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Coverage Cup round up w/c 13 October 2014

Coverage cupWelcome to this week’s Coverage Cup round up,  featuring our top hits from the last week.  It was an outstanding week for national coverage – resulting in happy clients and a hotly contested debate in the office over who should win the coveted coverage cup.   We are a competitive bunch and love the kudos that comes with a piece in the nationals. 

There is a nice mix of proactive pitching, issues response, features and interviews so opinion was divided on which was the most difficult to secure and therefore who should win.  Coverage in the nationals is usually as a result of persistence, speed, detective work and a little bit of luck so great to see that tenacity paying off.

For the Egress team, running an issues response on Dropbox’s supposed hack, spotting the story early and collaborating with the client to come up with a quick response resulted in coverage in the Daily Mail Online and The Telegraph.  The quote was also used by the Press Association leading to over 40 pieces of regional news stories. We managed to beat off the competition in the security sector that were no doubt clamouring to be included – an excellent result for a fairly new client we are working to build thought leadership for.

For Virtusa, it was about building a story that was strong enough to pitch as a proactive briefing with a company spokesperson.  Lauren’s recent post talks about the importance of helping the spokesperson deliver on what you’ve promised; in the case of proactive pitching, it is particularly important that you deliver what the journalist is expecting as it is not just one quote they are looking for, they are expecting the spokesperson to shape a whole piece.  The resulting BBC News Online coverage is fantastic. In addition, detective work on features and who was writing them got Virtusa into a Times report on gamification in the workplace.

The PQ team was also focused on demonstrating the credibility and knowledge of their spokesperson, ex-NSA technical director, Brian Snow.  This piece was again a result of building a story that was strong enough to pitch as a proactive briefing.  If the client and agency can effectively work together to anticipate hot topics and build a story around them during regular brainstorming sessions, then the coverage will position companies as thought leaders and result in excellent pieces, such as the below  Guardian piece. 

Daily Mail: ‘Your stuff is safe': Dropbox denies hack after anonymous post claims it has the personal details of up to 6.9 MILLION users

The Telegraph: Dropbox denies hacking claims

BBC News: The emergence of the counter-free bank branch

The Times: Serious ‘game’ of keeping good staff

The Guardian: Powerful quantum computers move a step closer to reality


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Beware of the technology journalist?

beware_of_the____Political party conference season can really spook a company spokesperson, even the most experienced will recoil in horror at the thought of a grilling from Nick Robinson.   Conference season may be over but the impact remains on anyone that has to face the press.  But with Halloween approaching maybe it is time to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Fear rather than a ‘scary’ journalist is the most common reason for missed opportunities.  Most IT journalists aren’t looking for a points scoring battle with the spokesperson, they are more typically on a deadline and need a good quote to support the angle they want their article to take. 

In fact, it is more common to trip yourself up.  Spokesperson stage fright can mean that the discussion before the interview is forgotten or ignored.  A reminder to ‘treat questions as an opportunity’ is often dismissed with; ‘you have to be joking; I’m just trying to get through the interview and hoping for one decent quote.’ 

But often journalists are the opposite of their reputation as belligerent and difficult. Sometimes the journalist will even spoon-feed the quote to the spokesperson e.g. “so would you say that we should expect a shake-up in the industry?”  Or “do you think this represents a change in the way that companies will operate?”  However, if the spokesperson has gone into the interview perceiving it to be a battle rather than a collaboration s/he may miss this golden opportunity. 

There are three things you need to remember when responding to questions.  The first is that the journalist will often deliver you the opportunity on a plate.  If the question is something that they want to quote you on then remember to paraphrase it as part of your quote.

The second is that you can influence the direction of the interview by answering questions in the right way.   If it is a difficult question or it misses the point you can shift the focus.  Your PR agency can teach you how to do this in advance.  There is no rush, demonstrate why you think it is more important to answer a different question and then deliver a killer quote. 

The third is that you should always answer the question unless there are exceptional circumstances.   Otherwise Jekyll could become Hyde (which takes us back to Nick Robinson again). This is a good example of where our spokesperson for Compuware really excelled at delivering the quotes the journalist wanted.    

Tech PRs also need to remember that our job doesn’t start or end with securing the interview.  Prior to calling the journalist we will have worked with the spokesperson to come up with some interesting ideas and we are as much to blame as the spokesperson if s/he doesn’t deliver what we’ve offered.  So in addition to reminding the spokesperson to spot the opportune questions as well as being on their guard for the tricky ones, we need to provide as much detail as we can on the planned piece beforehand. 

During the interview we must be ready to prompt the spokesperson so that the journalist gets what’s required for the piece. Once the interview is complete journalists will expect a follow-up call from us to check that we’ve delivered what we promised when we set up the interview and to provide supporting materials to complete the story. 

Finally, continuing on the Halloween theme, remember that no-one likes a zombie so relax and be effusive.  And if the interview is a frightening experience then blame us!





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Advice for advancing your career in PR – one year on

career-111932_640In my first few months working at Spark Communications, I wrote a blog offering my initial advice to those starting their career in PR. Over a year on, I wanted to share what I’ve learnt.

1) Don’t be scared to ask

When I first joined the company, I was reticent to ask questions because I didn’t want to appear incapable. Now, having learnt the hard way, if you don’t understand something it’s always better to ask questions and ensure you know how to tackle the task at hand. At Spark, my colleagues are always happy to go through a pitch or piece of work, which helps me to save time in the long run and avoid making unnecessary mistakes.

2) Follow up on your follow ups

As PRs, the ultimate aim is to get coverage for our clients. With this in mind, it is not usually enough to just call or email a journalist once and leave it at that. I had a tendency to not want to ‘bother’ journalists too much when I first joined the world of PR, but I now know how important it is to keep on top of a current sell-in, and ensure that I get a solid answer from every contact. While just phoning over and over again and asking ‘did you see my press release’ will be annoying for a journalist, I’ve now learnt the tricks of the trade that will ensure that the journalist finds my call useful (rather than infuriating) in helping complete their article. Or worst-case scenario they tell me why they aren’t going to cover the story.  I have perfected the art of avoiding a fob off!

3) Relationship building

While phoning journalist ‘strangers’ can be really daunting, once you have called a contact a couple of times it’s easier to build up a rapport and feel more comfortable pitching a story. At Spark we always make an effort to meet with a range of journalists that we deal with on a regular basis, whether at events or over a drink after work – nurturing your contacts is key to this industry and puts a face to the voice on the end of the phone.

4) Organisation is the key

Over the course of my time at Spark, I’ve been forced to become more organised in order to advance in my career.  In PR we are paid to deliver value to each client and it is important to ensure that every client gets what we’ve promised.  If I don’t keep on top of the process such as ensuring that coverage reports are up to date and features lists are updated then I won’t get the results that will impress.  If we have the right angle, pitching a feature is the easy part, it’s getting the timing right that is the challenge – too early and the journalist will be distracted with his or her current workload – too late and he or she will have heard it all before from the hundreds of other vendors pitching for inclusion. This is a prime example that was worth the detective work. One top tip – make friends with your email folders and desktop shortcuts!

5) Laugh!

According to reports, PR came out as one of the most stressful jobs this year. While it can be easy to let the pressure get to you, it’s also important to laugh and look on the bright side of life. Letting the stress pile on is not conducive to a good job – so trying to stay positive actually does help to produce the best work you are capable of!

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The death of the Yes Man: 4 times ‘no’ is the best answer in PR

no-68481_1280In PR it can be really hard to say no to clients since, from your first Saturday job, the phrase ‘the customer is always right’ is drilled into you. However, as consultants we need to have the confidence to say no sometimes if we feel this would be the right course of action. For example, if a client suggests creating a hashtag to promote a message, the PR should advise if it will likely be used positively or if it could end up backfiring and cause more damage than good. The best PRs know their job is not just about blind promotion, but about achieving the best results for the client and to achieve this honesty really is the best policy.

Where’s the news value?

Sometimes in PR clients ask their agencies to do things in order to create a ‘buzz’ but haven’t asked the question ‘will this actually lead to coverage or meet our goals as a business to engage with a particular audience?’  While press releases without hard news can be useful for marketing collateral or for SEO purposes, writing a release for a new appointment or a new office opening does not necessarily always resonate with journalists. Given that I try to avoid saying no, (there is nothing worse than a whingey, negative PR person) I will write the press release, but only once I’ve confirmed that the client is sure it is what he or she really wants.  I’ll also make them aware of the results that will be achieved and advise against pushing the story too hard as it could annoy the very journalists that the client is hoping to influence, which brings me to my next point.

Don’t burn bridges

We’ve all been there – an interview takes place with your spokesperson, an article is written and the client has a point of issue with a word or message and wants it to be changed. While it is fine to ask for corrections for factual errors such as incorrectly spelt names, we can be asked for corrections just because the coverage isn’t exactly what the client expected. In this case it could often be the right thing to say no to requests to change the article to avoid damaging the relationship with the journalist. If we take the long-term view, in time and with further briefings from the company the journalist may become one of the client’s best advocates, which would never happen with pestering them to change every story they write. 

The best bang for buck

As PRs we should also be comfortable saying no or steering our clients on specific campaign tactics if we feel they are missing the mark. We love Infographics, we really do, but sometimes they might not be the best way of engaging with the relevant audience for a B2B technology brand. Sometimes tactics are suggested for their own sake without thinking what the intended result would be. Similarly, a flash-mob or take on the Ice Bucket Challenge might not be the best way to sell accounting software. While we need to keep ahead of the times and think laterally about the best way to promote our clients’ message, quite often a series of lunch briefings or finding some hard statistics can yield much better results.

Getting controversial

While a little controversy can be useful to elevate an issue or create a debate, it is not necessarily a good way of promoting a message when used for its own sake. Taking a little dig at competitors in a light way on social media can resonate well with your followers and show a sense of humour, while a little bit of controversy in a news story can make the article more compelling for a journalist to write. However, it is far better to praise the competition faintly and use them as a platform to promote one’s own message, as this will often be viewed as more mature and professional by existing and potential customers.

While we should try and act positively in our clients’ interests and saying no should not become second nature, we should have the confidence to say no when needed. The best value we can offer clients is through providing our insight into how the media works and the best way to convey their message, not just being a yes man/woman.

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A belated Coverage Cup round up

Coverage cupAhem .. so it’s a few weeks since we have had a Coverage Cup round up, so better late than never!  Highlights include some successful news hijacking around the DVLA website going t*ts up, case studies on Computer Weekly and Retail Gazette , and through-leadership comment in the likes of the Daily Telegraph and Forbes.  Below are some of the highlights:

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