Stuff and ThingsTop 50 UK PR Blogs 2013Top 50 UK PR Blogs 2013

Being the big fish in the big PR pond

Big FishThe PRCA’s recent PR Census found that the UK PR industry is worth £12.9bn per year stemming from 83,000 PRs, a number that has risen by 21,000 since their last census in 2013. That rate of growth is staggering, and it stands to reason that as the pool gets larger the noise levels rise. In such a large crowd, how can one individual make their voice heard above the rest?

One of the first things I was told when entering the industry was the importance of media relations. There is little point in having a story if you have no means of telling it. A big part of this is providing relevant, interesting, topical content. This may sound obvious, but there is a reason that some journalists consider PRs to be pests, as opposed to being a useful source.

While the industry isn’t what it was a few decades ago, where boozy lunches with clients and journalists were used to build relationships, the industry is still all about rapport. While the entertainment side of the role can go a long way, making a journalist’s job easier by consistently providing articles of genuine interest can go even further. Here are some tips for building a positive relationship with a journalist:

  • Don’t approach the wrong person – approaching the wrong journalist is a sure-fire way to irritate them. When choosing targets it is important to take into account their role as well as their beat and make sure you are approaching the correct person in the correct position.
  • Know your news – it is crucial that you know your news, and can talk to a journalist about why this is important. There is a strong chance that a journalist will ask you questions about the news you are pitching if they are interested. Preparation is key to avoid being caught out, so making sure you fully understand what you are selling is essential.
  • Know the journalist’s preference – while some journalists will prefer an email-only approach others will be more susceptible to a phone call. Some would prefer an email pitch before starting a conversation. It is integral that you pick up on this early doors so you stand a better chance of getting their interest.
  • Have a conversation – if you have built up a rapport with a journalist, and they have the time, then it makes sense to approach with a brief conversation before pitching your news to them.

Here at Spark we are taught a best practice approach to journalist communication. We marry this with a number of engaging journalist outings such as our recent Bubble Football and Ping Pong events to build a relationship that goes beyond a two-minute pitch call.

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When to respond – Hillary and hijacking the news

hillary-41775_640As an obsessive political junkie, the weeks since the Republican National Convention (RNC) have been nothing short of stunning. I’ve been glued to the news, rubbernecking all of the unhinged statements and general lunacy that has poured forth from the Trump campaign. Particular highlights have included his refusal to endorse Speaker Paul Ryan, feuding with parents of deceased war hero Humayun Khan and threatening to withdraw from both NATO and the WTO. He has even insinuated Hillary Clinton could be assassinated for appointing anti-second amendment judges. One aspect of the Trump meltdown which, I’ve found interesting and has gone relatively unnoticed, has been the general lack of response from the Clinton camp. Hillary seems to be quite content to watch her opponent continue to spout without firing back heavily and is responding only selectively.

There are plenty of times in PR when hijacking a story is a great way to push your own message out, and Hillary’s reticence got me thinking about the whens and hows of hijacking a news story.

Add to the story

Firstly, although it might seem obvious, the only reason to respond to breaking news is when there is something to add to the story. When news comes out about some major data breach or hacking attack, journalists need experts who can discuss the story at hand. Therefore, it’s vital for any spokesperson to have both strong technical knowledge but also a firm handle on the particular issue before commenting.

While news hijacking can be a great tool to push core messages, going too heavily is not a good idea. When data breaches like Sony and Ashley Madison occur, of course, it makes sense to speak about the need for stronger cyber-security measures, but it has to be linked to the specifics of the case – how these specific victims are likely to be affected and what defences were in place in each instance. The more relevant the comments are, the better.

Less can be more

Hillary isn’t going to be able to counter every insanity from her opponent – there just isn’t time. As one Clinton staffer said: “[Trump] can set himself on fire at breakfast; kill a nun at lunch and water board a puppy in the afternoon. And that doesn’t even get us to prime time.” So she is being selective about which ones she responds to. It’s the same with tech companies. There is a front page every day, but it’s not possible to have a voice every time. Pick the most relevant and highest profile cases, ones where your voice is going to be heard. But going to the media every other day with comments on each story is a sure-fire way to get tuned out. More isn’t necessarily better.

Lack of speed kills

Finally, any effective news hijack needs to be quick. When it comes to Trump, the machine gun-rate at which he spews out conspiracy theories or offensive comments means that today’s news is forgotten by tomorrow. There is no point is speaking out on a story which broke a week ago – in the digital age, it might as well have happened in 1992.

So when the right opportunity comes up, respond as quickly as possible. If even an hour goes by, half the publications may have covered the story. And get ready because, unfortunately just like The Donald suggesting yet another bonkers theory, there is always going to be another story tomorrow.

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Top tips for feature coverage success

winning-1529402_640I came across a debate recently with a PR voicing her opinion on the lack of forward features being advertised on sites such as Gorkana and Features Exec. Yes, it’s true, publications rarely plan their features for the entire year, but this is merely a sign of the times. The nature of online media means that features are becoming more and more news-led, so publications no longer publish long-lead editorial lists. PRs, nevertheless, should not be defeated in their quest for coverage. Features are an excellent way for clients to take part in industry debate and appear as thought leaders.  Some of Spark’s best results recently have come from features contributions in the likes of The Times, The Telegraph and the Financial Times. Uncovering the opportunity and making sure that your client’s contribution is both relevant and thought provoking takes time, but the end result always make it worthwhile.

Here are three top tips to help you bring the coverage home:

  1. Don’t rely on existing feature lists. Even if a publication has a list of upcoming features, PRs should not treat this as gospel and should always check with editorial teams before factoring the opportunity into future plans. Features mirror hot topics within the industry, and the technology sector moves especially quick; therefore planned features can change just as quickly. Do your homework!
  1. Maintain good relationships. It probably goes without saying that maintaining a good relationship with the press is essential in PR. Journalists can give you the inside scoop as to what they are most interested in and let you know what opportunities they have coming up. So when the time comes you’re already in know which will go a long way when trying to impress your client.
  1. Be pro-active. PR isn’t rocket science and one way to master it quickly is to keep your finger on the industry’s pulse. Instead of the journalist coming up with the ideas, why don’t you approach the journalist and pitch a potential feature angle? Journalists are very busy people, so would probably be thankful for your ideas. Also by doing so, the journalist will know what your clients can talk about so may come back to you in the future.
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What have Brexit, Donald Trump and Pokémon Go got in common?

Unless you have been living in a cave for the last six weeks, it’s been almost impossible to avoid the news, with every other news story being about Brexit, Donald Trump and er ….Pokémon Go.  From a PR perspective, all three have been interesting to observe even if the results have been mixed, to say the least!


Brexit – While the Leave campaign won the PR battle when it came to votes, ever since 23 June the whole issue of Brexit has become a PR minefield akin to an episode of the Thick of IT. We’ve had political backstabbing, backtracking, gaffes and more than a month on there are still more questions than answers.

Donald Trump – Love him or loathe him Donald Trump is a publicity machine, whether it is his tweets or latest unfortunate comment. In many respects, he is the personification of style over substance and is a great case study of the dangers of an out of control spokesperson.

Pokémon Go – No we haven’t stepped back in time, Pokémon is back and is taking the world by storm. It is certainly difficult to remember a game or app that has garnered so much media attention in recent times.  It is not to say that all the publicity has been positive as there have a lot of column inches devoted to service outages and Pokémon Go related crime amongst other things.

What the above does show is that being able to get your message (positive or in the case of Donald Trump, negative) in front of target audiences, tell a good story and subsequent ability to answer difficult questions remains key to the long-term success of any PR campaign.  If 2016 has taught us anything – expect the unexpected!

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Coverage Cup round up – Sunshine edition!

Coverage cupWhile making the most of Britain’s long-awaited summer, Spark has been busy achieving some great media coverage on behalf of our clients. First off, Elsevier’s thoughts on how digital technology can help engineers to be more collaborative appeared in The Engineer.  The 3CX team secured coverage in Channelnomics after CEO Nick Galea was interviewed regarding the company’s plans for European expansion. Elsewhere, Global Banking & Finance Review published a profile on GMC Software which outlined its capabilities and how companies can achieve excellent customer experience in three steps. Finally, the Trustmarque team hit the phones and secured news hijacking coverage in V3, Business Cloud News and Cloud Tech after Gartner predicted that cloud spending could reach $1tn by 2020 – the resulting coverage firmly positioned Trustmarque as a thought leader on the subject.

As you can see, a busy week was had by all! Now, where’s my sun cream?

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