Four tips to become a DIY PR Pro

SmartCompany - Four PR Tips - Liam Fitzpatrick - Commswork - B2B tech PR agency Brisbane Sydney Melbourne.

This article was originally published on Smart Company.

The results are in. And startups across Australia have spoken. Media coverage is the number one need for founders in the next six months according to the latest Startup Muster report.

So you’ve got a great product, what do you do next?

Well at the very early stages you probably don’t need an agency. The time to think about external support is when you have a working product with a pipeline of regular news and the need for customers, staff, partners or investment I’d say as a rough guide.

These steps should help with taking what you want to say and turning it into something the media will care about.

      1. Finding your angle

As a founder you’ll be used to giving your elevator speech at networking events. Which is great. However you’re not always going to use the same pitch for securing media coverage. And only telling people what you do won’t be enough. Unfortunately you’re not the only one spruiking your wares. And sadly not everyone will care about your startup or the product you’ve just launched. So maybe hold off on the press release for the beta launch of version 4.1.

You need to give a journalist a reason to write about your story. A hook.

– Do you have a product/service which is genuinely new and different?
– Or has a tech giant like Facebook, just bought a company that operates in your space?
– Or has the government allocated more funds for R&D in your industry?

2. What makes a story?

    Tying yourself to the news agenda will give the journalist a better chance of getting a story greenlit from their editor – because not only is it topical, but it’s part of a wider trend which is in itself newsworthy. Give them what they need.

    Firsts – has your startup created a world-first or global breakthrough in research?
    A familiar product/service with a new twist – are you the Uber…for gardeners?
    An interesting backstory (profile interview) – did you meet your co-founder while dancing naked round a fire at Burning Man?
    New research or data – particularly if it backs up or disproves assumptions
    Opinions – there is space, for articles like this one, from those with advice or opinions targeted for the audience of that media outlet
    Reaction to big news – if a journalist is going to be writing a story anyway, why not send your thoughts for what it means for your industry as they’ll require sources to stand up their story – e.g. comment on what Instagram’s latest update means for retailers.

    Look at what the journalist you’re contacting has written before and suggest something similar or a well argued follow-up. Don’t add to the 100’s of irrelevant emails a journalist receives on a daily basis.

    Key Takeaway – create a ‘why now’ moment for a journo, focus on how you differ from competitors and tailor your approach by taking it to someone who will care.

    3. Know your audience

      You wouldn’t try to sell an industry-leading-proprietary-turnkey-SaaS-tech-stack-solution to a market greengrocer. So don’t try and convince a journalist who focuses on entertainment that your marketplace for pigeon fanciers is the hottest ticket in bird-tech right now.

      While we’re at it, keep your writing simplified. Jargon, like the paragraph above, seeks to exclude others. Buzzwords indicate a lack of understanding. And cliches demonstrate a limited diction.

      PR needs to be targeted, just as your startup needs to be appropriately positioned in market. If you’re speaking with a startup journalist, there’s a good chance they’re going to be interested in funds you’ve raised or the new way you’re targeting the market.

      If you’re speaking to a writer with a retail beat (subject they cover), why not focus on the impact or behaviour change your product is having on customers.

      Journalists are consumers too. They don’t understand your internal corporate-speak. A quick litmus test is if your parents can’t understand how you’ve explained it, you haven’t simplified it enough. And remember personality and even humour is allowed in pitching.

      Key Takeaway – research what has worked previously with a journalist and add your own unique stamp on it.

      4. Be available

    Journalists have deadlines which are increasingly short. By reading what they write about, you’ll get a sense for what might be coming up and when you can pre-empt with an authoritative viewpoint. Through providing value to them, you can start to become relied on and even have the journalist coming to you for comment. So make yourself available and deliver on any promises. There are enough people that don’t to make you stand-out.

    Key Takeaway – It’s all about showupability.

    Liam Fitzpatrick is founder of Commswork and host of ‘Cut the Cliches’ podcast

Commswork head of comms featured on Mumbrella

This article was first published on Mumbrella.

Head to Head: Does a client have the right to see its agency’s media pitch?

In this series, Mumbrella invites the industry’s senior PR professionals to share their opposing views on the industry’s biggest issues. This week, Liam Fitzpatrick, head of communications at Commswork, goes head to head with Opr’s Graham White and M+C Partners’ CEO Justin Kelly on whether clients should be able to see their agency’s media pitch.

Should clients be able to see what their agency is going to pitch to the media? Commswork’s head of communications and founder Liam Fitzpatrick says they absolutely should be able to in order to ensure both the client and the agency are aligned and projecting the same message.

Graham White, group managing director of technology and business at Opr, argues it’s not necessary, since a good client relationship should be built on trust.

Meanwhile, M+C Partners’ CEO Justin Kelly says clients don’t always understand what journalists want to see in a pitch and if the pitch contains too much “waffle and gibberish” from the brand, it will get rejected.

Yes, argues Liam Fitzpatrick, head of communications at Commswork:

“The simple answer, is yes. And to be clear, I’m not saying this should happen for every pitch. Sign off would undoubtedly become glacial. Perhaps just when starting out, to ensure everyone is aligned on messaging.

“But if ever asked, an agency should comply and share the pitch. Let’s take an analogy from agency life – expense claims. When everything is justifiable, things are good. You’re unlikely to be questioned on it. But if there’s a deviation, a $1,000 claim for ‘entertainment’ which looks suspect and unsubstantiated, then expect to be digging out those crumpled receipts.

Fitzpatrick says it is important to make sure everyone is on the same page

“It’s not just because the client is paying the wages of an agency either. Although in my mind, if the client owns the IP to the work being created, which in most cases they do, it follows that they should be able to view the manner in which it’s being discussed. After all, it’s their brand and reputation that you’re potentially affecting.

“More importantly there’s the issue of trust. If a client is asking to see a pitch, that bond has been fractured. So, a little insight may be needed to alleviate any concerns. When entering into an agreement with an agency, the client trusts that everything will be done to act in their best interests. They also assume that there’s a level of competence that comes as standard. The only reason that a client should ask to see a pitch, after the first stages, is if they suspect something is wrong.

“Yes, I believe a PR’s relationship with media is a priority, but one glimpse into your approach shouldn’t reveal anything more than you’ve already shared through your personal client interactions. It’s not going to convince the client that they could do your job. An agency is employed because of its ability to take what a business wants to say and translate this into a story its audience/the media wants to hear. That’s our job.

“I’ve previously hired an agency that continued to make basic grammatical errors and sent over copy which demonstrated a lack of understanding. When quizzed on simple concepts they couldn’t answer basic questions about the brand. Unsurprisingly when speaking with journalists about this agency, their emails were often discarded without ever being opened. That trust between client – agency – media had been broken beyond repair at every stage.

“In my experience, a good story sells itself. A less-initially-newsworthy story is where we can display our value. As skilled practitioners, this is where our craft is required, our counsel needed, together with our network of trusted relationships.”

Top Three PR Industry Myths

Get into PR and I guarantee two things. Family and friends outside of the media will never understand what you do. And to rise to the top, you will need to work/network your arse off.

PR is not for everyone. Ever the need to be the mediator, you’re likely to receive flak from journalists because of clients, and from your client because of circumstances beyond your control.

But mainly it’s exciting. Always varied. And at a recent PRCA event I tried to inform the next generation of PR folk on what they can expect. Here are three of the most common misconceptions:

1. PR is one long list of parties

OK, so there’s Cannes Lions. Oh, and Ad Week Europe for those of us in media/advertising. But that’s about… actually, how could I forget SxSW. However, those who think the role is endless alcohol-drenched soirées have not spent weeks researching a plan for a campaign, only for it to get pulled at the last minute. It can feel like half of your time is spent justifying what you’re spending the other half of your time doing. Slight exaggeration maybe, but your administrative skills need to be sharp. Prioritising double-digit task lists is key. Get it done, accurately, and move on to the next.

2. Public relations is all about spin

The phrase covering a turd in glitter comes to mind. Malcolm Tucker-style tirades. Bullshit artists right? Not quite. PR is actually about honesty. Holding a mirror up to a client and persuading them to become a better version of themselves. Journalists are rightly cynical when speaking with PRs. But once you establish a relationship with those in the media and remain truthful, your words carry a new sense of value. So earn the right to be listened to. And demand the tools you need to deliver great coverage for clients. Ultimately both will respect a frank and open discussion. Take what clients want to say and couch it in terms the media will find newsworthy and the bridge is built. More translator, less salesman.

3. The customer is always right

Like a patient who doesn’t listen to their doctor, or gym bunny who ignores their trainer’s advice; those who disregard counsel will never get healthy. So focus on your relationship first and the rest will follow.
We can only prescribe the solution, it’s then those clients willing to invest the time that will reap the media rewards. No quick fixes I’m afraid. The best advice I’ve had is that clients will forgive mistakes if you’re straight with them. After all, who wouldn’t want to work harder for someone who shows measured compassion; everyone loves a redemption story, right?

Ideas that excite: What to expect from PR at Cannes Lions

This article was originally published by global creative magazine Shots

The sun is shining, Pharrell’s Happy stalks every speaker you pass on La Croisette and England are still in the World Cup. This time last year was truly a frenzy of hopeful expectation – and that was just those awaiting judgement on their Cannes entries (before we found out who we should be paying homage to and those just merely lip service).

Like Dumb Ways to Die the year before, Chipotle’s Scarecrow campaign [below] was on everyone’s lips last summer and for the second year on the trot, the PR Award was won by…wait for it… a PR agency [Edelman].

The power of advertising is well documented, but what of its less limelight-grabbing sister PR? Business guru Warren Buffet once remarked, “it takes 20 years to build reputation and five minutes to ruin it”. Which highlights why the subtle art of protecting one’s public image is one of the fastest-growing professions worldwide.

But why would an award dedicated to earned media so often be coveted and awarded to those in the paid arena? The answer lies in the essence of what makes a good PR campaign.

Warren Buffet once remarked, “it takes 20 years to build reputation and five minutes to ruin it”

For those of us more comfortable behind the scenes, we work through influencers to create and pique that initial interest/awareness in a campaign. To take home a Lion, organisers maintain that high level engagement and strategy with business results are needed. And don’t get me wrong, they’re very neat and quantifiable aims. But for me it could be simpler: Is yours the campaign that has everyone talking?

Whether they’re quaffing rosé at the Carlton, drinking from their jamjars in Shoreditch or supping a real ale pint on the Yorkshire moors – are you the topic of general public conversation? Then, and only then, have you tapped into the mainstream consciousness and achieved the hierarchical pinnacle of PR coverage needs.

The Sun parodying Mother’s campaign idea – PR gold

When, for instance, you have the front page of a country’s best selling newspaper parodying your campaign with a senior politician, I think it’s safe to say you’ve cracked it – a feat that Mother achieved when The Sun illustrated chancellor George Osborne giving his best Epic Strut prior to the election [above].

Talkability is high on any client’s checklist when casting an evaluative eye over the success of a campaign and will no doubt be front and centre of judges’ minds. Especially when they look at potential entries like United Nations 805 Million Names by Forsman & Bodenfors, a campaign which drove the undeniably important message of starvation.

Zlatan uses his body as a canvas in a way only he can – Credit: AFP PHOTO / TRIBOUILLARDKENZO /AFP/Getty Images

In February we saw just how large a campaign can grow when a personality as well-known as £520,000-a-week Zlatan Ibrahimović [above] offered his body as a canvas to tattoo 50 of the 805m names…albeit only temporarily. The result though was impressive with stories everywhere from Fast Company to the Mail Online.

Another campaign which has been building a lot of momentum in the lead up to Cannes comes from Leo Burnett. Now this started as a P&G ad campaign but I’d argue that it has PR at its heart in sparking debate within the media through to classrooms across the globe. #LikeAGirl [below] cleverly inverts the meaning of a phrase through the lens of a 10-year-old girl, changing something previously derogatory to an affirming badge to proudly display. It is the kind of insight which juggernauts a campaign into the stratospheric realms of worldwide support.

When we think of what does well within the prism of Cannes Lions, let’s not forget that a good idea is exactly that. It should identify an insight and then place that at the nucleus of any campaign. It won’t necessarily guarantee headlines but it will definitely give you a better chance of tapping into the zeitgeist.

Good ideas should translate into any brand’s language. So as author Simon Sinek suggests, let’s start with why, and worry about the whens and wheres of the channel later. Paid, owned or earned, the best ideas are the ones that initiate debate and encourage collaboration behind an overarching objective.