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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.
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.
By Madeleine Marston, Friday Street Events
Organising attendance for your brand at an exhibition or conference is a huge undertaking – and normally involves several members of a team, not to mention some external support.
To share my ten year’s worth of recommendations now, would be over-extending myself on the word count I have agreed! But here are five top tips for conference event success from my company, Friday Street Events.
Number one is DON’T throw huge sums of money at an over-designed, beautiful stand and then hope that this will do the networking, brand awareness and data collection for you. Events are about people. So the most important bit is who you have representing your brand. You need people who like people, those who are good at dinner party small talk, empathetic people e.g. when the audience is Mums, have Mums on your stand talking about your product.
Event chat is 90% small talk and 10% actual business talk. Give your stand’s personnel the time to find out a little about the event, the people, the location, e.g. at an event in Harrogate, make sure your team can recommend Betty’s Fat Rascals!
The second tip is stand location. Everyone wants the central aisle or the spot right next to the entrance. Yet, how often do you visit a foreign city and eat in the restaurant right in the middle of the main square? You don’t, because it’s over priced and a tourist trap. You go for the restaurant just off the main drag, on a corner with seating outside. Event floor-plans are no different.
Tip number three… Identify what you want to walk away with, as a brand from the event: data, sales, partnerships, brand awareness, plan activity accordingly. Talk to the organizers and let them know your objectives. They can help you promote pre show, if you don’t have a good event, you won’t be back, so it’s in their interests.
The fourth tip is one you know…. don’t think when you leave the venue, it’s over. Back in the office the next project is looming, all the stuff you didn’t do whilst you were at the event needs prioritizing. Yet you have data, you have met people who showed an interest in your brand. These are your sales leads for the next 6 months; they’re your brand ambassadors for the next year. Make the first call. It’s not like the 2nd date syndrome…who is going to call first? Don’t waste your time waiting …contact them straight away.
The fifth tip …is about your sanity either on a stand or as an event visitor….good shoes. A 15 mile hill walk never gives you the tired feet and legs that a day at Excel can. If possible, pack a sneaky pair of trainers into coat check. Failing that it’s almost imperative that you leave the event and go to the first bar for a tired foot-relieving beverage. But be warned everyone else you have been at the event with, will be there as well. So be careful what you say and what you drink, you never know who is listening and who is watching!
Do you want to know more? Friday Street Events can run event-training sessions or manage an event for you, to guarantee success. Madeleine Marston is Director at Friday Street Events, any comments let her know.
Following a raft of client wins to mark the start of 2013, Firefly is welcoming three new team members over the next month. A new account executive and two new account coordinators will join a bright, hardworking, creative team in the West End.
Starting on Monday 25th March, we welcome Tom Reynolds, a new account executive, to help support our busy client teams.
Later, starting on Monday 15th April, we welcome Ioannis Giazizoglou and Melissa Scuse, two new account coordinators, who will be gaining more PR experience and organising our teams across a variety of client business.
All new joiners will help to support Firefly’s business, consumer and digital practices, on a client mix that is both UK-specific and across EMEA.
As the team continues to grow, you can read more about future job opportunities here.
Even in the supposed age of equality, a question that is still being thrown around is ‘Why aren’t there more women in the technology sector?’. It seems that the momentum for change is growing from inside the industry itself. Woman’s Hour the other week ran a feature on how men are fighting for their techy sisters to be better represented at tech conferences. A group has even formed which aims to boycott conferences that have an all male line-up. Doing some digging, I discovered that according to a recent report, only 17% of jobs in technology are held by women. While this obviously means that there are simply fewer women in the sector to choose from when selecting spokespeople for stories or speaker slots at conferences, women are still under-represented in technology. Instead of asking ‘Why?’ I found myself asking ‘What?’. What does the lack of female representation in technology mean for the industry and what is the industry doing to lure more women in?
The first answer is it makes for an industry that is ‘out of touch’. Without a female force in the boardroom, decisions are made that can result in a real turn off for 50% of the consumer base. Take for instance Google’s idea to run an algorithm to work out why women weren’t staying at the company. Or the ‘pink it and shrink it’ idea employed by many consumer tech brands in an attempt to reach the female market. Both of which only go to reinforce the gender gap. Instead of looking at stats or telling women what they want, why don’t brands start talking to find out what women really want?
And that is what some companies have publically begun to do. The recent announcement of Alicia Keys’ appointment as Global Creative Director at BlackBerry teamed with other BlackBerry announcements spread the message to an untapped generation that technology companies are at last listening to them to bring more women into the technology fold. Miss Keys follows in the footsteps of Lady Gaga, who in 2010 became Creative Director of Polaroid. But are these popstars really what the industry needs to show that it is changing? Why does tech need to borrow the music industry’s big stars? There are plenty of would be women tech superstars out there doing much more interesting things then just appearing at launch events.
Marissa Mayer’s move from Google to Yahoo certainly secured a lot of news coverage, but what about other women in technology? How often do you see them being covered in the press? When was the last time you saw Sandy Carter, Cher Wang or Susie Wee in the press, outside of ‘Women in technology’ lists? These women are doing fantastic things for their companies as well as the industry itself, so can we just hear about them a bit more please? My belief is that there is a want and a need for more women in technology to start making their presence and influence known for the benefit of the industry as well as the consumers. So come on ladies, throw your hands up at me.
Hands up, who listens to podcasts? Here’s a confession: I’ve always been lukewarm to them. Previously, I’ve found them to be ponderous and, with the exception of the BBC and FT ones, generally poorly-produced.
It turns out I’ve been wrong. I was doing some research on cloud computing recently and stumbled across the Cloud Computing Podcast, which I found to be a goldmine of insight into cloud computing (believe me, it’s hard finding this stuff). At the same time, one of my digital marketing buddies, Bernie Mitchell, has been extolling the virtues of podcasting to me for about the last year and is five episodes into his own podcast, Engaging People.
The rise of smartphone use and growth of free or cheap tools to create podcasts, plus a focus on content marketing has created a mini-revival of podcasting.
It’s not just the biggies like The Bottom Line with Evan Davis from the BBC or Listen To Lucy from the FT that attract large audiences, but independent podcasts like Answer Me This, which reportedly gets 50,000 downloads per week.
From a PR’s perspective, there are three reasons to take in interest in podcasts.
1. Listen: learn about your industry.
2. Reach out: get your clients or your company featured on leading podcasts.
3. Speak out: make your own podcast and reach your target audience in a different way, at a different time.
The reasons also map quite nicely onto a three-step process for PRs to get into podcasting. I’ve spoken to half a dozen podcasters to get an insight into why they do it and ways PR people can engage with them, with some surprising insights.
If you have regular ‘dead time’, such as travelling on the Tube or doing household chores, then podcasts are an easy way of filling time with ‘something useful’. Podcasts are great for buffing up on your industry area, so for PRs this might mean learning about search engine optimisation or getting tips on how to improve a WordPress blog. Podcasts such as Neville Hobson and Shel Hotz’s For Immediate Release and Jon Buscall’s Online Marketing and Communications are highly recommended for PR and marketing professionals.
2. Reach out
Speaking to a number of independent podcasters, I didn’t get the impression that they are often targeted by PRs, which is odd given that audience figures are comparable to successful blogs or trade magazines. Jon Buscall, for example, says that his podcasts have reached up to 6,000 downloads, while even newcomers regularly get 500 downloads.
Kelvin Newman, Strategy Director at SiteVisibility, the company behind the Internet Marketing Podcast, which covers the latest SEO developments, gives PRs some very familiar advice about approaching podcasters: “Actually spend some time listening to our podcast, reference some of the people/products we’ve featured recently and make a connection to who you’re representing.”
Neville Hobson agrees and says that the best way of PRs getting clients involved with For Immediate Release is to firstly listen to a few episodes and then join in the online discussion communities on Google+, Facebook or Friendfeed. He says, “Don’t lurk, join in and contribute. Comment on a topic: it’s almost guaranteed to be included in a show.”
Ruth Arnold, who produces a technology and parenting podcast called Parental Geekery with her husband John, suggests, “A considered approach from PRs is important, offering something relevant that gives us something to talk about. Or somebody with something interesting to say that we could interview – I think interviews actually work better in podcasts than they do in the blogging world.”
3. Speak out
So, you’ve listened to a gazillion podcasts, got your clients or company featured on the best ones that matter to their audience – what next? Make your own podcast, of course!
Perhaps this isn’t for everyone as podcasting is a big commitment – even more so than blogging. But Engaging People podcaster Bernie Mitchell says that’s the appeal, and that one of the great things about podcasting is that it gets you used to a good discipline of producing a show on a regular basis.
It’s important to think about who’s fronting it up. John Arnold, who’s made a number of podcasts, including Parental Geekery, says, “The whole thing hinges on whether people end up feeling they like the hosts. Podcasting at this ‘long tail’ end of the market depends very much on the feeling that the hosts are trustworthy, available and likeable.”
Jon Buscall, who has produced over 80 episodes of his podcast over two years says, “I think the main thing to remember with podcasting is that it’s a slow burn. It takes time to build relationships with customers / leads. However, the real strength is that you get to be in people’s ear buds. There’s something incredibly personal about that. Regular listeners really get to know you, get a sense of your personality and that breaks down barriers. I’ve got some great jobs through podcasting with clients in El Salvador, the UK, Canada as well as Sweden.”
So there you have it: podcasting can help you keep up to date, profile your business or your clients and can help win business in its own right. What’s not to like?
Where next for podcasting?
It seems that despite all the virtues of podcasting, there are a few shortcomings. As Neville Hobson says, “Knowing how many people, and who they are, that listen to your show is the Holy Grail of podcasting!” Firstly, it’s notoriously difficult to pin down listener figures, as there’s not a single platform for downloading them and there’s no body equivalent to RAJAR to monitor them. From a PR’s perspective, this makes it hard to assess the ones which are the most successful. On top of that, podcasts don’t feature prominently on the PR industry databases, such as Gorkana, so they aren’t found easily. A podcast Gallup-style chart, broken down by topic area would help solve this.
There’s no doubting that there’s still a lot of variability in quality. Personally, I think podcasts are a bit like video – little and often is usually better than long shows (although some, like For Immediate Release, manage to defy this rule).
They say that the cream always rises to the top, but I’d like to see more debate about podcasts and people recommending the best ones to each other so we can all get more out of the discipline.
So, to kick things off, here are some podcasts to check out.
Great podcasts for PRs, selected by podcasting experts (and me!):
Freakonomics – economics podcast, nominated by Neville Hobson and Kelvin Newman.
FT Connected Business – B2B technology podcast, nominated by Phil Szomszor.
Photography Tips From The Top Floor – photography podcast, nominated by John Arnold.
Manager Tools – office tips podcast, nominated by Ruth Arnold.
Media Talk – media podcast from The Guardian, nominated by Phil Szomszor.
Six Pixels of Separation – digital marketing podcast, nominated by Bernie Mitchell and Jon Buscall.
Target Internet – digital marketing podcast, nominated by Kelvin Newman.
Trafcom News Podcast – communications podcast, nominated by Neville Hobson.
Wired UK – general geekery, nominated by Firefly’s Charlotte Stoel.
Plus, thanks to my contributors in this article. Check out their podcasts:
Engaging People – digital sharing economy podcast.
For Immediate Release – public relations and technology podcast.
Internet Marketing Podcast – SEO podcast.
Online Marketing and Communications – digital and marketing podcast.
Parental Geekery – parenting and tech podcast.
Any other suggestions for great PR, marketing or digital podcasts?