Monday, 22 December 2014

Guest Post: PR - do you phone or email journalists?


The Comms Crowd's Hiwot Wolde-Senbet shares her learning experiences on pitching journalists.

How would you like your story served?
You can have it any which way,
just please don't shout at me!

Phone or email? That is the dilemma
When you work in public relations  your relationship with the media is crucial to your performance. You can be as creative as you like but if you don’t generate coverage for your clients, it is pointless. 

Having spent the best part of a year agency hopping, I have had to do my fair share of pitching, using phone and email. Therefore I have learnt that every agency has its own attitude towards phone pitching. Some ask for phone pitching experience and put a massive emphasis on one’s ability to pick up the phone and sell in. On the other hand, others, particularly those with journalism experience understand the pressure journalists face and wouldn’t dream of bombarding them with calls. And then there is me. I dread the silence you get from email pitches!

Each to their own!
At the beginning of my career, as an intern, I spent hours after hours calling journalists, who I didn’t know from four pages of media lists, downloaded from Gorkana. Believe me, I am surprised how this experience hasn’t left me scarred for life, particularly when the phone is picked up by a weary and aggressive journalist. The whole process often made my heart race.

However, once in a while, there was ‘the match’, that resulted in a decent coverage making the whole experience bearable.

Specialising in fintech PR, we talk to the same people all the time and that gives us the advantage of knowing the stories they are interested in, so selling in doesn’t feel like cold calling – but exchange of services. However, even within this niche sector most journalists claim they don’t want to be bothered on the phone.

Taking that on board, I learned to be careful who I am calling, I had more success in placing an article if I knew the journalist and had researched and learnedall about  the journalist than just hoping for the best.

So who and when do you call?
Taking my own experience and other PR pros that contributed to Sam's debate on CIPR’s LinkedIn group discussion, I have compiled  some steps that can help you establish that ‘phone relationship’ with your journalist.

1. Understand journalists are always on a deadline and get to know their deadline. Better yet, plan in advance and look at their editorial calendar for the year ahead.

2. What is your story? Does it match their criteria? Nothing annoys journalists more than PRs that pitch the wrong stories. Preparing a few points in advance helps with staying on track!

3. Be polite! Ask if they have time to talk to you and keep it brief, just enough for you to be able to gage their interest. If they show interest, you can follow up if not, be respectful and don’t bother them again.

4. Never ever waffle! I learned this the hard way! Know your story, and exactly what you want to say and why you are calling them and not other journalist.

5. Have an email pitch ready to send as soon as you come off the phone. Email will always fill in the details you missed out.


Having said that, it is important to know everyone is different and should be treated accordingly so keep notes and follow through.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Fintech PR – How to get a bank to put its name to a story

Why so shy?
Throughout my career, I have always maintained that doing PR for fintech companies isn’t rocket science, however it is a bit tricky. Not only are you, the PR, the only person in the brain-chain without a PhD or three, which can leave you feeling perma-insecure; but also ‘tis hard to tell good stories if there are no good stories to tell.


Listening banks are great but when it comes to
fintech PR, talking ones are my favourite
Actually no news isn’t good news – but owing to the nature of the deals, it is not unusual for a small or a start-up fintech company to have just a few client signing announcements a year and those signings usually fall into three categories:
  • The no comment: you may not mention the bank in anyway shape or form – great thank you sooo much for that one.
  • The vanilla bean: you can prepare something but the details are to be so vanilla and that the quote so bland that it’s barely worth the effort. 
  • The never never: You get the go ahead on the Friday night, write it on a Saturday, it gets signed off by your team on the Sunday and it's with the bank for approval first thing Monday morning. And there it will stay, stuck in the corporate food chain awaiting sign off forever more, never to be seen again.
Five tips for getting a bank to sign off a press release
Over the years, working for a fintech start-up, then a fintech multi-national and then a fintech PR agency, these are the tactics I have seen work. It's a bit of a team effort:

1) Incentivize your sales people to negotiate press as part of the contract. Cash bonuses for press releases and double again for a case study, seems to work well enough.

2) Incentivize your bank by giving them a discount in the contract if they agree to do press, get dates.

3) During the sales process and the implementation, stay close to your champion in the bank and work directly with them on the story, using them as the spokesperson, and making sure your story shows your champion as the pioneer they truly are.

4) Have the release written and ready to go so that it can be slipped under the nose of your happy, happy client the day everything goes live ahead of schedule and under budget.

5) Make the release hardworking and insightful tell the story of the partnership between your company and the bank. Do not dwell on what was wrong in the first place, be realistic no bank is going to sign off a story that goes, 'well it was just chaos here till you guys showed up'. And keep the quotes real and relevant not an unadulterated and shameless plug for your company. This will make it easier to get sign off, and more credible with the journalists, on whom you ultimate depend to publish it.

What if you hit an absolute blank wall and can’t get the bank to talk no way no how?

Rather than issuing a no name press release, which somewhat reeks of desperation, consider going down the analyst relations route where your client can freely talk about the project and its successes to the industry analysts under the comfort of NDA.


If this was helpful so too might be:
Made by clever people for clever people: can PRs add value in fintech?
Sibos, no rest for the wicked or even the wise: on getting the best out of the biggest fintech tradeshow.
Why the sign off process can ruin a good press release: self-explanatory I think.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Guest Post:The G-Cloud, where some vendors are more equal than others


Eria Odhuba, resident analyst relations lead at The Comms Crowd, looks at the opportunities and challenges for those public sector tech vendors mining the G-Cloud.

What lies at the end of the G-Cloud rainbow?
Over the last few years we’ve been working with vendors that have won significant projects through G-Cloud. From this vantage point it has got us thinking about the G-Cloud business opportunities available to small IT vendors and service providers in 2015, and some of the serious challenges they might face.

While 2015 might not necessarily be ‘make or break’ time for suppliers if they don’t get a bigger slice of the G-Cloud pie, we think one trend that will become more entrenched: there will be a small group of providers winning a disproportionately larger share of contracts, leaving the rest fighting over the scraps.


There are some vendors that are excellent at articulating their value propositions clearly and have the right staff, or well-designed systems, in place to get their messages out to their target market. More often than not, they will attract a bigger share of leads which, in turn, gives them more opportunities to convert these into contracts.

Now, the UK government is no longer dragging its feet when it comes to exploring new and innovative models for IT spend and execution. As belts are tightened, it really wants to make sure it is getting value for money and look out for a larger number of suppliers that could potentially contribute to its success. So discussions about cloud computing, agile software development, security, BYOD etc will be as intense, if not more, as you will find in forward thinking private sector firms. This should not surprise anybody anymore!

The rise of the Public Services Network (PSN) and increased awareness of the benefits PaaS offerings could provide will see more government departments exploring cloud adoption and / or sourcing more complex requirements via the CloudStore.

So the opportunity is clearly there to make a mark via G-Cloud, which is great for smaller suppliers. However, it also throws up a massive challenge for them. With more suppliers signing up to G-Cloud month after month, it is getting harder to reach the key public sector decision makers who need to understand what is on offer. Being human, they can’t process indefinite amounts of information and spend their time talking to every supplier there is.

The other important thing to note is that success in one area of the public sector is increasingly noted in other parts, so whoever is in charge of implementing a new IT system or product might want that success replicated in their departments using the same supplier. In many ways, this makes sense. If you know a supplier can consistently deliver quickly, without going over budget, you’d be crazy not to speak to them. So suppliers that have got a string of wins under their belt are in a great position.

Suppliers that are only signing up now or who have not had a chance to show what they can really deliver need to find a way of providing the evidence they can do so. They also need a creative way of informing the public sector decision makers and IT community about their solutions or products, engage with them appropriately via social media and participate at the right events. Quite a lot to think about which, if not done properly, will mean they don’t get to sit at the table with the other winners.

Some industry analysts predict more commoditisation of products and services in subsequent iterations of the G-Cloud Framework. If this results in further commoditization of IT and lower costs, many would argue that is great for the public sector.

For suppliers, there is a trap to avoid though. The last thing many want to do is simply fight contracts based on cost. This tends to be a quick route to disaster. Value is what suppliers should be thinking of. What value do they bring to the table and how will this benefit their customers?

Getting to the stage where suppliers can articulate their value propositions clearly and hit their target market effectively, with evidence to support what they say, will be the keys to survival within G-Cloud.

2015 will be a good year for those that do, and a pretty harsh one for those that don’t.

If public sector tech is of interest to you you may also like:




Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Welcoming the new wave of PR Punks

So the PR industry is hiring again, hurrah, but who exactly is going to manage this new wave of talent and teach them our ways, and do we even want to?

Mohican not obligatory
London Calling
Just looking at the last few copywriting jobs we’ve had come in: a complete re-write of a careers’ website and a brochure to attract the best young talent – it’s clear things are on the up for our clients and finally for interns, with graduate recruitment in the UK at its highest since 2007.

For the past four years, I've run a London PR internship programme for a US university. In the past, it has often taken around six months to secure suitable internships for 15 or so MA students. But 2014 saw a marked increase in demand and they were snapped up in around three months, in fact I unearthed more great opportunities than I had interns. Hurrah!

But it occurred to me, who exactly is going to manage these bright young things and what will happen if we don't?

Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The present generation of account directors (ADs) grew up in the equivalent of war-time rationing, working with reduced client budgets, non-existent internal budgets and being forced to adopt a recession-based management style: cautious, risk averse and desperate to keep the account at all costs. Sounds like fun don't it? Is it any wonder that agency ADs are moving in-house, looking for a saner, more stable environment, one that’s more conducive to seeing let alone raising a family? And 
with today’s trend for bulking up the corporate comms team set to continue in-house is only too glad to hire them.

So not the ADs then.

Career Opportunities
We all know ‘a good account manager is hard to find,’ as Fergal Sharkey once meant to say, but these days they are rare beasties indeed. In fact anyone with two to five years’ experience is hard to find in any industry. Thanks to the recession we have skipped a hiring generation. Not only that, but for many years, training, development and general people investment have all been corners that were first to be cut. So those few who were recruited and managed to survive and thrive, were tough self-starters. Not necessarily the types to want to micro-manage or molly-coddle junior talent, they are much more likely to have their eyes on the prize of filling in an AD role.


So not the AMs then.

Give ‘Em Enough Rope
MEANWHILE: The PR business contributes £9.62bn to the UK economy, with agency revenues doubling in the last ten years - but what about the profits? It’s generally recognised that a healthy agency wants to be looking at a 15 - 20% margin, but the last figure I saw said in 2013, agencies was averaging around 10.6%. The cause was due to our fear of putting up our rates, and over-servicing reaching an industry average of 20%. In an effort to hang on to the account at all costs, over-worked and over-wrought ADs and thinly spread AMs have been giving away one hour in every five, just to keep everyone (apart from the CFO) ‘happy’.


So do we want to pass this working model to the newbies, now the dark days are receding?

Revolution Rock
So could this be a recipe for Change?
· A thin upper and middle management layer with little time for micro management, structure and process.
· A business model that’s been coerced into giving it away.
· An influx of Generation Y emerging like butterflies into a boom time eco-climate, where risk is rewarded and disruption applauded. Recognised as the natural collaborators, masters of abstract and conceptual thinking. theis new genre of talent are highly ambitious, socially confident, relational, and the girls at least, highly organised - could this tech-savvy, upbeat, civic-minded, confident generation be the ones to reinvent us, rejuvenate us?

All The Young Punks
With a coincidental lack of hands on management, and so ample opportunity to enjoy the natural freedom they need to experiment and take a few risks, will this new wave of PR Punks be the ones to make us proud, a bt loud and profitable once more?

I do hope so.

A modified version of this article and without all The Clash references, first appeared in PR Moment on 9th September 2014.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Guest Post: Lessons learned from the trials and errors of a B2B social media manager


The Comms Crowd's Hiwot Wolde-Senbet shares her learning experiences on managing social media channels in B2B.
A little less fluff and a bit more substance 
works well in the world of B2B


Growing up as a part of the social media generation, I have seen many of my PR and marketing counterparts adopt different practices. And of course, some are better than others and some are simply laughable. We all know those that send out mass messages to their families and friends on Facebook asking them to like and follow a certain company. Sure, it could work if your company sells milkshake that appeals to everyone. However, in B2B, your friend’s aunt that works at Asda isn’t really going to help you spread the word about the merits of enterprise wide trading systems. In B2B you must know your audience and really understand their issues.

Most of us in this game know how to use the main social media platforms; along with some measurement tools such as Sprout and Hootsuit. If your target audience is the average Joe and you are doing social media for B2C, you can share something a bit witty with a fairly attractive photo of your favorite product to generate likes and build up your followers. However, I've learned that you have to work that bit harder with social media management in B2B. You have to demonstrate understanding of your market and its needs and most importantly - interact with your niche.

Your objectives in B2B must go beyond creating a buzz for your business and need to work towards creating a platform that is credible and attracts the power brokers and the influencers. It is also important to remember, social media is more than a communication platform; it is part of your marketing, PR, customer services, business development and sales. Therefore, managing it in a way that reaches the right people and shares appropriate insights is vital.

Since clients have to find you relevant and interesting to follow and engage, here’s some tips that I have picked up along the way to make sure your social media comms don’t sound like a broken record but resonate with those that will affect your business’s performance.

1. Clear messaging: Identify and clarify what you want to say about your company and how you want to say it. This can help promote the services or the products you provide along with your company’s values and mission.

2. A targeted audience: Know who your industry’s leaders are, who your current and potential clients are, anybody who is anybody in your industry that is relevant to you and ensure you connect with them.

3. Relevant talking points: Identify issues, trends and regulations that impact your audience’s business and share relevant news.

4. Platform consistency: Ensure your platforms are up to date and consistent.

5. Listen as well as talk: They say the best way to lead is to listen more and talk less, so tune into what your followers are discussing and participate when relevant.


Subsequently, you need to put some performance measurements in place, regularly track your progress and re-evaluate. By following the steps above, you are on a road to growing your B2B social media platforms in an organic and sustainable way and ensuring ROI.


If you found this helpful you may also like:


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

How the storyteller got her PR stripes

Once upon a time many years ago, there was a very bored admin manager who worked for a software development company. She found her job excessively dull, and so would spend much of the day quietly sitting at her computer, writing short stories. For some six months, she (barely) managed to perform her admin duties while working tirelessly on her craft, and soon enough her stories started to get the literary recognition she so desperately craved.

This should have been my office chair
But then one day, the CEO – an entirely overly motivated individual, in her opinion, whom she’d successfully managed to avoid in the main – summoned her to his office. Her heart sunk when she saw upon his desk a sheaf of printouts, not of the latest tedious project timelines, but varying drafts of her stories and poems.

She braced herself to be fired: what cared she? She would live in an attic, make a career move out of being miserable and thin, wear fingerless gloves and die a fine and beautiful death of consumption.

“These are rather good,” he said evenly.

Momentarily thrown off balance but determined to remain on the offensive, she replied haughtily, “Well if you can’t give me enough to do, I have to get through the terminable day somehow.”

“My fault entirely,” he concurred with a half-smile.

She glared at him balefully. Was he just passing time waiting for the HR lackey to come in and do his dirty work for him?

Apparently not. “So I was wondering if I might prevail upon you to apply your talents to writing a few stories about the company, our solutions and how we help our customers grow and so forth...”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” she interrupted, immediately seeing a flaw in his plan. “They’d be so boring: who would want to read those?”

“Ah, yes,” he replied with a mere smidge of a vindictive twinkle in his eye. “But it would be your job to make them interesting, tell a good story, engage the reader and what not. Then, maybe, you might talk to a journalist or two, see if you could interest them in writing their own stories about us…”

She looked at him aghast. Why, just the thought of it made her feel queasy. “PR! You want me to do PR??” How very dare he? ”I shan’t do it, I shan’t! You can’t make me!” she wailed.

“Well, no need to agree the brief right now. Why don’t you have the rest of the afternoon off to think about it?”

She grabbed her papers from his desk and stalked with great dignity from his office, not trusting herself to speak.

And so it was that after a sodden gin review of her overdraft facility, our heroine reluctantly conceded that just possibly there were worse things one could do for a living than telling corporate stories. She’d just do it for a few months before she went and found herself a proper job ­or, at least had saved enough  for a deposit on an attic and a pair of fingerless gloves.

And so, best beloveds, thanks to the thankless intervention of a remarkable CEO, I began my twenty year, hugely enjoyable and vastly rewarding career in PR.

Funny that now, ‘PR is all about telling stories.’ I thought it always was…

If you liked this story you may also like:
Imagine a world without tech PRs - told fairytale stylee
The hidden dangers of PR career talks - a joyous anecdote even though I don't come out of it too well
The fallible freelancer - a cautinary tale - oh a real page turner this one


Monday, 30 June 2014

Guest Post: Sibos - no rest for the wicked or even the wise

Eria Odhuba, resident analyst relations lead at The Comms Crowd reviews the 'dos and don'ts' for getting the best out of the mighty trade show.
 
Sibos  - comes round quicker than Christmas
So I’ve just been to a couple of big industry events, and it got me thinking about the preparation exhibitors need to do to make them worthwhile. I am going to use Sibos 2014, this year in Boston, as an example here as I have shed so many tears getting clients Sibos-ready over the years.

Obviously there are many exhibitors who have got Sibos running through their veins and if they had time, could write this post with their eyes shut, but here's a guide for Sibos newbies, or a useful checklist for the seasoned salts.

What are some of the issues with events like Sibos 2014?

  1. ROI – if you’re going to exhibit, you want to make sure you recoup your costs and some! It's a very expensive line item, the return needs to be quantifiable and equally impressive. 
  2. Poor preparation before the event – If you don’t plan your communications and resources properly, you will look amateurish and it will show compared to those companies that have this event down pat. 
  3. Being heard above the white noise – if you don’t know your key message, if it's not relevant, fresh and exciting, then you won't get heard. 
  4. Thinking lead generation begins at the event – People come to Sibos to continue conversations, not to start them, Sibos needs to be the culmination of a campaign that results in a face to face meeting. 
  5. Recruitment consultants – not much you can do about this. I remember a consultant at Sibos who told me, at a party, that he had received or processed CVs for about 25 people in the room. The recession is over; it's a seller's market. 
What should you NOT do before Sibos 2014? 
  1. Panic (!) i.e. wait until it is too late before preparing for the event. 
  2. Keep your head in the sand and ignore industry trends leading up to the event – you need to know what pain delegates are feeling so you know what your products and services best address it. 
  3. Miss the opportunity to try and connect with signed-up delegates before the event (more on this later). 
  4. Prepare conference material that is bland or off topic. 
How should you prepare for Sibos 2014?
  1. First of all, you need a three-month activity timeline with specific actions and deadlines, allocating responsibility for each action. So, with Sibos 2014 in October, you need to start planning now, July. 
  2. If you're reading this and you haven't booked your hotels and flights yet, suggest you stop reading right now and get on it :) 
  3. To stay ahead of the game, read the Sibos 2013 summary by Aite Group here and other post-event summaries. 
  4. Read Sibos Issues and other news to understand what people will be talking about this year. Don’t repeat the last year’s messages or themes – find something new and relevant to attract attention in the lead up to the event. If you can’t figure out how to articulate your value proposition, get help. 
  5. Think how this event falls into your sales funnel. Identify key prospects from the delegate list, and plan multi-step communications or lead generation activities to get them to want to talk to you at the event. Each step should add value to the relationship, so use content to increase interest. Get delegates to self-select themselves to contact you for a meeting based on the content you have provided BEFORE the event. 
  6. Plan your press and industry analyst engagements now. Influencers don’t have time to speak to everyone so make sure you know how and what to pitch to them. If you don’t know how, get an expert in. Don’t be unprofessional about this and ignore the value of great influencer meetings. 
  7. Focus on meeting influencers you rarely see, rather than those that are down the road from you who you can catch up with any time. 
  8. Go for feature opportunities that get you in the news the week of Sibos, and make sure whatever news announcement you have is actually informative and not simply white noise. 
  9. Contribute or link to pre-event social media communications to help build your profile before the event. 
  10. Plan your post-Sibos steps now – what content or steps will you follow up with and who will be responsible for these steps? What you do after the event is even more important if you want to convert prospects into sales? 
What to do at Sibos 2014?
  1. Make sure you set time and proper spaces aside to speak to delegates you have meetings planned with. 
  2. Document your meetings and make someone responsible for managing follow up actions. 
  3. Plan how each contact will be communicated with after the event and when. 
  4. Get someone to walk the floor to see what other exhibitors are displaying. You need to understand what competitors are saying and how they might be getting their message across. 
  5. Have content that is sharp and precise enough for someone to read in two minutes that would make them want to ask questions. 
  6. Enjoy yourself; ergo no rest for the wicked! 
If you found this marketing advice helpful you may also enjoy:


Saturday, 14 June 2014

Guest Post: Can you build a meaningful relationship with analysts, even if you don’t pay them?

Eria Odhuba, resident analyst relations lead at The Comms Crowd dispels the most common myth about analyst relations - you have to pay them to play with them.

You could SHOW ME THE MONEY!
or why not TRY SAYING SOMETHING INTERESTING!
"We have a problem with analysts," I hear you say. “You have to buy analyst services to have a good relationship with them,” has got to be the most common phrase any analyst relations professional hears from colleagues.

Cynicism reigns when it comes to judging analysts, which reflects the way many of us might feel about the role they, and other influencers, have when recommending IT products or services. 


Admittedly some are harder to engage than others if you do not have a subscription, but is that true of all Analyst Houses or is there a middle ground?

Seven things worth knowing about analysts
We've compiled a quick checklist to help you understand their drivers and so you can better develop great relationships with analyst firms:

1) Good analysts prize their independence. In fact, their reputation hinges on remaining independent while advising their clients.


2) Analysts will NOT ignore you if you have something really good to talk about. Why should they? After all, you might be the trailblazer they identify and, in turn, get the kudos for predicting the disruptive influence you have on your target markets.


3) Analysts are human. They don’t know everything but, crucially, don’t have time to speak to every single vendor.


4) As they are human, you have to understand how they work, what they are working on, the timescales they have and the channels through which they provide advice.


5) To catch their attention, you need to provide really useful information using structured engagements over time to help them with their research, and make sure this fits in with their schedules. One off briefings are useless.

6) If you say ‘we are the world leading vendor providing modular, scalable solutions...blah, blah, blah’, just STOP. This means nothing. Tell analysts about specific and real problems you are addressing and let them tell people you are a leader.


7) They need to eat, pay mortgages and go for the occasional holiday. Separating how they make money and learning about various vendors so they can then advise their clients is something they all do – the best ones give disclaimers so you know exactly who their clients are.


So, what are analyst subscriptions all about?
Sometimes, you just need help with your lead generation and market positioning. Analysts who track various vendors in a specific market will know the ones that are doing well. Sometimes it is simply the technology or services that competitors provide which simply rock. Most of the time, they just have a good story that resonates better with clients than yours does.

Analyst subscriptions are, therefore, useful to help you position yourself better using the resources, advice and specific feedback opportunities you have available with individual analysts.

If you think it means analysts will say you are the best thing since sliced bread was invented, forget it. No analyst worth their salt will destroy their reputation doing so. Yes, you might get the Gartner Magic Quadrants and Forrester Waves, but these follow strict guidelines to maintain analyst independence (whether you agree with them or not).

Why don’t analysts want to talk to me then?
Just maybe, you don’t have anything relevant to add! Or maybe what you have to say is not relevant to their speciality.

There are too many vendors to track and a lot of output they need to plan for and deliver. Follow the steps above. Make sure you have a really good update or case studies to follow up with (even better if end users can talk to the analysts directly).

Will analysts stop talking to me if I don’t pay them?
No. They would ideally like to have you as a client (if they take on vendors as clients), but if you’re making waves in your market they still want to give advice to others that will help them make good purchase decisions.

So, be relevant but realistic about what analysts are looking for. They need information to help them build thought leadership positions. You can help them if you engage properly with them. They can also help you if you are honest enough to recognise you need advice to position yourselves better against your competitors. That is when analyst subscriptions come into play.

If you found this interesting you may also like:
How to ensure AR programmes deliver to the bottom line

- Part one
- Part two
- Part three

Or you may want to peruse our analyst relations whitepaper which is a summary of the above three blogs and can be downloaded here.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Guest Post:How PR freelancing has me feeling like a real life Carrie Bradshaw …

What's it like being a freelance PR when you've only got a few years' experience under your belt? The Comms Crowd's first freeelance account exec, Hiwot Wolde-Senbet, weighs in on the perils and perks.
Admin-lite, life as a freelance account exec


Freelancing was the last thing I thought I would be doing at this early stage in my career. But, as a natural risk taker, this opportunity came with perks that I could have only dreamed of, so I grabbed it without hesitation.

I figured, I had participated in enough weekly meetings; done a few new business brainstorming and planning sessions; pitched in plenty of stories; not to forget the never ending reporting; to give me a rounded view of the PR life. But let’s face it, I may have spent a few years as a junior in a few agencies, but there aren’t enough clippings in all the world to prepare me to fly on my own.

This is why being a part of The Comms Crowd works for me, as it’s made up of senior freelance PR and marcomms people, with loads of experience. So I get to work on what I really enjoy while they shoulder the responsibility, they even look after my training and devlopment too. And just because I'm the 'junior' doesn’t mean I get to miss the hunt, in fact, in less than three months of being a part of The Crowd, I found myself sitting in front of a possible client sharing my ‘out of the box’ thinking - way out of the typical junior’s comfort zone. As Sam says, “Well… you're a freelancer now, no one to hide behind, so get on with it.” So you do just that and learn from your experience.

As a freelancer, I get to work from home so, I make my own hours. It sounds fantastic right? You would assume so when you are on the 'nine to five‘ schedule and wish you could skip the rush hour. But freelancing comes with its own set of issues, not least isolation, turns out you really miss the mini chit chats and light hearted banter that gets your day going in an office.

And there are times when life as a junior freelancer can make you feel like pulling your hair out (the occasional side effect to Excel drama). And you really miss the days that you used to ask your colleagues to help you with those unsolvable IT problems (which you probably took an hour to deal with) and then they come and sort you out in a click, leaving you feeling inept but ready to roll. When you are a freelancer, your time is money and just that fact alone makes you become very aware and conscious of your time. So you can’t afford to spend an hour on some stupid Excel issue, yet you have no choice. Not having a colleague that sits next to you means are a bit at the mercy of email response and there are the inevitable, albeit occasional, misunderstandings that you get from working remotely. So everyone really has to work at overcoming the ‘cloud barriers’, but we’re getting there.

But then the niggles just melt away, when you look through your window and see that it is sunny and bright outside. It feels like it’s calling you to come and enjoy it, feel the sun touch your skin. Living in London, I already know sunny days don’t come by often, so I pick up my sunglasses and iPad and move to the café nearby with an outdoor space. I get my to-go cappuccino and lay on the grass to draft an artcicle. That’s when I realise that I am living the dream I never had, as a real life Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City. Except I don’t do my research in nightclubs.

When you live and work in the same place, life can truly get tangled up. Becoming a freelancer will really test and challenge your organisational skills. However, with clear objectives, support and training; the cloud-based agency model can help you release your inner Carrie and achieve a fair work life balance. Until then, be prepared to, learn fast and be out of your comfort zone.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Karma, the best client you can have

On how being kind can be good for your career. Really!

Yeah Baby!
Recently I was asked how I got started as a freelancer.
“Oh it was Karma really,” I replied.
And this greasy sort sidled up.“Who’s Karma?" He said. "Are they hiring?”
Come to think about it, maybe ‘they’ were:

See, it all started when I was agency side... Once a year I would host a day for visiting US students. It started off as a favour for a client, but we loved engaging with the students, so sunny and bright 
and we became a regular stop on the US tour. And this lone kind act, helped counter-balance those days when I used to lock myself in the office bathroom and recite, "I'm not paid to be popular," before marching back out there to rain on someone's parade.

A few years passed, then one day in 2010 the US tour organisers asked me if I knew of a senior comms consultant that could head up a London internship programme for media post grads for The USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism

And I thought, that could be me that could…

And within a week of resigning I was jetting off to LA

So that became my first freelance contract, going to LA and working with the sunniest people on the planet. We are on our fourth contract now and it’s one of the most satisfying projects I have. But it doesn’t stop there...

As a result of that work, I gained a great understanding of the whole PR landscape, not just my bit. I also experienced first-hand how incredibly difficult it was to secure internships in our sector. So I volunteered my services with the Taylor Bennett Organisation  to share what I had learned with our home grown talent, helping the trainees prepare for their first roles in PR. I have been working with TBF for the last three years now, and I love it. I stay in touch with many of the trainees and it’s a huge buzz watching them develop and succeed in their careers…

And it didn't stop there, either.  Chuffed to announce The Comms Crowd has just taken on our very first freelance junior. A TBF alum! You can only imagine what a difference she has made to the team, and by all accounts she’s pretty happy to be working with us too, being able to execute agency-calibre work but with the freedom of the freelance lifestyle.

But wait! There’s more! Courtesy of a recommendation from another TBF alum we have a new client, which is great of course, but this client happens to be the UK’s foremost skilled volunteer and charity matchmaker and itself is a massive force for good. In the UK alone GWYGA has enabled professionals working in IT, Finance, Marketing and HR to donate £12 million worth of their time to some 3,000 charities around the world. 

And now we are helping out with the PR around that, spreading the word, which has to be a very good thing right?

Thank you Karma, a pleasure doing business with you.


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Guest Post:Why is US PR so difficult?

Just so happy to be doing transatlantic PR again, here’s a post from The Comms Crowd's US PR partner, Lorraine Russell on why it's not easy securing the US column inches. 

Lorraine Russell,
US PR & mountain hiker
It doesn’t matter where in the world you want PR coverage, you will find the journalists you need are a busy lot. Their publications are under competitive attack, staff have been cut, acquisitions and closures are commonplace, everyone is doing more with less and covering more areas and, well, it all sounds rather familiar doesn’t it?

Journalists and their organizations face many of the same issues you do in your business. And just like any busy company expert, journalists want only the most insightful and relevant information and sources to ensure they do the best job possible. That makes getting their attention, building a relationship and winning their trust all the more challenging and important.

The U.S. journalistic landscape is similar to the UK although larger. According to Pew Research’s “State of the News Media 2014” report there are 38,000 full time journalists employed within the traditional U.S. newspaper industry alone (not to mention TV, magazines, etc.). Comparatively, the European Journalism Centre reports similar full time newspaper journalists in the UK. Digital native sites are growing on both sides of the pond, yet still employ only a small numbers with about 5,000 full-time U.S.-based editorial jobs at nearly 500 digital news outlets.

Whether traditional or digital, one big difference is ownership. Certainly there are U.S. conglomerate owners, however the UK newspaper market is generally far more nationalistic with fewer owners.

What does all this mean to you? Obviously you aren’t after every US journalist. You want only a logical niche of decision makers to notice your new product/service or entry into the market. As you should. But that doesn’t necessarily make it easier.

Here’s why. Think about your competition. How many companies will you compete with in the U.S.? 10? 20? 50? More? How many of your European competitors are also entering or active in the U.S.? How many non-industry companies are nipping at your heels trying to steal the same potential customers?

Each of those and all the ones not yet identified are engaging PR to contact the same journalist you want. Whilst there are about 50,000 PR professionals in the UK, there are nearly 230,000 PR professionals in the U.S. Talk about competition!

Now think back to that busy journalist looking for someone to validate or negate the premise of an article (yes that has a lot to do with it). The journalist must be accurate. And the editor and the publisher need them to have a differentiated story than the other media outlets in their niche. After all, eyes on their story and their publication translate into revenue for survival.

So, who does the journo turn to? Someone they know will deliver. And yes, despite journalistic outcry, the line is blurring between editorial coverage and those who do or could buy advertising or sponsorships. Remember how different the ownership of US media outlets is compared to the UK? That can increase in importance when those paid and earned media lines blur.

So the number 1 reason it is trickier to get your story told by a U.S. journalist is pure and simple -competition.

And #2? Your story absolutely must be relevant to the U.S. reader/viewer. It is not enough to believe your product/service is right for them. It means understanding U.S. centric issues and trends – not just of your potential customers, but of the journalist as well.

Your chances will significantly improve if you can produce a U.S. customer. Some journos won’t talk to “vendors” without one. If you don’t have a U.S.-specific example, the challenge for coverage is even greater. Not impossible, but challenging. It is very likely you will share the story with one of those U.S. competitors you identified.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Truly, it’s not. You just need the experienced insight of localized PR. That’s the same in any country. A world view is quite important strategically but localized insight is invaluable.

As for the U.S., remember those growing digital outlets? Turns out, whilst mainstream U.S. media are sharply decreasing their global coverage, digital is on a quest to include more global coverage. And that spells opportunity! Plan your strategy wisely. This is the perfect time to think global and act local.

Post Script: Here's one we preaperd earlier: a recent UK/US PR project we worked on together, where actully we made it look really easy!

What a perfectly formed team, if I say so myself


Saturday, 22 March 2014

Guest Post:The future of marketing – five reasons why digital marketing is important

Digital for dummies, courtesy of Anita Jasser, MD of full service digital agency, Sofarbeyond,
 
Is this the future of marketing?
It has never been more critical for companies to embrace digital. Why? Because that’s where the majority of your audience lives – online. In today's world your audience can always stay connected, access content and compare services online, at any time of the day or night, on an increasing range of different devices.

The sheer volume of new digital trends can be overwhelming - from the horizon-expanding technology of Google glass to the hot digital currency Bitcoin, which allows you to buy a burger in east London using just a phone and QR code – let’s keep it simple.

So, here are five good reasons to go digital:

1. Reach your audience. Whether you’re in B2B or B2C marketing, the first place a visitor goes to find out about you or to find a company like yours, is online. In fact, 92% of B2B buyers will visit a technology website before buying (IDG tech buyer report 2013).

2. Understand your audience. The power of digital marketing means that you can gain more knowledge about your audience and learn what they’re looking for, in real time. Once you decipher a visitor’s digital body language, you can use these insights to build a relationship with them based on what they’re interested in. This means marketing can finally become a service – not just a sell.


3. Grow your audience. Digital marketing is a fantastic way of growing your audience quickly and effectively. Why? Because we all love great content, so if yours is engaging, interesting and relevant, your audience will spread the word for you, allowing your business to reach more prospects than before.


4. Know what’s working. As marketers, we spend time investing in many different marketing activities, but do we always know what’s working for us? Digital marketing will always give you a valuable insight into which marketing activity is driving people to you. Once you have this knowledge, you can begin to work out your ROI and your cost per lead acquisition (e.g. what spend did you put in to get a new potential prospect back?).


5. Be reactive. We’re often told that it’s better to be proactive rather than reactive in marketing. With digital marketing, which includes search, social, online PR and content, we say that it’s best to be reactive. By this we mean once you know what your audience is interested in, you can feed those interests back into your marketing plan and respond to them effectively.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Happy freelance birthday to me, I am three!

Celebrating three years of being an independant PR/marketing person.
Wow what a ride!


Victoria Wood once told this joke about how you lavish so much attention on your first child, that you go so far as to score the wall recording for all eternity your firstborn’s height with wonder and awe (since my 13 year old son is already clocking 6ft 3' we are adding a soupçon of morbid fascination in to the mix now too). Anyhow she went on to remark that by the time you have your third child, you merely note their vertical progress by the rising  tide mark of nose smearings on your coat sleeve…

And so it is for freelancing. First year I had a cocktail party and people came from miles around, Second year I at least opened a bottle of champagne and shared it with those that happened to be passing. Third year, Feb 10th completely passed me by. Writing this, with a vodka and tonic in hand is as much as I can muster to commemorate the occasion. Just like a third child - it’s not that I love the freelance life any less, far from it, but just that I’m really busy - new clients, new projects, new sectors, new territories and I got accredited. Even the dog behaves pretty good now.


So as is now customary, sharing a few random lessons learned this year:

That's me that is

Cautionary tale – Be careful how much time you allocate to individual pitches. I have a strong agency background so I like pitching, the smell of the chase, and all that. But it is easy to get carried away, do some sums on the back of an envelope look at the potential gain and then assign a realtive cost to winning it. I completely lost it over the summer chasing a big account but where my personal gain was quite insignificant. I blame the heat.

Motivational moment
 – As you get busier you may feel inclined to focus on just the high value projects or to really specialize. For example, in line with the industry’s increased appetite for credible content, I have seen a surge in demand for copywriting  skills this year, but if I just did that all the time I’d burn out. Much better to have several diverse projects on the go, it keeps the mind agile. And even when you are busy, don’t’ forget to fill your boots with psychic income – my work with the Taylor Bennet Foundation continues to be the most fulfilling aspect of my freelance career.

Cautious tale
 – So I’m still working at 2011 mates' rates for my early retained clients and now I know them so well, asking for an increase on the day rate feels kind of #awkward. But the nicest client in the world is unlikely to suggest you take a pay rise. I’m just going to have to man up - distasteful as it is. Suggest to avoid getting into this situation in the first place any day rate deal you agree comes with the proviso 'to be reviewed in six months', ample time to prove your salt and get you on more equitable terms.

Motivational moment
 – When pickings get plentiful, share the spoils, share the stress, share the funds, share the love, keep delivering above and beyond. Officially forming the collective was the smartest thing I did this year.

that's us that is!

Cautionary tale – Now it’s seven days a week 11-7, and that’s normal. The weekends have become the time to do the behind the scenes stuff, the banking, admin, marketing etc. So to make sure you don’t lose sight of why you turned freelance in the first place, in my case - to spend time with that gargantuan boy of mine – take enforced breaks, ( I’m averaging about eight weeks leave a year). Anywhere that is a Wi-Fi black spot will do nicely.

Motivational moment – Three years ago I turned my back on the security of an established and respected career, with the attitude of how hard can it be? That was the wrong question. I should have asked, 'how intense can this be?' Flipping intense actually. But it turns out, when you learn not to measure your worth by your job title, not to value security above freedom and control, you become infinitely richer, eventually!

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy:

Happy freelance birthday to me - I am two!
Happy freelance birthday to me - I am one!
The highs and lows of a fledgling freelancer

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Guest post: How to ensure AR programmes deliver to the bottom line - part three

The third of my guest posts, courtesy of Eria Odhuba, a founder member of The Comms Crowd and our resident analyst relations guru:

In part one of this series, we looked at the reasons AR programs fail and what you need to do before speaking to analysts. In the second part we provided some metrics you should consider measuring and a few questions you need to think about to maximise the impact AR has on your marketing. And in this final part, we look at how to integrate your good work with analysts and your wider marketing activities, ensuring everything feeds into your overall business objectives...

Do people REALLY know what they will get from the description of your products or services?

Your problem: If you only offer services, this can be one of the hardest things to do correctly. How do you convince prospects to buy from you if it takes time to realise any major benefits? Are you confident that the way you have named or packaged what you sell clearly articulates the benefits that clients would get if they bought from you? If prospects don’t know what benefits they get from what is on offer, then price is all they’ll use to make purchase decisions. 
The impact on your bottom line is huge if your competitors package themselves much better than you do. Quite often, poor product packaging happens when marketing and sales teams don’t interact effectively. 

How analysts can help: Analysts can provide guidance regarding product or service packaging as part of wider marketing efforts. Their unique insight into the various strategies used by competitors, means they can help build services around your unique perceived benefits (UPBs). They can also show you how to break services down into logical processes that are easy to follow and which, more importantly, clearly show what prospects will get.

Do you know your customers’ lifecycles and do you change the way you provide value to them over time?

A customer lifecycle is the journey someone makes from the initial discovery of your products / services to being a client. It is important to understand lifecycles so that you manage client relationships effectively and tailor your messages or services accordingly. 

Your problem: Marketers, therefore, always need to answer the following questions so that they add value to each stage of a customer lifecycle: What factors influence initial purchase decisions within specific niches? What do competitors offer? What end results do clients actually desire? What are the market / technology changes that impact the continued use, or upgrade, of specific technologies or services? Without this information, marketers will struggle to effectively manage each step of a typical customer lifecycle. For example, think of companies that have simply tried to renew contracts or upsell additional services without tracking client needs properly. Tales of woe after deals have been signed are common, and a lot of this is down to the inability to manage the various stages of customer or partner lifecycles effectively. When you are fighting day-to-day battles and trying to get quick wins to justify marketing budgets, it can be hard to step back and have a big picture view of whole lifecycles and the different engagement methods necessary to nurture early prospects or long-term clients. Getting independent feedback on how best to do so might not be something you have considered.

How analysts can help: Analysts, especially those that have a good knowledge of licensing and contracts, can provide independent advice to companies to help them manage customer lifecycles better. Of course, the products and/or services you provide have to be spot on in the first place. However, given the fact that there is almost always an alternative choice that could be made, marketers should use industry analysts to stop customers getting fed up and looking elsewhere because their continually changing needs are not being met.


Are you using the right traditional and social media channels to communicate?

Every marketer knows they have to communicate through the media channels that their prospects and clients use to look for information.

Your problem: Whatever media channel you use to generate leads, solidify thought leadership or remain top of clients’ minds, you need to know which ones the analysts use to share information. For example, you need to know whether you potentially lost a deal because of comments made by an analyst via a blog or online forum. The problem here for marketers is the perceived loss of control and the lack of resources to do this effectively. It can be tough to justify the time and effort given the tight budgets many marketing departments have. It all comes back to the feedback you collected from clients and prospects (see part 1 of the series).

How analysts can help: If prospects / clients are influenced by specific channels that analysts also use, then you need to make sure you engage with the analysts via the same channels (on top of regular briefings) so that you can positively influence their output. Commenting on their blogs and participating in discussions helps you understand the frustrations analysts have with technology vendors. It also means you engage with them more effectively and, hopefully, can convert them into advocates. 

In conclusion

AR is often seen as an add-on to marketing and PR activities that is hard to measure and whose budget is hard to defend. It can be tough to stick your neck out and plan long-term engagements when we are all judged on quick wins. 

But, trust is a hard thing to come by now, and we are pretty cynical about most of the content and claims from many technology companies. Engaging wth analysts, earning ther respect and winning their support can deliver the esssential credibility factor into the marketing mix.


***


Post script: These three AR posts have proved pretty popular. So we've put them together, ripped out the fluff, given it a bit of structure and turned them into a whitepaper, which you are welcome to download here:




Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Less Superman, more Supermulti-tasker

Where do cakes come from Mummy?
Possibly I have been spending too much time with children this festive season, but I got to thinking if I could have one super power what it be? I ponderd several fabulous skills but came down to, The power to be in several places at once. As a single parent and freelance PR, multi-tasking is more of an adrenalin sport than an art form.

And it's not just about prioritizing. Recently a client has a PR crisis, the day the dog got bitten by a snake, the day of my son's school play, the day I had a hot date and just for once wanted more than seven minutes to get ready. It was all important. In the event, sorted out client on the fly, ignored the dog in a fingers-crossed kind of way, missed only a bit of the play, looked crap for hot date but picked somewhere dark and dog survived to tell the tale.

But even the none-emergencies fight for space along the time continuum:
· Get in a regular swim to stay healthy v update blog lest it looks like I’ve died altogether.
· Pick up all the apples off the lawn v source all the coverage for my client - if only less was more.
· Do my Sunday book-keeping v take child to the movies, he’s even offering to buy the popcorn.

Bereft as I am of super powers here’s my top three multi-tasking tips for us fraught and overwrought mere mortals.

1. You need a list but you need a multi-tasking list as life does not proceed in a linear fashion. Think of it as a grid not a list. And you need to be selective about what even makes it onto that week’s grid and give equal weighting to all the varying pull factors that particular week. So that by the time you cross everything off you have moved forward several of the most pressing projects in your life and so have some sense (however deluded) that you are in control of your life. To sustain the plate spinning analogy indefinitely, make sure the grid strikes a balance between the good, the bad and the accountant, make time for exercise, for a big walk with the dog, for meeting up with mates. I aim to complete 30 things off my grid each week.

2. Unlike a world leader, you can’t get by on four hours sleep as, unlike a world leader, you can’t get away with shouting at people who really don’t deserve it. If you need to work at optimum performance, all day every day and be civil - you need to sleep the sleep of a hibernating hedgehog on Tamazipam. Go to bed with your children, train them to sleep in late.

3. Unlike Hollywood, you can't have it all and the only price to pay is a slightly tousled hairdo. Know your limits. My social calendar as well as my fridge operate on a need to know basis. The first time my son and I watched The Great British Bake Off, he thought it was a Sci-Fi series. I catered an entire party over Christmas with all the food coming from the local petrol station (admittedly it had an M&S nestled in the forecourt). Friends obligingly text me what, where and when I'm set to enjoy their company, calls only get returned when I'm walking the dog, texts on the train, while holidays are agreed without even clicking on the links. My advice - avoid organising anything for anybody - you'll only cock it up or shout at people in the process.


This post is based on an artcile for Parenting Solo Magazine profiling lone parents in business.

If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy:

The Free-Range Freelancer - on trying to do holidays when you freelance
Freelance Glorius Freelance - on surviving the feast and the famine 
What Price Freedom? - how to price up work as a freelance consultant