Last week, I attended an exclusive seminar hosted by client:agency relationship specialists, the AAR.
Nicky Fuller, owner of Larkspur Consulting and ex-Marketing Director of Westfield London, hosted the seminar. Her experience in the industry, applied to the new business/relationship building theme of the AAR, resulted in a great event. Part of my role at CreativeRace is to handle the agency’s own PR and media, and this seminar offered some great insight into the process of raising an agency’s profile.
The importance of an effective comms strategy
Nicky began with an age-old question that will always cause debate in the PR industry – is there such thing as bad publicity? Nicky said yes, and I completely agree with her. Whether agency or in-house – nobody wants to cause serious damage to their brand. Having to execute a crisis PR strategy is the aftermath of exactly that, a situation deemed as a ‘crisis’. As a brand marketer, you should always aim for a positive brand sentiment, a campaign gone-wrong, or a negative news story, can affect a brand, and in-turn, sales and performance, for years to come.
But let’s not focus on the negative. PR – good PR that is – is vital for getting a brand talked about by all the right people, in all the right places. If journalists, customers, and brand ambassadors actively want to talk about a brand’s latest news in a positive light, brand trust is created. A person is much more likely to trust information from a natural, unbiased source, than from an article flagged as an ad.
This was exemplified in a quote from Nicky, ” If you do a good job, clients will do your PR for you.” Obviously, we don’t mean sending key clients a media list and setting them to work. It means the power of positive sentiment and truthful conversations. People buy people. And if those people achieve amazing results, it will get talked about. You never know who your clients’ connections are, and where one simple conversation about a great piece of work could lead.
Know your audience
One of Nicky’s topics really resonated with me, as it’s something I’ve always felt strongly about. Think carefully about your media, why exactly are you aiming to achieve coverage, and where is your audience?
In my own previous PR roles, so many times clients have said something along the lines of ‘I want to be in The Guardian,’ without ever thinking about why. Of course, it’s great to achieve national coverage. However, what if you’re a baby product brand, and the majority of your core customers are reading parenting blogs? The pre-conception is national, national and more national coverage is best. However, the whole point of a brand on-boarding an agency is to ensure that sales of a product or service are maximised, which means the core customer needs to be targeted. In-depth customer research should underpin any comms strategy, and if more of a brand’s customers are reading Heat magazine than The Times – then that’s exactly where that brand should be placed. Think about audience penetration, not the biggest media title. It’s not always the glossy publications that provide the best ROI.
To consider this in a new business context, Nicky described how, at her time at Westfield, she would read her own sector’s titles much more then generic marketing news. For example, if you, as an agency, are about to send a press release about a new automotive client win, you should focus on sending that release to specialist automotive titles, as well as the generic marketing press. Yes, their covers might not be as glossy, and it will be a harder sell-in, but that’s what other Marketing Directors working in this sector are going to be reading. Infiltrate your audience by being as targeted as possible.
Pay attention, and do your research
Now, onto the craft of actually getting the news out there. In PR, relationship building is so important. You need to show the journalist that you’re familiar with them and their writing. You need to demonstrate how your content is going to make their jobs easier. Always look through the journalist’s recently published articles, and reference these in pitch emails. This is also a great way to generate insight into where your content could sit. If you show the journalist that you’ve identified a section in their magazine/website where your news fits, it shows you’re actually familiar with the publication. All of these little factors make it that much more likely for you to achieve some great pieces of coverage.
Another factor to consider is just how many press releases a journalist receives in a day. Think about how many brands and PR agencies there are out there, and you’ll quickly realise why yours needs to stand out. For a journalist to even open your email, you have to allude to the fact that you’re offering them something valuable if they read on.
Keep a cool head in a crisis
The seminar ended by thinking about crisis PR, and Nicky summarised the situation perfectly – “reputations are lost on the way you deal with a crisis, not that you actually have a crisis.” If the worst happens, it’s important that the brand in question isn’t seen as hiding. Face the media and tell the truth – a logical, empathetic and thought-out comment on the crisis situation will be far better received than a ‘no comment’. The media will run the story anyway, so it’s better to take the opportunity to tell your side of it. Always focus on fact, but show feeling and emotion, whether that be surprise, shock or sympathy – running away form the issue won’t do anybody any good. But hopefully, these situations will be few and far between.
Thank you to Nicky and the AAR for such a great event. Just remember: know your audience, your campaign purpose, your media and your journalists. If you’ve got all these down, then you’re onto a winner.
Eve Eastwood – Marketing Manager