Monday, 13 August 2018

So what makes you an expert??

And my speciality subject to be special
As PRs, we need to demonstrate our clients’ credibility if we want to get their voices heard – but first we have to make them understand why journalists won’t just take their word for it. Comms Crowd PR Pro Debbie Smith hunts for those elusive proof points.

We know journalists get hundreds of pitches every day. Their mailboxes and twitter feeds are full of companies competing for airtime, all offering informed, relevant comment. But why should a journalist listen to what they have to say?

Your client may be a world expert in their field, whether that’s digital widgets, cloud computing or new legislation. But if you can’t make them instantly credible in the eyes of the journalist, they’ll go straight to the deleted folder.

I’ve been thinking about this since one client wanted to remove a statistic from our pitch because a) he thought it wasn’t that strong and b) he wasn’t sure it was accurate. We pointed out that, while we understood his concerns, we needed something concrete to show that they were well established, had delivered a lot of great work and hence were worth listening to. We thought the number was convincing, but if it couldn’t be used, it was vital to have an alternative.

One way of gaining credibility is to name high profile customers. This isn’t easy, unless you can persuade your client to include ‘permission to be named in marketing materials’ in their standard contract (yes this can happen). However, there are creative alternatives. For example, when one customer mentioned that they worked with one-third of the London Boroughs, we didn’t need names – the statistic was enough. Similarly, the phrase ‘working with law enforcement agencies’, as was the case with one Comms Crowd client, speaks for itself.

Demonstrating credibility can be even more difficult in the finance sector, where every ‘expert’ has professional qualifications and offers similar services, and you will have to dig a little deeper. Links to topical issues can help, as can the ability to understand both sides of an issue. I’ve obtained a lot of coverage for one client on the topic of angel investment because not only does he advise clients on obtaining investment, two of those clients have appeared on Dragons’ Den and he also invests as a business angel himself. So he is extremely credible.

Another option is to work with experts whose credibility is a given, such as academics. Hitching your wagon to a star, to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, can be an effective way of enhancing your own credibility, particularly if your opinions complement those of the expert.

If you’re still struggling for hard facts, the solution may be your client themselves. One of our favourite clients is someone who really ‘gets it’ where journalists are concerned. No matter how busy he is, he’ll quickly give us a short, snappy, often controversial comment to pitch which shows he knows his topic inside out, then makes himself available at short notice if the journalist wants to speak to him. As a result, he punches well above his weight in terms of influence and coverage.

It’s not easy finding proof points and can be even harder to persuade your client to let you make them public. However, it will be time well spent in establishing them as a credible source.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Journalists working with PRs - how to avoid conflict of interests

Can a  journalist comfortably hang out with PRs ? Our in house writer and working tech journalist SandraVogel explains how it works for her...

Poachers and Gamekeepers can learn to play nicely
There are some who say journalists and PRs are chalk and cheese. They want different things, they see the world in different ways, and it is impossible to work in both camps. But that’s not true. It is possible to be a freelance journalists who also works with PRs.

There can be significant benefits to working in both camps. I can bring to PR clients an understanding of what journalists might be looking for because I know what I would be looking for. Meanwhile when doing freelance journalism I have a feel for what it is like to be in a PR’s shoes, which can help me get the best from them and their clients.

But working on both sides of ‘the divide’ isn’t something to be taken on lightly. There can be difficult situations, and challenges which can sometimes mean saying ‘no’ to particular opportunities.

For example, it is important not to write about an organisation as a journalist while working with them as a PR. In my book, the only exception to this rule is if whoever has commissioned work is fully aware of the PR side of things and gives the OK, and the PR side is also fully aware and gives consent. If a commissioning editor asks me to write about something and I work for, or have recently worked for the company involved I say so, giving them the option to find another writer. If a PR wants me to do a piece of work that might compromise or affect my relationship with an editor, I’ll turn it down and tell them why.

Similarly, it is completely wrong to break confidences. As a journalist I am told many things I can’t make public until a certain time – or indeed I can’t ever make public. The same goes as when working with PRs. Often agreements are signed which prohibit disclosure. But even where there aren’t formal agreements, keeping schtum when it comes to insider information really matters.

I don’t find any of this to be a problem. Keeping a professional distance between the two ‘sides’ is not difficult when you work with editors and PR bosses who understand and share the same ethics. A good PR boss simply won’t ask a journalist to push a particular client forwards with a commissioning editor. And frankly, if a PR ever did ask me to do that, I’d just walk away.

As long as professional respect remains in tact, the relationships can flourish.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Reasons to be freelance: 1 2 3

We set up our virtual PR agency six years ago, and it’s good to see the business model is gaining in popularity, so the demand for freelance PRs is out there. But just because you can freelance doesn’t mean you should. 

freelancing, it's like hand gliding - you've got to hurl yourslef off that cliff...

Here are my top three tips for determining if you would be happy as a freelance PR: 

1) Because you want to do it - not because you don’t want to do something else or because you can't find a 'proper' job or because you think you will make way more money than you do now. In my view, going freelance so you can hope to work every hour of every day to make loads of money is a guaranteed formula to make yourself utterly miserable. 

Myteam and I, all chose to go freelance, we left great jobs to do it, so we brought commitment to the role from day one and are in it for the long haul. And we are all able to ride out the occasional lean month  with a shrug of the shoulders rather than a wringing of hands.

2) Because you don’t need a boss  - don't mistake not wanting a boss with the same as not needing one. In a 'proper' job the structure provides sticks and carrots, but you have neither when you work for yourself. Sure there are no petty rules but there are no promotions either. 

But if you have a big and burly work ethic combined with a very small ego then you’re able to push yourself to get results and when you bring in that piece for the FT be content with a ‘well done me’ cup of coffee and an adoring look from the dog.

3) Because you are actually able to implement a healthy work life balance – we all talk about it but unless you can be bold enough to actually implement it you’re just going to stare at the laptop 52 weeks a year stressing that there is not enough work.

The one overriding factor my team and I share is not just our love of work 
but also our love of not working. 

Whether it’s kicking off each day with a long walk in the park with the hounds, or the weekly art classes, or the sax summer school - we schedule to take time off. Sure we take advantage of the portable desk and it’s great to be able to get in a few days' work when visiting family elsewhere. But it’s not just about working away, it's about not working at all and booking those amazing trips you've always promised yourself, for as long as you want to take them.

Our holiday calendar looks like the Conde Nast to do list, and in the last couple of years our small crew have ticked off holidays in:

Sussex, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Kent, Suffolk, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man, Guernsey, France, Corsica, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Bulgaria, Finland (northern lights), Spain, Lanzarote, Majorca, Ibiza, Greece, Italy, Barbados, Tobago, St Lucia, Mauritius and Uzbekistan.

Freelancing is a bit like hand gliding: tentatively trip off the edge of the cliff and it will be bloody all the way down. Instead, we recommend you whole heartedly hurl yourself off it and see where the thermals take you!