and your children and your family and your dogs are as important as work and anyone who acts as if they’re not is kidding themselves.’ Clearly, staying true to these values is what stimulates and inspires her drive.
Sam was certainly not reluctant in shedding some light on the challenges she has come across in her career. She revealed, that when working in PR ‘it is vital to learn how to adapt as every client is unique and getting it spot-on with a client can always be tricky’. However, this does not seem to deter Sam and her team from reaching their goal and ultimately impressing their clients. In her view the most rewarding element in her role is witnessing her team blossom and seeing how her team manages to have such a positive impact on their clients.
The Chief Storytelling Officer went on to describe her typical day, and I have to admit it is very productive considering she works from home but it happens to be a routine that she has evolved over the eight years of running The Crowd. Intriguingly she gets to pick her own working hours which begins at 1pm in the afternoon until 7:30pm in the evening and she clarified that between those hours ‘she is in deep concentration.’ However, she promptly starts her day at 8:30am when most people are commuting to work so she can get an early start on her domestic tasks, then she goes outdoors to take her dogs for a walk and after that she would normally get in some exercise, such as Pilates swimming or cycling; as a result of COVID-19 her exercise routine has undergone some changes, unfortunately as we have all experienced this pandemic has affected our lives in many ways. Nevertheless, this has not deterred Sam as her routine remains proactive.
Maintaining a productive and successful work-life along with a satisfying balanced personal life can be stressful, especially when being the executive of a company, but Sam has the perfect yet quirky coping mechanism that helps her which she shares as ‘very calming.’ *Drum roll* it is…creating spreadsheets! Yes! colourful, bright, multicoloured spreadsheets is what relaxes her from a demanding day at work. After all, everyone needs a stress reliever.
I realised prior to conducting this interview that Sam is very ardent and committed in encouraging the next generation of talent. I asked her for any advice she could offer any young person considering a career in the field of PR or the media industry in general. She responded that individuals that wished to undertake a career path into Media and PR must have a ‘strong work ethic’ along with determination and an understanding that the industry is fast paced, she also stated that the person must take into consideration their skills and mindset; as the industry ‘ is competitive and changes like the landscape’. This interview with Sam Howard has been enlightening and informative with a hue of humour. Sam has shared inner and concise mental abilities it takes to be successful in the Media and PR world. She has shown us what it takes to be a part of the industry and the positive yet resilient, tenacious attitude one must have to succeed.
The past few months have forced us all to re-evaluate our lives at home, at work and beyond. We’re spending more time on video calls, sharing more on social media and taking greater advantage of online learning to expand our skills. So it’s no surprise that we’ve seen a big uptick in messages from clients wanting to boost their online presence, not least on social media. Requests vary, but most want to elevate their corporate accounts, especially the number of followers and engagement levels on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Our social media strategist Peter Springett shares his findings from recent audits he’s conducted.
- Profile page: most look professional, but solidly corporate. Profile photos and header images are often in line with the overall brand but show little of the ‘softer edge’ you need to stand out on social media.
- Followers: somewhere between 100 and 500 (it tends to be a little higher on LinkedIn).
- Posting frequency: about twice per day (maybe twice a week on LinkedIn).
- Tone of voice/personality: varies, but in many cases this is inconsistent or non-existent.
During the audit we also look at the personal profiles of the leadership team. That’s when my jaw often hits the ground. A typical CEO has thousands of followers. Thousands! Even when their profile is incomplete. Some even lack a portrait photograph. Impressive? Yes, except that most organisations fail to take advantage of the opportunity. The skill is to turn these passive LinkedIn connections into active networks that promote the business, its offering and the people who make it possible.
With a little more time I usually find at least half-a-dozen employees (at all levels) who are active on social media in a professional capacity. They post and engage regularly, sometimes about their employer, more often about what fascinates them in their industry. Bringing these people into the mix is vital too. By the way, I’m not arguing against having stand-out corporate social media accounts. They matter enormously for the credibility of your business.
The trick is to combine both personal and corporate networks in a virtuous circle that boosts followers, engagement and inbound enquiries.
With one client we assembled and trained an employee advocacy team of 50 people, including the CEO, who were active on LinkedIn and Twitter. Some had thousands of followers, some had hundreds. But with the right training, they became enthusiastic participants, with some even reaching ‘influencer’ status in their industry. At the same time, the number of corporate account followers on Twitter grew from 800 to 7,000 and on LinkedIn from 12,000 to 75,000. The engagement uptick was equally positive. This growth was entirely organic, by the way. We didn’t pay a penny to advertise for followers or sponsor external influencers.
This doesn’t happen overnight.
You need to put a plan and a consistent resource in place to generate momentum on social media. Put it another way: there are no shortcuts, but there is a direct route to social engagement and leads, and we can show you where it lies.
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.