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Hello? Good PR is collaborative, not inauthentic

faces-63516_640It recently emerged that Adele is no longer allowed to tweet without first running her tweets by her management team as a precaution against using Twitter while drunk. This got me thinking more generally about some of the key benefits of having outside help. Whether your customers are consumers (like Adele’s) or b2b like most of our clients, it’s good to have someone to collaborate with to stop mistakes being made and show the best, rather than worst of you. No-one wants to engage with drunk, boring or incoherent communications and while we don’t police the drinking we can help our clients with making communications really sing.

Agreeing on a strong message – Working with a good PR team should be a collaborative experience that improves the quality of the messages you communicate rather than just editing out the bad stuff or diluting the message. Messaging is generally the starting point where the agency works to understand your business and the challenges facing your customers, and then uses this to form the key messages that you want to communicate to the market. They are still your company’s messages, just conveyed in a way that makes them a bit more interesting to journalists and aligned with the key industry issues that interest your customers.

A sounding board – While CEOs and marketing managers are the experts on their own business, it can be useful to sound ideas out with someone else not as closely involved with the nuts and bolts, especially if you have been working on the same thing for a while. Running drafts of whitepapers or intended conversation points by your PR agency can help ensure what you are saying is simple to understand and is aimed at the intended audience. Brainstorming with your agency is another good way to come up with fresh ideas, either if there is an important company announcement you would like to make the most of or if you want to come up with a creative idea to generate some coverage. Brainstorming can also be particularly useful to come up with campaign ideas around a new product area or if you are looking to target a specific market.

Specialist experience – Working in the industry means that we can generally gauge what a journalist’s reaction will be before we contact them. Most importantly, you need to be clear on your facts before engaging with the media for publicity. For example, in the early days of cloud, many companies claimed to offer cloud services without fully understanding what this meant. This only served to frustrate journalists looking to cover more cloud stories – their time was wasted by press releases from companies that weren’t actually offering cloud. Working with your PR team can also help you decide if what you are saying is compelling to journalists or is just adding to the noise they hear every day – for example, is that latest software update REALLY going to ‘disrupt’ the market? Is the potential damage from a cyber-attack REALLY as serious as a nuclear bomb?

Getting your time back – It can be hard to keep on top of sending a regular stream of company news to your audience when you are firefighting a massive customer problem or in back to back meetings for weeks on end. On the other hand, if you use the outsourced time and brainpower of your agency, then you can use your time more effectively. If your agency understands your business properly, they should be able to draft any copy for you to review and make minimal edits, and convey key company messages on your behalf when speaking to the press.

While it’s good to be able to do things yourself, there are only so many hours in the day, and there are probably other areas of marketing or product development where your time could be better spent rather than doing PR yourself. This is even more important if you are already paying for a PR agency: you should be getting the value out of them and using them to improve how you engage with your audience.

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Coverage Cup round up w/c 16 October 2015

Coverage cupThe week started off with the announcement that Britain will retaliate in kind to cyber-attacks. Jumping on the news the Venafi team secured expert comment on both The Daily Telegraph and Sky News. Elsewhere, the Green Grid urged datacentre operators to consider the environmental impact of their activity, a sentiment echoed by Romonet’s CEO  Zahl Limbuwala in comment successfully pitched to Computer Weekly.  Finally, there was a double hit for iPass with its Business Traveler Cost Index being widely referenced in a Computer Weekly piece on mobile roaming charges, and CBR featuring an interview with the company’s CCO, Patricia Hulme, on why workforces need seamless W-Fi connectivity. 

A full list of Coverage Cup nominations can be found below:

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A belated Coverage Cup round up

Coverage cupAnother great week of coverage at Spark. First off, the ViaSat team reacted quickly to the latest update from Broadband Delivery UK, and were rewarded with coverage in Computer Weekly. The Verizon team also achieved coverage in Computer Weekly off the back of the company’s latest cloud computing report. Elsewhere, a Changepoint article on project management for CIOs appeared on Information Age, while the Guavus team successfully pitched in comment for Capacity’s article on network-as-a-service. Finally, the JDA team secured two great pieces of coverage on Essential Retail, after securing the publication’s attendance at JDA’s recent FocusConnect event.

You can view the full list of coverage cup nominations below:


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Interview with Banking Technology’s Elliott Holley

FireShot Capture 1 - Banking Technology - http___www.bankingtech.com_I recently caught up with Banking Technology’s Senior Staff Writer, Elliott Holley, to ask him a few questions about the publication and how PRs can work with him. 


In your own words, what is the purpose of Banking Technology and how do you see the title evolving in the next five years?

Banking Technology provides a clear understanding of events to our readership. Anybody can cover an announcement, but we step back and look at the broader picture. For example, Swift recently took part in a panel discussion on an infrastructure project they’re building, which they claimed was going fine. But upon further investigation, I discovered that the project was 12 months behind schedule, and 5 of its original backers had dropped out! This wasn’t mentioned at the event, but this is the kind of background that is crucial to what we write.

We often place things within a context which usually goes back years. Take the London Stock Exchange’s recent announcement about launching its derivatives venture as an example. This is actually part of a long-standing effort by the LSE, which has been trying (unsuccessfully) to break into derivatives for years.

We also break through all the jargon and terminology to explain financial services stories clearly. I believe that you should be able to explain things in language that a five-year-old would understand. Aiming for simplicity allows the insight to be made much clearer, and the true meaning to be understood. Of course, there is a delicate balancing act between maintaining simplicity and making sure that none of the important technical detail is lost. Again, our experience helps to discern which details are important, and which aren’t.

For the PR community out there, can you provide me with some tips on how and when it is best to pitch stories to you?

Yes. First, some basic standards must be kept. You’d be surprised how many people fall foul of these.

  1. Never send me an email with my name spelt incorrectly; titled with my surname, or starting with a generic greeting.
  2. Don’t call to see if I’ve read a press release. If it was of interest, I’d be in touch.
  3. The only exception to rule 2 is if you are genuinely 100% certain that it is something that I’d be interested in. 

Beyond that, the biggest tip is making sure that you are what I would call a ‘named individual’. I.e. you must be someone who I know personally and have met. There is a select group of names, people who when an email appears in my inbox, I always read it. You need to become one of these people. The best way to do that is to arrange a face-to-face meeting with me and make sure you see me in person as often as you can. That way, when I see your email, I know who it’s from, I recognise your name, and I read it (unlike all the emails from people I’ve never heard of, which rarely get opened).

Also, it helps if you’ve done your homework before pitching a story. You should always think a couple of questions ahead – no journalist likes asking a question about a pitch, to be told “I don’t know” or “Let me get back to you”. Make sure you’ve read up first and understand what it is you are pitching. Again, this is mostly common sense, but there are people out there who have made these mistakes! Don’t be one of them. Another related point is, you should always check our website before you pitch something. There is no point pitching a story to us if we’ve already posted a similar story on the website an hour ago!

What is your main gripe with the world of PR?

I think some of my main gripes are already listed above. One of the biggest ones is that PRs often don’t take the time to personalise. They haven’t read the website, they haven’t looked at the kind of stories we write, they haven’t checked to see if their pitch would be relevant, they haven’t made sure they used my name instead of just writing ‘hi there’. No journalist likes to feel like we are just another number. We have names. We are people too!

The other thing is to make sure I know who you are. If you haven’t met me in person, that really should be your starting point. Invite me out to lunch, get to know me. Make things personalised. Relationships need to be nourished by respect on both sides, and this is true in the working environment just as much as in other areas of life.

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Being the TalkTalk of the town… for all the wrong reasons

crisisThe old mantra of “all publicity is good publicity” has been proven to be wrong on countless occasions – bad publicity can sometimes be just that: bad. Yet what can make bad news even worse is if it’s handled poorly after the fact. While customers can often be forgiving of mistakes, they aren’t so generous when they are then left in the dark without a clear understanding of the problem or what steps are being taken to fix them.

You would need to be living under a rock to have missed the fact TalkTalk was recently forced to ‘fess up to its four million customers that their details were at risk of being hacked following a data breach.  Aside from the breach itself (and the fact it is the third they have had), it is the way TalkTalk has approached the issue that has got a lot of people’s backs-up. It seemed like TalkTalk panicked, which is not reassuring for customers, or the markets for that matter: the company’s share price dropped 10% on opening trading following the breach.

One of the biggest balls ups was the fact TalkTalk’s CEO, Dido Harding, claimed in not one but five interviews that she’d received ransom emails talking of a prolonged and sustained attack. This not only added more fuel to the fire, prolonging the run of stories, but it also lent weight to the idea that this was some sort of ISIS-inspired rampage making it even more tantalising for the press. It was also an embarrassment when we found out the ‘sustained and prolonged’ attack was likely to be carried out by teenagers. The other issue is the lack of clear communication around what the actual risks are. It would seem that the actual risk to customer data was very small, which could have been explained clearly and calmly; instead, TalkTalk customers have been largely left in the dark while speculation runs rife.

I’m prone to sympathise with TalkTalk; when something like this breaks all hell breaks loose alongside it. People rush to respond and process – and good sense in some instances – can go out the window.  Also, technology problems and security risks are often hard to put into layman terms as they can be very complex. Yet it is at this time more than any other than calmness and clarity must reign. Here are my top three tips for dealing with a crisis:

  • Stay calm and project an image of control: It is a stressful time, with journalist badgering for comment and other companies wading in to have their say. It can, therefore, be very tempting to react and say things off the cuff or get dragged into refuting every piece of coverage that you think is wrong. Yet doing so will only discredit you. The public face must be one of control and order. You have this in hand. You are fixing it. You know exactly what you are doing. Jumping in before you have a clear handle on the situation will help no one.
  • Avoid inflammatory comments and stick to the facts: When there is a crisis happening, you want to keep it as dull as possible, so that hopefully people get bored and move on. While it’s important to keep people informed, particularly where customer information is concerned, offering up new angles or bits of information will only serve to sustain interest. Speculation in crisis situations can often run rife, with different theories popping up from a range of different sources – often unconnected to the actual events. Therefore, any updates should be based on facts and only shared when they can be presented clearly.
  • Have a clear and consistent message: A common problem in these situations is that people can get caught off guard and asked a question, which they answer without thinking. It is important, therefore, that everyone in the organisation knows what they should do if they are asked anything – have a party line and stick to it, even if that is just not to answer. Even saying ‘no comment’ is quotable in some situations, so ensuring that everyone has a clear picture of what they can and can’t say can help to avoid slip up situations.

Nobody wants to deal with a crisis, they are thrust upon us, but they can be turned into a positive in some ways if dealt with correctly. Failure to do so, on the other hand, can create a mess that some companies may never recover from. If you stay calm, have a clear message and stick to facts you will prevail, and could even gain respect for the positive way you have handled it all!

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