I gently explained that the work of a public relations executive involves fostering relationships by providing relevant information and making introductions to experts that assist journalists and analysts in their work. I reiterated that a national news journalist, writing for a consumer audience, will not cover a B2B technology story unless it affects the majority of readers and that trying to force fit a story would not endear me, or the client’s company, to that journalist.
While this was an uncomfortable conversation to have with a client, it was interesting to learn that people still believe that PR professionals employ such complex and covert methods to gain publicity for their clients.
In my own experience, PR is really quite simple: provide useful information and spokespeople to the right journalists and they will view your client as a reliable source in the future. However, “simple” doesn’t mean easy. It requires time to identify the right publications and writers who are likely to be interested in each story and thought and creativity to tailor clients’ information to different audiences.
PR executives who have a good rapport with particular writers will be more likely to gain their attention when pitching stories. However, using this goodwill to try to shoehorn stories into their publications will damage the working relationship.
The dark arts, as related in fairy tales, often involve short lived potions administered to provide an unfair advantage over opponents. If beers and cocktails fit into that category, then I could say that I’ve dabbled, though I’ve been as much under the influence as those we were seeking to influence.
As a result of this unusual conversation, I looked into the nefarious practices my client alluded to. I was surprised to find that the CIPR actually refers to the “dark arts” within its guidance on PRs’ use of Wikipedia:http://www.cipr.co.uk/sites/default/files/CIPR_Wikipedia_Best_Practice_Guidance.pdf
“You are reminded that “dark arts” are the antithesis of best practice public relations. Intentional deceit and anonymous or incognito activities are breaches of professional codes of conduct. Further information about the CIPR Code of Conduct can be found here7.”
Contrast this with the CIPR’s definition of good PR: “Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between and organisation and its public.”
I think I’ll stick to the hard road thanks.
Have you had similar conversations with clients?
October 28, 2012 No Comments
The primer involves an honest conversation with the main spokespeople, to hone in on the real benefits and differentiators offered by their product or service. Once that’s been achieved, we can introduce the company to the core journalists who regularly write for the audience that it is trying to reach.
Over time, the same key benefits are repeated through customer stories, interviews, presentations, press releases, comments on breaking news, social media and company blogs, to convey the core values of the company.
This process was exemplified when the producer of a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary requested an interview with my client. He’d undertaken some research and seen several comments that the spokesperson had made on information security over the previous months. During the interview we established that the most appropriate person for the documentary makers to speak to was an expert on ‘social engineering’.
As a result, the Dispatches programme featured Gavin Watson, who leads the Social Engineering Team at RandomStorm discussing how “blaggers” gain access to private information from organisations charged with protecting people’s data.
This is a topic that Watson had been discussing for the previous six months at industry events, within opinion articles in the information security press and in comments made to journalists when they were reporting on high profile security incidents.
Another example of this long term approach was seen in a recent issue of the Financial Times Connected Business, where the only vendor quoted was a company CEO who had been blogging on the topic for more than a year. His quotation was taken from a post that had been written long before the FT’s editorial calendars had been published. The journalist had gone back into the CEO’s blog archive to discover the company’s true position on the topic.
Clients often task PR teams with positioning their spokesperson as an industry expert but don’t provide them with sufficient time, or high quality information, to establish that reputation. Trying to raise the client’s profile without adequate preparation and investment of the spokesperson’s time is likely to waste resources and lead to an unsatisfactory result. Like any rush job, it simply won’t stick.
October 22, 2012 No Comments
There are certain ideas that just capture the public imagination. Councillor Caroline Salmon’s cycle sculpture was one of those. As soon as I saw her Tweet, seeking sponsors for a sculpture to commemorate cycling in Surrey, I was hooked.
On further investigation, the idea was as simple as it was elegant. Local people were being offered the opportunity to buy one of three hundred steel oak leaves that would be assembled to form the figures of two cyclists and positioned near the foot of Box Hill.
My husband and I are keen mountain bikers and cycling is a fundamental part of our lifestyle. It being our fifth wedding anniversary in July, with a theme of steel, Councillor Caroline’s leaf sponsorship scheme was serendipitous. It provided a perfect opportunity to mark our own special occasion by contributing to a wonderful local community project, marking this historic year of the Queen’s diamond jubilee, Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France victory and the London Olympics.
I clicked through from @CllrCaroline’s Tweet to read more about the project, spoke to the good lady herself and a few weeks later received leaf number 13, just in time for our anniversary.
We were extremely excited to be invited to the unveiling of the sculpture on July 17th, just three days before the Olympic torch was due to be carried through Dorking on its relay route to Guildford and the Tower of London.
Councillor Caroline had organised a reception for the unveiling, dubbed, “lemonade in the layby”. Hearing her speak, I realised that this was a feat of event management that had been timed to perfection.
By her own account, the idea of installing a cycle sculpture had come to Ms Salmon back in November 2011, when she was looking for a way to commemorate the momentous year of 2012, in her role as chairman of Mole Valley District Council.
In the space of five months Caroline Salmon sought and won planning permission for the installation at the Denbies/Pixham Lane roundabout and found the sculptor, Heather Burrell, to carry out the work. She then got to work using local and social media to promote her project.
Marketing experts talk about the four Ps: product, price, placement, promotion. Councillor Caroline’s project had all of these ingredients, which made it such a success.
Product: It pains me to label it so baldly because the sculpture is a thing of beauty, commemorating a truly historic year in British cycling. The oak leaves reflect the local woodland beauty of Surrey, where many rewarding trails for road cyclists and mountain bikers can be found around Hurtwood, Holmbury St Mary, Leith Hill and Box Hill. The sculpture’s slender design recalls the groundbreaking carbon monocoque frame that steered Chris Boardman to glory in 1992.
Price: At just £40 for a leaf, Councillor Caroline offered members of the local community the opportunity to help create something of real beauty that celebrates the sport that can be enjoyed so well in this area and commemorates an historic year for the nation. Contributing to the sculpture was a perfect way to give something back to the area.
Place: Box Hill will form the most arduous section of the Olympic cycle race, with cyclists powering up the incline nine times. The Olympians will cycle by this sculpture, adding to its history.
The Denbies estate, which borders the sculpture, forms part of the epic Dorking Ups and Downs mountain bike route organised by Wiggle and UK Cycling Events, which celebrates everything that the Surrey Hills can offer a cyclist: the burning legs and lungs, the steep, rooty descents and the glorious unrestricted views from the tops of the Downs.
Promotion: Councillor Caroline Salmon is a lady of considerable energy and enthusiasm, who galvanises those around her. Her use of local media, social media and personal contacts in local government enabled her to pull this together in a frighteningly short time frame and ensured that a fantastic idea came to life in time for the London 2012 celebrations.
On this momentous day when London hosts the Olympic Games for the third time in its history, we wish all of our athletes the very best. We will be watching you and supporting you.
July 27, 2012 No Comments
Early last week I received an email invitation that began, “I noticed your profile on Linked-In and thought you would like to attend our Guildford Link-Up networking event on 12th October”. I read through the attendee list and was surprised to see that I didn’t recognise a single name on the list. Having attended many local networking events over the past four years, organised by #DigitalSurrey, 4N and Business Link, I’d started to see the same names cropping up on the attendee lists. So it was interesting to see that the organisers, Only Marketing, had built a completely new community. I was also impressed to see attendees from major local companies: Autodesk and BAE Systems, so I decided to go along.
Another major attraction to the #Guild-LU event was the presentation on Google+ from Thomas Power, social media expert, Chairman of eCademy and author of “Networking for Life” and “A Friend in every City”.
I was invited to join Google + by Kevin Townsend, a philosopher, security blogger and journalist. Thus far, my involvement has been limited to adding fellow high tech PR professionals and journalists to my circles and +1 ing articles and blogs that I have enjoyed reading, so I was interested in hearing Thomas Power’s views on Google’s new rival to Facebook.
Despite being billed as a Google + presentation, the point that resonated with everyone I spoke to at Guild-LU was Power’s comment that recruiters in the US are now using Klout scores to decide whether or not to interview people for marketing roles. Apparently, if a candidate’s Klout score is below 50, they won’t be interviewed because they are not using social networks sufficiently to be able to influence an audience. He pointed to the fact that Lady GaGa has a Klout score of 92 and that each of her Tweets goes out to 14 million followers, explaining that this means that she could charge $1million per Tweet.
In his YouTube channel Power talks about the key benefit of gaining a larger social network, citing that “1 in 100 people in your network will bring you business, 1 in 1000 will bring you good business and 1 in 10,000 will bring you useful information or mentoring”. He talks about networks improving the flow of information and opportunities to oneself, so the larger your network, the greater the chances of getting the right information and opportunities for your business. Power stated, that, based on social networks having a seven year cycle, both Twitter and Klout would reach critical mass in 2015.
From my own experience, this influx of information and opportunities has certainly proved to be Twitter’s biggest benefit. By following the journalists who write the most on my clients’ sectors, I can discover which news stories are breaking, trending and worth following and quickly pick up on the key issues facing our industry. But it’s not all business, Twitter also allows me to enjoy banter with friends and former colleagues as though we’re still sharing the same office. As Thomas Power states, the power of social media is about sharing knowledge and ideas. I would add that social media also allows us to create a dream team of our favourite colleagues so that we can get the right information, be more productive and have fun in the process.
Big thanks to Jane Sherwood for my invitation to Guild-LU. I’m already looking forward to the next event.
October 14, 2011 No Comments
The news made me think about what it is that I love about Opie’s work.
Opie is a master of reductionism, creating portraits that crystallise his subjects’ defining features.
What Opie achieves visually is analogous to good copywriting.
PR copywriters must encapsulate a story within the first paragraph of a press release. With the increasing importance of SEO, we must also incorporate keywords into attention grabbing copy. There is much to achieve with few words.
Similarly, when we are speaking to journalists we have just a few seconds to tell our client’s story and engage their interest. As a result, a honing process takes place to discover the most striking aspects of our client’s story.
What will people remember and recognise about the company? What appeals most to different audiences?
Logo designers work to the same objective: conveying a company’s mission and personality through graphics. For example, the logo for logistics company, FedEx, has a small white arrow making up the space between the letters E and X, conveying a sense of momentum.
Too often I see press releases that overstate their case, confuse their audience and lose the key message. We do well to apply an Opian discipline and decide what needs to be retained within our copywriting so that our client’s distinguishing features stand out.
August 16, 2011 No Comments
The source of the report was Charles Duncombe, an online entrepreneur, who found that revenue per visitor was heavily impacted by a misspelling on one of his ecommerce sites. Revenue per visitor doubled after he inspected his site and corrected a mistake in the web copy.
The report even stated that website visitors may be deterred because they associate incorrect English with online fraud. Therefore, they are wary of sites with misspellings because they could be phishing sites.
This is not just an issue for web copy, copywriters in the offline arena also exhibit errors in their grammar and spelling. I often spot mistakes in the press releases I read on newswires.
Common mistakes include:
- Using “it’s” instead of “its”
- Using “their” instead of “there”
- Using “you’re” instead of “your”
- Using “to” when the writer means “too”
- Writing “till” rather than “’til” (an abbreviation of “until”)
- Writing the possessive, “radio’s”, instead of the plural, “radios”
- Writing about a company (singular) and then writing about “their” profits, instead of “its” profits (for example writing “Tightsplease have seen sales rocket” instead of correctly writing, “Tightsplease has seen sales rocket”)
- Confusing “effect” and “affect”
I am eternally grateful to my secondary school teacher who spent a whole double lesson drumming the “it’s / its” rules into us. I can still hear her pounding the blackboard as she repeated, “It’s can only be used if you meant to write ‘it is’. If you have something belonging to it it’s its”.
This issue was reinforced yesterday when I spoke to an English language teacher. She claimed that she was the only person in her department who knew how to use “affect” and “effect” correctly. If this is true, then it explains why these words are so often used incorrectly on company websites and even in copy produced by journalists and public relations professionals.
The way I explain this to colleagues is that the word “effect” is a noun. “Affect” is a verb, or a “doing word” as my primary school teacher used to say. The way I explain it to my spouse it to say, “Affect is what ‘appens to something. Effect is the end result”.
For example, poor spelling affects web visitors’ perceptions of a company, with the effect that ecommerce businesses have fewer sales from their sites.
What are your own spelling bugbears? Share them here.
UPDATE – Yesterday was #ApostropheDay with some howlers supplied on Twitter and Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/50294452@N03/5989953281/ It’s not just poor spelling on websites that turns people off, misuse of apostrophes in traditional media can be just as irritating to your audience.
August 7, 2011 No Comments
During the TT races on the Isle of Mann, my personal race favourite, Guy Martin, gave an extremely agitated interview at the end of the second practice race. He complained that a red flag had been waved by a marshal, causing him and the rider behind to slow down. Martin claimed that this distraction had disrupted his riding for the next three miles, costing him valuable seconds in the race.
What interested me was the precision with which he calculated the amount of time it took to regain focus, multiplied by the speed at which he was travelling (128 miles an hour). The notion of distraction to recovery time really interests me.
Yesterday I set myself numerous tasks, hardly any of which were completed. Why? Because I responded to several unanticipated email requests that swallowed up most of my day.
In his Business Computing World blog: “7 Tips for increasing personal productivity” David Lavenda, VP of social email company harmon.ierefers to the hour a day lost by US employees through office distractions. The vast majority of these distractions come from email and social media and the rest from physical and phone interruptions. Rini van Solingen calculated that if a person is engaged in a creative task and he is interrupted by a phone call, it takes 15 to 20 minutes for him to recover his train of thought.
Dr. Thomas Jackson of Loughborough University, researched the impact of email on our ability to focus on tasks in progress. He estimated that, in a worst case scenario, an employee might have just three and half minutes between each email interruption, leading to increased fatigue and reduced productivity. He found that it requires a person an average of 64 seconds to recover his or her focus after being interrupted by email. This equates to more than eight hours a week spent recovering our trains of thought and doesn’t include other communication channels such as instant messaging, texts and social media.
The harmon.ie survey estimated that these interruptions are costing businesses $10,375, per employee per annum, based on the average employee earning $30 an hour.
It’s not just businesses that are suffering. BBC Breakfast this morning interviewed a family who use their Smartphones at the breakfast table. A holiday snapshot featured them in a café looking at their own Smartphones rather than engaging with each other. Unsurprisingly, the mother commented that it was detrimental to family communications. This interview coincided with the OFCOM report that one in three UK adults now owns a smartphone, with 89 per cent of the survey sample reporting that they used mobile email. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14397101
Dr Jackson proposes that we look at emails in batches, while David Lavenda suggests that we set firm boundaries on when we are on and offline. In this way we can give different tasks and people the focus that they deserve.
As someone who’s checked into work emails from a tent at the foot of Helvellyn and subsequently drafted and emailed an article from a car travelling up the A9 to Nairn, I’m certainly not decrying mobile email. It is a fantastic technology that has liberated me from the nine to five of office life, as well as the miseries of commuting. I’m simply acknowledging that sometimes we need to ignore the red flags, step away from the machine and refocus on our priorities for the day. What are your favourite suggestions for dealing with email distractions?
August 4, 2011 No Comments
It is beautifully made from wicking material, keeping me cool and dry on long hot rides.
It fits perfectly and allows me to enter the pub after a ride, feeling that I’ve made at least a bit of an effort to meet the smart casual dress code (if you ignore the mud splatters).
It doesn’t need ironing (a big winner in my book).
It looks like a normal top, but it lights up in car headlights.
It has a pink splash on the logo to give it that, you know, feminine touch.
It has a zip pocket on the back so that I can carry something while I’m riding (even if I haven’t figured out what to put in it yet).
Now all of these features could be found on the majority of other cycling tops, but this one has a chamois leather triangle, carefully sewn into the inside edge, to allow me to wipe mud splats off my riding glasses so that I can see the trail clearly. This is why it cheers me up, the thought and detail that went into making it somehow delights me every time I put it on. It’s the same thrill that drivers get when they inspect all of the “toys” in their new car.
Why am I writing about a T-shirt on a PR blog? Because most of the points I’ve listed are functional aspects that are common to most cycling tops. However, the manufacturers have added that final detail that persuaded me to buy their product and continue to enjoy using it. Importantly, this enjoyment of the product encourages me to recommend it to other cyclists.
It’s a T-shirt. Hundreds of manufacturers make T-shirts. This one stood out.
So how does this relate to PR?
When representing companies that are operating in a crowded market, it is vital to work with them to identify the differentiators that delight their customers and encourage them to become advocates of the product, service and brand. When we speak to journalists about companies offering commodity products they will often say, “So what’s your angle?”, or simply, “So what?”
An important part of any successful PR campaign is to discover and promote the details that make a particular company, service or product stand out from the crowd. So what’s yours?
June 30, 2011 No Comments
To prove his point, he referred to an incident at my former agency, involving a colleague who was making travel arrangements for an international conference. He’d emailed a journalist, apologising that he had booked him onto a very early flight and explaining that all the later flights were already fully booked. The journalist responded with an email: “Hey, don’t bite the hand that feeds”.
This email sent our manager into a mild panic and my colleague was set to work ringing around all the travel agencies to ensure that there were no other flights that would allow the journalist to get up at a more sociable hour. Eventually, after my colleague had exhausted all other travel options, I called the journalist to plead forgiveness. He responded with surprise saying: “Hey there was really no need to go to so much trouble, I’m just happy that you’ve sorted out my flight and hotel for the conference. Like I said, I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds”.
The day after our fireside conversation, I saw an interesting post by information security journalist, Davey Winder, on DaniWeb in which he pointed out that 8th June 2011 marked the fortieth anniversary of the first email being sent by its inventor, Ray Tomlinson.
Mr Winder cited a statistic, from Sky Broadband, that 51 per cent of British workers would rather email a colleague than speak to them on the phone. In fact we should have foreseen this, since Ray Tomlinson’s first message was emailed between two adjacent computers.
So do you prefer email, or are you one of the 24 per cent of British workers who would rather pick up the phone?
June 12, 2011 No Comments
This has been a landmark week for social media and privacy.
On Monday morning, 9th May, Jemima Khan Tweeted: “I’ve woken up trapped in a bloody nightmare,” after allegations appeared on Twitter 8th May that she had taken out a super-injunction to prevent certain pictures being published, or even alluded to. In spite of the fact that UK newspapers were prohibited from even referring to the case, the allegations were widely reTweeted and Ms Khan was quick to use Twitter to refute them.
As testament to the old William Randolph Hearst phrase, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”, with just six Tweets to his or her name, the person who made the allegation against Ms Khan had accrued 112,627 followers by 13th May.
While the 8th May Tweet was clearly in breach of UK law, as a US company, Twitter does not have to comply with UK super-injunctions. Legal experts have commented that Twitter would have a strong defence under US law and the right to freedom of speech. This throws up a number of legal and privacy issues, the chief one being whether country specific gagging orders can be upheld in the age of global social media and citizen journalism.
The UK Parliament is now set to debate whether to update the privacy laws enshrined in the Human Rights Act of 1998, so that social media use is covered by the same rules governing print journalism. While some commentators predict that this will lead to censorship of Twitter, its founder Biz Stone has stated that he will not remove controversial Tweets.
A number of commentators have discussed this erosion of privacy by social media, with a particularly good post by Chris Moffatt eConsultancy.
Just as the Khan/Twitter clamour died down, another social media v. privacy story broke. On Thursday 12th May, Facebook admitted that it had hired PR firm Burson-Marsteller to raise awareness of alleged privacy infringements and data scraping by Google’s Social Circles application. The admission came after a PR executive had approached online privacy expert, blogger and former Federal Trade Commission researcher, Christopher Soghoian, to interest him in writing an opinion piece on the alleged privacy infringements. Soghoian asked the PR executive which company he was representing. When the PR executive declined to name his client, Mr Soghoian published the email exchange online and the PR company was accused of running a smear campaign. The campaign was traced back to the client and the story attracted negative publicity for both client and PR.
Looking over the events of this week it would appear that in the social media age, the discipline is to balance old fashioned ethics with new media to ensure that what goes up does not bring you down.
UPDATE: Tim Jowitt has reported in eWeek that the British High Court has issued an injunction specifically prohibiting Twitter and Facebook users from publishing damaging information online that could reveal someone’s identity in a particularly sensitive case http://www.eweekeurope.co.uk/news/facebook-and-twitter-hit-with-injunction-ruling-29234
May 15, 2011 No Comments