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About this blog
The Firefly blog features news, views, buzz and ideas around the PR and communications industry.
Social trends, PR and social media tools, communications strategies, attention grabbing WOM campaigns, entertainment hotspots, running integrated and pan-European campaigns, safeguarding reputations and managing crises are just some of the topics we’re talking about.
The pitch process is complete. The new agency is on board. Everyone is happy. The PR agency has a new and exciting client (and associated fee) and the client has a team focussed on delivering a public relations and communications strategy that is firmly rooted in the business’s objectives.
But what happens after the initial honeymoon period is over? Often external pressures, team changes and a reduction in focus means that irritations creep into the relationship and results can start to dip. So, how do you keep the love alive?
Date nights? Or evenings in with a RomCom DVD and popcorn? I’m guessing you agree these are not the best approach for getting your relationship with your agency back on track.
A good starting point is to have an honest appraisal of how things are going. A good filter for this is to consider what type of working relationship you have with the agency;
- Defection – you are on the point of putting the account out to pitch
- Transaction – the agency does what you ask but no great chemistry and are reactive
- Partnership – the agency is proactive, gives you good advice and new ideas, and the chemistry is good
- Loyalty – the agency gives you professional and personal counsel; you expand their remit and are happy to recommend them
Wherever you may be on this spectrum, it makes good commercial sense to make sure that you are focused on moving towards ‘loyalty’. The value you get from your agency is at its highest when working like this. And of course, on a personal note, being responsible for an agency working at its maximum potential is good for your internal reputation.
If there are areas for development, what is the best approach to get the relationship back on track? My experience is that the carrot is more effective than the stick. An honest discussion is a good starting point, but emotions can get in the way; so creating an agreed framework for the discussion is a useful tool for making sure that it results in a constructive plan for development. You can do this with your agency lead or another director from the firm.
If your agency spend is significant, it can be advantageous to use a third party to facilitate, using proprietary tools. At Agency People we use a straight forward spider diagram with pre agreed axis. This allows the process to be repeated at regular intervals to measures progress. The reviews work in conjunction with account development plans that detail what agency and client are going to do differently, to make sure that the areas for development at achieved.
You can take the process a step further by profiling your team and the agency team to ascertain what your main drivers are and who will work best with whom. A tried and tested model is DISC which profiles individuals by four key behaviours:
- Drive – fear of failure, push for results, can be over bearing
- Influence –fear of rejection, prefers 1-2-1 relationships
- Steadiness – fear of disharmony, team player, can find change hard
- Compliance – fear of things going wrong, accurate and precise, can be nit picking
If you would like to read some more on getting the best out of your agency take a look at the PRCA’s agency/client charter or PR Week’s recent article on why agencies should be investing in building client loyalty.
A 25 year PR sector veteran, Richard Houghton is board-level advisor to Firefly, and an associate partner at specialist management consultancy, Agency People. email@example.com; or follow Richard on Twitter: @rhoughton
With the majority of the PRCA membership based in central London, there’s a clue that a city centre location is probably good for a PR business. But in today’s world of connectivity why should it matter? Couldn’t we be based anywhere?
Here at Firefly, we have remodelled our business over the past three years. For twenty years, we had our London HQ in Fulham, West London. We are now slap bang central in W1 and we have just moved to larger premises. The rent is higher than Fulham, but the abounding opportunities and the ease on recruitment more than compensate. We have experimented and discovered a perfect half-way house on location that services both clients and employees perfectly.
Our office is spacious with hot desks, wifi and lots of informal/drop in areas and desks for clients to ‘hang out with us’ for a few hours in between meetings. It’s working. Already in two weeks, we’ve had a quadrupling in visitors. Everyone loves our ‘turret’ room. We seem to be a very popular destination – nearest tube Oxford Circus.
The core Firefly team based in our W1 HQ, is a mix of full and part-time employees. We have very few filing cabinets, as there’s limited need to store hard copies of anything now. We have no servers and very little physical operational clutter.
To supplement the core HQ team we have a ‘reserve team’ of virtual Fireflies based outside of the capital, so we can expand and contract the support we offer to our clients with ease. We have a growing army of amazing, experienced PR outliers, many of them ex-Firefly employees, who all log into our Firefly world and operate in our Firefly cloud using our tools and techniques, following our approach and working over IM, Skype and facetime as if they were sitting at the next desk.
It’s a winning combination of the core team who are the main client handers supplemented by additional experienced firepower.
I would state that a city location helps a growing agency recruit great talent; as we have just done with an Account Executive and Account Coordinator recruitment drive. Bringing in and training up young people is the life-blood of our industry and young people generally want to work in a busy, buzzy City centre and need a nurturing culture in which to develop and thrive.
But our industry also often loses those talented professionals to parenthood which doesn’t need to be a career halting.
Firefly’s approach of offering a core team, supplemented by experts, but all working together ‘as one team’ gives our clients the right balance of support, challenge and results. It also gives the workforce the support, encouragement and flexibility it needs, when it needs it most.
You can read more about our team’s thoughts on working locations and solutions, here:
Phil, our Head of Business and Digital, has written before about why London is the centre of the PR agency universe.
Claire is a regular commentator on women in PR.
Our client is releasing draft recommendations for reforming the UK’s Public Inquiry process, following an ‘Inquiry into Public Inquiries’.
I wake early and stop myself immediately looking for coverage online. I know two national papers filed stories yesterday afternoon, but there is no guarantee either will have made the cut and now the news is ‘out’, it is highly unlikely a news journalist will attend today’s event. This was our call – if there’s no coverage, we’re in trouble. Over breakfast, I receive a text from a colleague, “Have you seen the Guardian piece?” and I feel a wave of relief come over me.
There is no doubt it’s a good story, but a complicated one – and getting journalists to listen was harder than I’d expected. This was not a ‘quick story’ and required a little more investment to cover properly.
The Guardian’s story however is bang on and testament to the journalist who took the time over several phone calls to really listen and understand what was interesting about a genuinely important issue.
Arriving at The Royal Society an hour early, my two Firefly team members are not far behind. And behind them are two camera men, who will be filming the event.
While my boss directs the ex-BBC staff in getting exterior shots of the building, my other colleague and I help to reorganise the conference rooms (which are slightly different than expected at recce stage).
We welcome a journalist who will be covering the day in-depth for a monthly publication and my colleague sets up in the back of the main room, ready to tweet throughout the day.
The event is going very well and as we approach lunch time, a BBC radio van arrives to interview a guest on the event, live on The World at One.
Having the radio van outside is a good sign as radio is the biggest culprit in ‘pulling’ interviews at the last minute.
Thinking I will be helping to test the equipment, I go along with the Radio Car driver’s request to close the door and sit inside with the headphones on – he tells me that we are getting ready for my broadcast and I inform him that I’m not the Lord being interviewed. He tells me he thought I “looked a bit young for a Lord” and I scuttle off to find the legitimate interviewee.
20 mins before we’re due to go live and the radio car is having trouble getting a connection. I’m in a mad dash, talking to producers and trying to find a quiet room with Skype, or at least a land line.
In the back of my mind, I doubt either will be good enough quality and fear the opportunity slipping away as they ‘go to something else’.
My mission isn’t going well but I receive a call that the van is fixed – relief for the second time today. The interview goes well and it’s back to the event.
Around this time, the cameramen have edited the morning’s footage and uploaded the video to the client’s YouTube channel. Yet, interviews are still taking place for a longer, more in-depth video, which will take a few days to turn around.
All day, my colleague has been keeping the client’s Twitter followers up to date with the event and tweeting links to media coverage, videos and fresh blog content. Now it is time to feedback some of the Twitter reaction to the delegates in attendance.
A list of questions and comments from Tweeters is handed to the chair, who reads them out to the room. Answers are then fed-back to those who posed them.
The event concludes and we’re all happy things ran smoothly. This has been a good example of how successful PR event support works in this day and age. ‘PR events’ are by no means confined to those in physical attendance now; adding complexity and opportunity for the PR team.
In the evolving world of social media, Vine feels like it’s been here for about the same time as one of its videos.
The rate of brand adoption on established social platforms, however, has previously taken a while longer to reach a critical mass. With Instagram, Twitter and Facebook before, PR consultants and marketeers were keen to understand and analyse what stakeholders want from each platform before trying to promote a product or service in an engaging way.
Vine enjoyed much lauded media attention following a pre-launch Twitter takeover. Unfortunately, this buzz was soon displaced by negative launch headlines which involved service outages, app bugs that didn’t capture content (in my own personal experience, the world wasn’t ready for my before and after haircut Vine video) and lots of unfiltered filth, as the internet’s oldest profession took to social media’s newest platform.
Despite the adult rating on the Apple app store, Vine is out-stripping the growth of its social media predecessors. So while it’s only a few months old, here are five observations on how it is being used by brands and animal lovers alike.
1. A Vine video tells six thousand words
The majority of Vine videos are of people ‘doing things’ rather than being focused on delivering audio messages. The popularity of stop-gap animations on Vine has led commentators to suggest that the platform is actually more suited to GIFs, which were first used in 1987, over fully functioning HD videos that modern smartphones are capable of shooting today.
The Fashion industry has always been synonymous with adopting social media; it’s fitting, therefore, that the standout brand that has used Vine’s audio potential is British designer, Matthew Williamson. Here is an example, which seemed to be an integral part of the #MatthewMagnified marketing campaign: https://vine.co/v/brBOwTl0FJm
2. You can sell Vines as creative works of art
Earlier this month (March 2013), a Dutch artist became the first person to sell a Vine video. Angela Washko sold her work for $200 at the New York Moving Image and Contemporary Video Art Fair. The Guardian covered the story and details how this was achieved via a free file-sharing medium. What is interesting is that Vine appears to be the latest platform to help boost the short film industry. Firefly client Vimeo has given creative video professionals a platform that is distinct from the YouTube generation that consumes endless tedious online video content. Similarly, the art scene has embraced Vine (and Twitter) as a creative force through events like ?#VeryShortFilmFest above image sharing sites, Pinterest and Instagram.
3. Feline and food porn are still dominant
For anyone that ignores YouTube links about cute animals, or is turned off Instagram by pictures of people’s dinner plates, Vine has ‘kindly’ brought these two favourite social media past times together on a single platform for you.
Vinecats.com launched within a week of Vine going live, while Twitter’s head chef, @birdfeeder, has found a new cult status via Vine with annoying narrations of what he’s got cooking up in the Twitter kitchen: http://vine.co/v/bpmiurxYhLV
4. Vines are actually 6.5 seconds long
As was the case with Twitter’s 140 character limit, the press have filled endless column inches and broadcast hours on the 6-second micro video blogging app. However, Vine users actually have an extra half second to capture their creations – and when you only have a handful of time to play with, that’s quite significant. CNet’s videographer, Jared Kohler, has been credited with this discovery: https://vine.co/v/bntDuQgMd0j
5. Not feeling Vine all the time?…follow third party aggregators instead.
Social search is all the rage and there is already so much Vine content out there. Social media entrepreneurs (aside from the vinecats.com founders) have realised that people need help finding what they are looking for. These Vine filters come in a variety of forms.
Vineroulette gives you a screen full of videos using each hashtag, with videos loading up at random. Vinepeek also taps into our fascination with the unknown, by showing users one random Vine video at a time and encouraging you to set up a Vinepeek channel to save your favorites. You can also throw weavly.com into the mix as it lets you do precisely that – create video mashups and remixes.
For communication professionals looking for inspiration, I would suggest you check out brandsonvine.com which has taken it a step further and created a blog that provides an editorial overview of the best bits that brands have to offer on Vine.
If you aren’t one of the companies or individuals that has decided to start posting Vine videos already, it can be reassuring to discover that the limitations of Vine are also what makes it a great platform for brands to communicate on. Everyone is shooting using the same equipment, which means it’s the best storytellers that will prosper on Vine. This is what drives all of social media, so I look forward to seeing your #firstpost.
Those who have broken into the PR business in the last five years are often recounted with stories of ‘the good old days’ when PRs would write press releases, mail them out (literally) and wait for the coverage to roll in. Times have most definitely changed.
According to the FT, the ratio of PR professional to journalists in the US is almost four to one – and I can’t imagine the ratio in the UK being far behind. It’s not just a case of the PR industry thriving but, as Ian Burrell reported in The Independent at the end of last year; there were 70,000 journalists in traditional media in 2002, whereas there were just 40,000 in 2010. If updated figures are published in 2013, I will be afraid to look.
So, what does this mean for ‘media relations’?
Harder for PRs
There are two ways of looking at it. One may be forgiven for thinking ‘only the strongest survive’ i.e. publications which attract the most readers and therefore the most advertisers continue, whereas ‘duds’ die out. This would mean PRs simply have to work harder to trim the fat and set expectations of what clients can expect in terms of coverage. Anything short of Apple releasing a new iPhone is faced with intense competition to attract the attention of vastly reduced editorial teams at major publications.
Against a lot more competition, PRs for lesser known brands have to find new and inventive ways of catching the attention of the media while pitching only the purest, non-self promotional content, let alone considering what the readers of the publication are interested in.
Easier for PRs
With reduced editorial teams and less budget for investigative journalism, there is an argument that journalists are more reliant on the PR industry than ever. When clients talk about staging press events these days, PRs will try and discourage them in favour of telephone briefings (again, unless you’re Apple or the like) – why? Because journalists often cannot afford five minutes out of the office, let alone hours. As a result, they can often rely on PRs to do the leg work.
PRs get hundreds of journalist requests a day, ranging from ‘comments on the budget’ to ‘case studies of people that are scared of furniture’. Whereas in the past a journalist would have to deal with layers of bureaucracy to get to a company’s CEO on the line, now all they have to do is simply email the company’s PR team saying “can I speak to Mr. CEO” and wait for the PR team to turn things around as quickly as possible. There are not too many professions with that level of support.
What’s a PR to do?
Competition is good for any business – it brings out the best in all parties. The consolidation of traditional media means PR, like journalism, has to adapt and innovate. The innovations are not always clear – for example, effectively pitching to journalists is so incredibly important and is the difference between effective PR and complete failure – and that’s before we even address what the story being sold in is about.
As there are fewer journalists, PRs are increasingly picking up the slack, while at the same time educating clients on the need to comment on topics and issues that are not always directly related to plugging products and services. That surely cannot be a bad thing.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that while traditional media may be consolidating, in today’s world of blogs and online publications, journalists are by no means the only ‘influencers’ out there. Social media, blogs, podcasts, online video and e-zines are all on the up and perhaps present the greatest array of channels to reach stakeholders that there has ever been.
These new channels are covered extensively on our blog, such as Podcasting: why it should be the PR consultant’s best friend just last month, and my colleague’s look at Vine in this issue of Spark.
The PR/Journalist ratio may be widening, but so too is the array of channels to stakeholders.