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Broadening your horizons in Tech PR isn’t just a benefit – it’s Papal decree

vatican-594612__180When Pope Francis stated that climate change was mostly man-made in June, the response was swift from a lot of quarters. From those supporting the church’s commitment to the environment and tackling inequality, to those who found the statement anathema to their own political position, to those who wondered what this meant to other less-progressive parts of Catholic doctrine, the pontif wasn’t short of attention. Admittedly, when someone is the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, as well as a focus of attention for other branches of Christianity, other religions, and Governments, people will listen to what they say. Regardless, the fact that the leader of one of the major religions is willing to speak publically and outspokenly on a range of matters gives an important example.

Part of our duty as PRs is to ensure our clients are engaged with their audience. While the vast majority of clients are unlikely to pull in the big crowds at St. Peter’s (except presumably for whichever agency handles the @pontifex twitter account), we still need to ensure that they can appeal to more than a niche, specialised audience. This means being able to speak on subjects outside their specific realm of expertise. Some of these subjects might be obvious. For instance, an anti-virus client should be able to speak about viruses, and the prevention thereof, in depth. But they should also be able to discuss security threats, and the best way to ensure that the entire organisation is secured against all forms of attack. Developments in cyber crime? Government legislation and investment in security? The rise of new threats such as Stuxnet? All things the client should have an opinion on. What, then, about moving further out of the comfort zone? Should the client have an opinion on whether government cuts will mean increased security risk? Whether outsourcing and offshoring puts data in danger? Whether the development of AI and learning computers could mean the spontaneous generation of new viruses? While there is a limit to how far a client should be pushed, the more areas they can comment on the better.

This is why speaking with, and learning about clients is so important. Without the time we’ve spent getting to know our clients and thinking about the types of stories that could relate back to them, we couldn’t have connected the pressures put on IT departments with the growth of austerity: or talked about how energy companies were being turned down for cyber-attack insurance. The initial days and weeks of working with one another are crucial for this. Of course, as a modern, hyper-efficient PR agency with near-superhuman levels of ability, our research into the client and potential issues began long before we began working with one another. Yet taking the time to work on messages, those issues the client is comfortable discussing, and where any lines are drawn will pay dividends down the line. Similarly, the agency should be always learning, making sure that it keeps abreast of all developments in the industry and spotting those stories and issues where the client can demonstrate their credentials.

We’re not expecting all our clients to have the immediate global influence of God’s appointed representative on earth. But by taking clients away from their niche, the results can often be surprising.



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Coverage Cup round up w/c 22 June 2015

Coverage cupThe sunshine is clearly lifting the mood as the Spark team continues a great run of coverage for clients. First up, Dynatrace features heavily in a supplement for The Times about the future of omni-channel retail, speaking about the way in which businesses can maintain crucial consistency in the online retail space. In second place, some excellent advice form Trustmarque CTO James Butler about how enterprises can handle the challenges of shadow IT in The Register. And finally, rounding out the week, an important news hijack about the dangers of infant milk formula from Trace One saw coverage appear in Just-Food.

The Times – The new retail purchasing pathway

The RegisterWhoops, there goes my data! Hold onto your privates in the Dropbox era

Irish Examiner – Does the future of bill paying involve just taking a photo?

Just-FoodChina issues recall on goat infant formula

InfosecurityGCHQ and NSA Attacked Security Companies – The future of bill paying could simply involve taking a photograph

Outsourcing Magazine – Start top-down portfolio planning in four simple steps

European Comms Top five uses of big data as the industry gears up for 5G

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To meme or not to meme – It shouldn’t be a question

imagesSocial media can be an impressive tool in PR to spread your company’s message, but it can also be a bit of a minefield, as some companies now know too well. It doesn’t always pay to jump in just because a social media medium is currently popular or a news story goes viral.

A recent example I noticed was a company promoting its software by editing a popular meme of a Star Trek character. Memes usually highlight a joke or a piece of celebrity gossip for a much younger audience and choosing this tactic to convey the company’s message on their key product seemed unusual. I’d be surprised if, as a B2B brand, the meme drove any real interest in their products or services, whereas there are many other social media tactics that would have been more engaging and in keeping with the image of the brand. I watched the comedy film Chef recently which highlights the power of social media when used by a business in the right way. Essentially a 10 year old boy makes his dad’s food truck business a roaring success by generating a buzz on social media. While this is a good example from fiction, in reality you have to work out where your business’ audience is and whether what you are doing is going to engage them for the right reasons. 

While social media can be useful, some avenues should be left to a consumer audience. Nobody wants to back the wrong horse, but it’s a waste of money to put a bet on each runner. We get asked about Facebook a lot by clients and our honest answer each time is it’s probably not geared towards a business audience, at least not in the way that a site like LinkedIn currently is. We normally recommend retweeting notable PR coverage from the company’s Twitter and LinkedIn accounts as a starting point in order to amplify the credibility that comes with a media appearance. We also suggest taking full advantage of the capabilities of social media to give a bit of vibrancy to your message and engage the business audience you are hoping to target. Obvious and easy examples that help get your message out there are live streams of conference keynotes and infographics of research statistics.

While companies should look at new ways to engage with customers, this should fit with the company’s wider corporate identity and marketing messages. Otherwise they run the risk of coming across as irrelevant, or worse, needy. As social media channels develop and become more sophisticated in future, perhaps there will be more ways for companies to jump on the bandwagon, but at the moment some wagons should probably just be left to pass by.


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Video and audio interview tips from journalist and broadcaster Stephen Pritchard

Stephen with cam leftI recently spoke to journalist and broadcaster Stephen Pritchard. Having worked in the industry for over 20 years for media including the Financial Times and Guardian, he is well placed to give some very interesting views and tips on how to take part in interviews. 

Stephen works as a reporter and also as a video journalist filming and editing his own material; he also regularly hosts programmes and chairs live webcasts and events, and has carried out media training for senior executives in business, government and the not-for-profit sector.

Stephen was kind enough to share his top tips for taking part in effective live video and audio interviews below:

Appearing live on radio or TV is a daunting experience, even for the most experienced media commentator. But there are steps you can take to make it easier – and to make sure that the interview helps put your message across.

Give yourself plenty of time

One thing that’s bound to make you – and the producer – nervous is being late. Be on time to any studio interview, and do ask the producers when they’d like you to arrive.

Bear in mind, though, that studios don’t always have a lot of space for guests to wait, so try not to be too early. On that point, resist bringing an entourage: busy news and production teams have enough to do, without entertaining guests’ assistants and PRs.

Let the producer guide you

What type of contribution does the programme want from you? You may already have spoken to the journalist or a researcher, and they should have explained the interview or programme format. It really helps to know whether you’re being asked for a quick sound bite, a more in-depth view, or to contribute to a debate.

The producer will also tell you if you’re going to be speaking to the camera, to a reporter off screen, or an onscreen presenter. But if in doubt, ask.

Listen to the questions

Some of the most frustrating interviews – for a producer and for a viewer – are where the interviewee launches into a monologue, regardless of the questions they’re being asked.

Of course, it’s important to put your message across, but slavishly repeating pre-prepared points is at best, dull and at worst, appears arrogant or evasive. Tailoring your answers to the questions is the best way to appear an authority on the topic. The producer will tell you if the questions will be left in the interview – or edited out, in which case try to answer in complete sentences.

Speak clearly, slow down and avoid jargon

On TV (and radio) you only have a few minutes to make your point. For the most part, you’re talking to a general, rather than specialist audience, and perhaps an international one too. Speaking clearly is important.

It’s best to speak more slowly than usual — professionals are very good at slowing down their delivery – and to avoid any industry jargon or “business speak”.

At the same time, be yourself. Easier said than done in a studio of course, but the best interviewees are those who come across as at ease, and let their personality come through. No-one wants to watch a corporate clone on screen. By all means put across your organisation’s message, if it’s relevant and appropriate, but in your words and in your way.

Have something to say

Have something to say, and a clear idea of how you want to say it.

Having a point of view makes the interview convincing. It’s always easier to give an interview on a subject you know well, and care about. If you’re not really the expert, it can be better to say no to the interview, and suggest someone who might do it better.

A rough plan will help you make your points concisely. It’s not a good idea to try to write a script – let alone have someone else write one for you – but an hour’s brainstorming with trusted colleagues will help to draw out the points that should make an interesting interview, and the best order to present them.

Remember, you are the expert

TV and radio can be daunting, but there is a reason a programme maker has booked you: your know-how. All the paraphernalia of broadcasting is just a means to an end.

What the producer wants is a natural, articulate, enthusiastic and knowledgeable guest.

What the viewer or listener wants is an informative programme. The interviewer, and the viewer, are unlikely to be experts in your field; that’s why you’re there.

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Imagine it is 2020 – what’s changed in Tech PR?

calendar-660670_640Part one was the love child of the clichés ‘kids today don’t know they are born’ and ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.’ This post takes a crack at predicting what will happen in the next five years, looking twenty years ahead would be pointless and Back to the Future II does it far better, with visions of Google Glass and Skype.  Disclaimer: I’m not as qualified or interesting as Tom Foremski (you might want to watch these video extracts rather than reading on)!

  • Press releases will become a more rounded content resource – typically including links to images, whitepapers, research reports in an easily digestible format.  PR agencies will tailor this information to individual journalists to make it quick and easy to pull together a story.  Tom Foremski wrote a blog titled ‘Die press release die’ in 2005, and while the press release is certainly rarer than in 2005 it is taking the adapt or die approach rather than keeling over completely
  • Social networks between clients and agencies will become the norm and spokespeople will need to be available anytime, anywhere and open up their diaries for PRs to schedule interviews at a moment’s notice.  The upside from a time perspective is that interviews will get shorter and shorter, as while journalists are under pressure to produce more content so want to spend less time on the phone they do want a unique quote rather than just taking a link from a press release
  • Journalists may also decide social media is their favourite pitching medium.  A 140 character pitch must get more appealing every year.  While Cision’s 2015 study showed journalists currently prefer email and confirmed that it is the most common form of communications with PRs, this is bound to change and the report does point to a growth in social media usage when dealing with PRs.   Despite the negativity around the telephone, we find that if it is used for collaboration rather than telesales it works.  It’s the best way to find out what the journalist needs to consider a story print worthy and work out how we can make it happen.  PR autobots won’t be replacing us anytime soon!
  • PR agencies will collaborate with clients to make it easier to measure results in backlinks and click-thrus rather than clip counts and audience profile.  This requires collaboration with the web team and also an understanding of the changing nature of the sales cycle in terms of interaction with content to support purchase decision-making
  • Paid for and owned content will become less of a second-tier option – the focus will be on equalling the quality of earned editorial but also contributing to the costs of reaching your target audience.  Credible publications are increasingly doing these types of deals, whereas 20 years ago paying for editorial was a sign that your story wasn’t strong enough for earned coverage.  On the owned side, big technology brands such as SAP are poaching journalists from the FT to help create their content

Watch this space for Part 3 in 2020 – there are bound to be a few curveballs!

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