Events are funny things. They can either be really good or really really bad. Sometimes they’re something in between. A bit humph.
“Let’s do an event!” the client proclaims, triumphant at even the thought of it. This is usually where I take a big deep breath – and hold it for a very long time. It’s a bit like being a party pooper. You don’t want to rain on anybody’s fire-works but at the same time, if you’re going to organise a party, it’d better be a bloody good one – or else!
The thing about events is that you have to have all your aces in the right places. They need to be well thought-out. Gone are the days when you could throw on a good spread at a fancy restaurant and splash around some top-notch champagne, and everyone would turn up. Yup, those days are G.O.N.E.
Fact is that media are too busy holding down their jobs and meeting deadlines to afford the time to leave their desks to hot-foot it to a launch party – unless it’s dead good.
At Bay PR, we do dead good launches but we ask clients who dare to ask for a launch, some tricky questions. These are usually along the lines of:
1. Do you need to spend the money or can it be executed a different way?
Venues, food, AV, booze, speakers, transport, photography = money. Usually quite a lot of money. That money could be put into a stand-out media kit or tricky teaser that grabs media attention without them leaving their desks. Sometimes, that can be enough.
2. Is your product/story good enough to warrant an event?
Sorry to say, that but marketers can often get so caught up with their own hype, they can’t see the woods for the trees. It’s our job to show the way. Is your new widget really a news story? Is the news editor of the Sydney Morning Herald going to want to come along and see it in person? Is it even news? Who else is doing it? Are you doing it better or differently? Is it life-changing? Or is everybody just getting a bit carried away?
3. What do you want to achieve out of your event?
Is it media coverage? Is it attendance? Is it the feel-good factor, getting across the personality of the brand? Is it even networking? If you know what you want to achieve, then it makes it easier to work out the party plan and also be happy with the outcome. Many clients are chuffed when media show up to an event but don’t understand why it didn’t get coverage. As we say in the PR game – “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink – however good the champagne!” If you have a good PR agency on-board, they will guide you in your decision-making and goal-setting so everybody gets a pat on the back when the last guest leaves.
4. Location location.
I once had a client who wanted to launch a new oven. Trouble was, the factory was BB (beyond Balmain), which in any journo’s books is a complete no no. What did we do? Booked helicopter flights. And guess what? We had a full house. In fact, we had to turn B-listers away (sorry journo friends – we love you all!) Getting to and from launches is a fundamental practicality that needs to be factored into every good launch plan. Ergo boats. Boats, unless you are launching one, or have A list celebs, can be a VBD (very bad idea) in terms of attracting media. The fear of being trapped on a boat when you’ve got your story and you’re clutching your goody bag ready to go and can’t get off – that’s the stuff of nightmares for most journos.
Who are you going to get to represent your company? Be honest – if the MD is charismatic, engaging and a whizz on the microphone, then by all means, wheel him out. If, however, as I have seen many times, he is a bit on the boring side and lacks a bit of pizzazz, then leave him to sip his champagne and pull in somebody else. Often politics can get in the way of a good speech (nobody wants to upset the boss) but if he/she wants to put the best foot forward for the business, then go for the right person. I have seen some fantastic speakers that have come from HR, marketing and sales that have been given the chance to strut their stuff on the stage and trust me, it works in favour of the company in the end.
It sounds really obvious but make sure you choose the right music for the evening that expresses the mood you are aiming to achieve. The power of choosing the right background music can never be underestimated. Get it wrong and guests will run for cover, but get it right and it can help create ambiance and add to the memory of a successful event. It pays to test the sound system out first and allocate someone to the job. That way, when the speeches have finished and the last clap dies down, you have the music back on cue to take you onto the next stage of the party with no awkward silences. And check the volume too to get it just right to be comfortable but not too loud that guests can’t hear themselves think.
We hope your next event goes swimmingly and if you have any questions or need assistance – give us a holler and we’ll happily help you out!
I came across a social media networking/industry event in my Facebook feed the other day. The ad promised a great night full of fabulous speakers, insights and opportunities. It looked pretty interesting and I was quite tempted to go. The only problem was that the ad was littered with typos. TYPOS! We were going to be treated to Canapays (canapés) at a glamros (glamorous) venue with lots of netwoking. Yikes! I messaged the organisers and politely pointed out they might want to give their copy a bit of a proof. They said thanks and fixed up the typos I had pointed out to them but when I looked later, I saw they had left the rest. Needless to say, I couldn’t bring myself to part with the cash to go along. It seemed a bit of an insult to ask me to pay money for an event at which I was supposed to learn something but the organisers couldn’t even spell.
It took me back to my first experience of committing the dreaded typo mistake myself. It was my first job in publicity, at the BBC in London. I was thrilled to have landed it and was so determined to do well and impress the boss.
Problem was, she was incredibly scary. She was really old (at least 40!) and was quite brusque. She would handwrite her letters to media and celebrities and then hand them to me to type them up (yes on my trusty typewriter!)
One of the first letters she asked me to type was to a well-known comedian. He is much-loved, incredibly funny and is an international celebrity. I read the boss’s letter. It didn’t make sense.
She was writing to the comedian, who had just written a book, to request he undertake a media interview with a national women’s magazine.
“In the interview,” she wrote, “…you can talk about the book, the movie and the serpent.”
Hmmm, I thought, that doesn’t make much sense. I know he’s funny, but why would he have a serpent, or even want to talk about it?
I gulped nervously and looked towards my boss’s office door. I made the dreaded steps forward and knocked.
“Yes” she barked.
“Ummmm.” I fluttered her letter in front of her, hand shaking and pointed at the word in question.
“Does this say ‘serpent’?” I quavered.
“Yes yes, now get on with it before we miss the post.”
I scuttled away and dutifully typed up the letter and off it went.
A few weeks later (yes this was long before the days of email), a response came back in the mail.
“Deborah!” My boss shouted from her office.
Oh shit. That didn’t sound good.
“What is this?!” She marched towards my desk and waved the celeb’s letter in her hand.
I took it from her and read it slowly. The words wobbled in front of my wide, unblinking eyes.
“Thank you for your invitation to the interview with (said magazine) and yes of course I will be delighted to talk about the book, the movie and the serpent! Ha ha.” The letter was adorned with sketches of the comedian riding atop his serpent, rolling around on the floor, flying high in the sky and other serpent adventures.
“I did ask you if you meant serpent and you said yes,” I stammered, red in the face.
Turns out, she had actually written ‘series’, as in ‘TV series’. Doh. I had at least read the contents of her letter rather than blindly typing it up which is often the case when you copy type. However, being young and scared, I had left it at that – after all she was the boss so she must have been right.
Luckily, as scary as she was, my boss saw the funny side and later on the ‘phone to the celeb, I could hear them having a good laugh about it – at my expense. Gutted.
I have since seen many terrible typos come and go but that was my first. I have never forgotten it. It was a great lesson and I will gladly share it at my next netwoking event. (Only joking!)
The upshot is that it’s OK to make mistakes because that’s how you learn. In fact, as the saying goes, “He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery.” So here’s to typos – they trip us up, keep us humble and hopefully teach us the importance of proof-reading and attention to detail, which in public relations, is a very useful skill to have.
I went to an industry conference the other day. One of the few I have been to over the years. A couple of girlfriends came and met me afterwards for a drink and remarked how young everybody looked. I looked around the room. Young girls were getting dressed up for the special awards ceremony that was taking place that night. I thought they looked lovely. Glamorous, full of hope and expectation. The future so exciting, dazzling ahead of them, beckoning them on.
I mentioned it the next day to a couple of friends at the gym. “I bet they were all botoxed up and full of fillers,” one friend remarked.
To be fair to my friend, she doesn’t work in the PR industry and so wouldn’t know what the majority of upcoming young PR girls looked like, generally and I thought it was interesting she would automatically assume that they would be full of fillers and falsies.
I reflected on her observation and then felt compelled to correct her assumption.
“You know what, they looked great. I remember being one of them. Getting dressed up after work for an industry or team night out. Our industry is full of hard workers, mostly. Bright young things full of great ideas and dedication.”
When you start out in PR, you might think it’s glamorous but those moments are often quite fleeting and even when you get there, you find you are often taking on the role of a swan – looking serene and gracious on the outside while pedalling furiously underneath, just to keep it all going.
It takes me back to the time when I was running a large team, working for a big consultancy. I had a couple of young consultants, really eager to work on a new beauty client and so I gave them the chance.
The launch was exciting – champagne breakfast and tour at new state-of-the-art laboratory that was heralding the start of the injectables industry – ground-breaking stuff.
We had a whole bunch of top-notch beauty journalists coming along and we had arranged limousines to pick them up and drive them out to the lab. This task I had assigned to one of the young consultants who had taken charge of it with confidence – looking forward I think to riding alongside in the limo and splashing back some champagne – not bad for a Thursday morning.
We had debated amongst the team whether to show the video of the injections taking place. One of the girls thought it was a bit too gory and might put some of the journos off.
“Nonsense,” I said. “We need to show the whole thing – educate them etc. that’s what it’s all about.”
Fast-forward to the morning of the launch and young Katie* is looking somewhat flustered. She was hovering around the door of my office.
“There’s a bit of a problem with the pick-ups,” she said.
I looked up from my work, the sinking feeling growing in my stomach.
We had carefully organised the pick-up time and place for each journalist so that they would arrive on time. It was quite a logistical operation with limousines running across various parts of Sydney and it was a hot day so we didn’t want to leave anyone waiting – plus we had made sure we weren’t taking up too much of the journalists’ time.
Turns out that Katie had mixed up the addresses on the list and sent limousines to the wrong person at the wrong place and time. Nightmare.
I rallied the team and went into ‘fix it quick’ mode. A few phone-calls later and limousines were re-directed, phone-calls were made and we were all on our way.
I couldn’t help feeling cranky though. I had delegated the job, checked in at each point and then had to rescue it at the end. I put on a smiling face when we arrived at the launch.
Champagne and breakfast canapés served and it was time for the video. As it rolled on, I could see one of the journalists, a young girl from a major daily newspaper, start to lean into Katie.
“Oh that’s good,” I thought, “She’s making friends.” I started to forgive her for the morning’s errors and stress.
The next minute, the journo had slid down Katie’s leg completely and landed in a slump on the floor. She had passed out. Great.
“I told you we shouldn’t have shown the video,” whispered my senior girl.
One of the journos sidled over to me. She was the editor of a leading woman’s magazine and had been in the industry forever.
“Don’t worry,” she said with a wry grin, knocking back her champagne, “they all do that when they’re starting out.”
Turned out that the poor journalist had been waiting for her pick-up for a very long time in the hot sun and the champagne and gory video was enough to tip her over the edge.
The rest of the morning went swimmingly however. We handed out press packs and waved the journo’s on their way, happily ensconced and on-time in their limousines. Mischief managed.
We bundled all the signage, boxes, bags and usual collateral in the back of Fiona’s tiny two-door car. I was stuffed in the back next to Katie who had perked up, but not too much, knowing she was in the bad books.
When we got back to the office, we cracked open one of the left over bottles of champagne and made a toast to making it through the day.
Katie paused, “I thought PR was going to be glamorous but today I realised it’s bloody hard work and you’ve got to think about every little detail,” she said.
Boom. Every. Little. Detail.
Welcome to the wonderful world of public relations where no detail is too small and every event, every media release, piece of content and connection, matters.
Luckily, in spite of the swan-like struggle of our launch day, the outcome was extremely positive for the client with rave media reviews and customer referrals. And that’s what matters most at the end of the day – it’s what has kept me in this crazy business for so long – the joy of achieving great results and happy clients. Oh yes, and seeing young, hard working people learn by their mistakes and helping them along the way.
*Names changed to protect the innocent
I think one of the most rewarding and perhaps unique things about working in public relations is that we are manufacturers of ideas. We start with a problem to be solved, a challenge to be met and we make a plan around it. We manufacture an event, a story, we put people together, we organise stuff and we make it happen. Out of absolutely nothing, we create something and these ‘somethings’ can make a real difference in the world. Sometimes they are the start of something that lasts a long time, it evolves, it grows and it stays real.
It kind of goes back to the old PR textbook that says PR is about changing people’s perceptions. An old boss of mine used to say PR was “doing good and telling people about it.” I liked that description – succinct and positive. But so often what we do is also making something good that was bad and that can be challenging.
That’s where ethics comes into play. When you work in a consultancy, it can be hard to say no. The first time I did say no was when I was asked to launch a 6 star retreat on a Caribbean Island.
I was working in London for a travel PR Company at the time. It was Thursday afternoon in the middle of a freezing winter. I was looking forward to the weekend snuggling up in front of the fire with a movie.
My boss put down the telephone. “Go home and pack your bags – we’re off to the Caribbean for the weekend.”
My initial thoughts were about my lovely relaxing weekend at home, now disappearing into a puff of smoke. Replaced by work.
I guess you can get a bit blasé when you travel a lot for work. It was however a great opportunity – we had been chasing this piece of business for a while and to be invited to come for a meet and greet was a great opportunity to finally score the gig.
The next night we boarded the flight for the island. My boss, happy to be escaping the freezing winter and excited about the prospect of winning the business, was in an exuberant mood.
The client met us at the airport and seemed very relaxed. We hopped into the car and sped off to the hotel. A quick scrub up and we were off for dinner at a nearby restaurant to meet the Minister for Tourism.
The restaurant was stunning. The evening was so warm and balmy. It felt amazing to have left the harsh English winter and be standing in cool cotton clothes on a beautiful pier that stretched out across azure sparkling water – on a Friday night.
I remember breathing a deep sigh of wonder at my amazing life. How lucky I felt to have landed such a great job and to be travelling the world at short notice.
The Minister joined us and told us about the problems on the island, how it had been devastated by a hurricane and how poverty was becoming an ever-increasing problem. The island needed the employment and income opportunities that this new hotel complex was going to bring.
The hotel was being built by a group of Chinese investors and was to be a grand palace of beauty and indulgence with the aim of attracting Asian tourists to the island.
The concept was bold and I saw the benefits it would bring to the community. It could really offer something of value.
I trotted back to my hotel room clutching the developer’s proposal and the environmental report. I stayed up well into the night reading the report cover to cover.
Turned out that the development had been slammed by the opposition and also by the department of environment for the disregard shown for the local flora and fauna.
I questioned the client about the report and some of the issues it had raised, over breakfast the next morning.
“The site appears to be a natural habitat for native wildlife including the species of deer (actually the national emblem, featured on the island’s flag and coinage). What is the plan around re-locating the deer?”
The client mumbled a response but it was ill thought-out and unconvincing.
Doubts crept into my mind.
“What about the snakes that are also quite rare and unique to the island?” I questioned.
“Oh they’ll be alright, they can swim,” was the response.
Back in my hotel room, I re-read the report. The issues I had marked with a highlighter jumped out at me from the page. Doubt crept in like a cold hand. I looked out of the window. Waving palm trees, a sparkling blue infinity pool framed by the beautiful white sandy beach beyond. Such a stunning place, so beautiful, so untouched.
I visualised how the island would look when the bull dozers came in, raking up the earth, scattering the wildlife, tipping the balance and then, down the track, hordes of Asian tourists. It wasn’t anything I could be a part of.
I was quiet on the plane home. It had been a huge weekend. It had been an adventure and my boss was chuffed because we’d scored the business.
I told him on Monday morning that I couldn’t work on the account. I couldn’t have it on my conscience. He, being the lovely chap he was, graciously understood and flicked it onto someone else in the agency.
Six months later, an environmentalist on the island shot and maimed the Minister for Tourism then shot and killed himself. He was a nomad; he had lived on the land, minding his own business for years. The developers had tried to move him on and he wasn’t for shifting. The hotel was dividing the government and the people into two camps. It was so controversial. It made the press in the UK and our agency went into issues management mode. We managed it of course and moved on.
The development never did get off the ground however. Too many issues, some of which were financial back in China.
I didn’t look back. I didn’t regret being true to myself, to my values and it was a real learning experience for me on trusting my gut instinct in business which wasn’t easy then, being young and wanting to impress.
These days, I have no qualms about turning down work that doesn’t sit well or feel right. Luckily enough, I run my own show, so I get to choose but I would say to anyone starting out or just too scared to say, don’t be afraid to speak your truth and trust your intuition because it will guide you and if you are with the right team of people, you will be supported in your choice.
Back in the early ‘90’s, I was the first person in the publishing house I worked for (major international publisher, not naming any names!) to get my own computer. It was an Apple Mac. It was delivered through the doors of the publicity department to my desk in a big (read ‘BIG’) box. It had a lot of additional stuff with it that you don’t see today. It was huge. But so exciting. Everyone stood around and said ‘ooh’ and ‘aahh’ as this new age beauty was unveiled and carefully arranged on a special desk next to mine.
It was remarkably easy to use. My colleague Samantha and I would stay late playing games, learning how to use the mouse and having fun with this fascinating tool.
It revolutionised the way I worked and being young, I taught myself pretty much everything I needed to know to do my job. While the art department across the hallway was still cutting and pasting book cover designs using scissors and glue, I was whizzing my way though mail merge for book launches and events and bashing my way through press releases. Auto delete had an instant ‘wow factor’. Until then, I had been staying late meticulously typing up sheets of journos’ names for book review distributions. I would type the same name over and over again onto a page of sticky labels and then start again on another page with another name. You can imagine how long it took to get through a media database of 100 literary reviewers – a lot of late nights. If you made a mistake, you had to go back and use tippex or if you had a fancy typewriter, you had a ribbon that popped up and removed the mistake. Very laborious, especially after a late night typing up sheets of mailing lists.
Fast forward, ahem, a few years and here I am running my own PR company. I’ve been doing it a long time. I’m pretty good at PR actually, it’s a bit of a love of mine. However, as you get older, moving with the times gets harder and you move a bit slower.
The tide started to change around 12 years ago. My sister called me from the UK for a chat. She ran an online fashion company and was doing very well in her niche.
“You need to get into social media, you know Facebook and stuff. It’s where it’s at, “ she said.
I made all the right noises at her suggestion but inside I felt uncomfortable. I was quite happy with the way things were and so were my clients. Our success was measured in column inches and volume and we churned out press clippings and monthly evaluation reports to suit.
The first time I was tagged in a photo on Facebook I was appalled. I hated the photograph. I looked fat and plain and I was horrified that anybody could see it and I’d had no choice in it being there. I couldn’t take it off and so I hit the ‘help’ page and filled out a form which was then sent to my friend to request that the image be removed and I be untagged. It felt very formal and odd but that was my only choice it seemed.
My friend called me in the morning.
“Did I upset you? I got this weird message from Facebook about the birthday photo asking me to take it down.”
“Well yes,” I said. “I’m sorry about that but I tried to remove it myself and I couldn’t and I don’t look very nice in the photograph. I would hate anybody to see it I haven’t seen for years (read ‘ex boyfriends’).
My friend understood and took the photograph down. I spent a lot of time in those days trying to understand Facebook. I literally snorkelled over the top of it, looking at people’s posts and wondering, aghast at their brazen self promotion.
It seemed so unnatural – fully fuelled by ego and showcasing grandiose statements about their lives - a bit of a shocker.
One of my clients caught on around the same time.
“We need to get into this social media stuff,” he said. We all agreed it was a good idea and he sent us all a book on it so we could read up.
I used to read it at nighttime and it mostly put me to sleep. The concept was interesting but it didn’t translate to my world of press clippings. It didn’t fit into any category I could understand, certainly nothing I could imagine working with.
So I left it for a few years. In the meantime, the digital marketing agency was born. At meetings, ‘social media boy’ was rolled out.
“Josh and Julie are social media experts,” clients would say with a sigh of relief.
Josh and Julie would run their PowerPoint presentation and everybody would nod at the right times, a bit like sitting in a French class at school. You could kind of grasp the jist of the conversation but you’d better not be asked to remember any of it – or worse still, get tested.
The Josh’s and Julie’s did very well for a while, blinding everybody with jargon and charging a fortune for it. Clients dug deep and found extra dollars because it was ‘important’ and ‘necessary’ and ‘everybody else was doing it’.
Then slowly, something else crept in. Content. Now you’re talking. They were calling it ‘content’ but it’s just ‘story telling’ - what PR’s have always done. Suddenly this social media thing started to sink in. And the phone started to ring.
“Can you write a blog? Can you re-write my website copy? Can you put together a social media calendar that resonates with my target audience?”
“Yes, no problem – of course we can do that!”
“Can you fix my SEO?”
“Oooh well. We can do key words but get you up to number one. No sorry, we don’t do that. But I can write you a blog or two, I can re-write your website copy to make it sing, we can tidy up your social media content so it aligns with your brand personality. We can write you some great media releases and get you on TV. But SEO, no we can’t do that, sorry.”
“OK – just do all of that and don’t worry about the tricky SEO stuff – I can get someone else to do that.”
“OK, no problem.”
Fast forward 6 weeks, several TV appearances, a scattering of press and radio interviews and many blog articles later and voila – my client hits number one in her ranking on Google.
She called me up laughing. “You know – when I took you on, you said you didn’t do SEO but you actually did do it – and you saved me thousands of dollars.”
The world of PR is changing. Has changed. How fascinating. How thoroughly interesting to be learning on the job and seeing it all unfold at my finger tips, using my existing long established skills in PR, doing what I love and seeing the results play out in a different way, not just press clippings, but rankings, engagement, conversation, excitement and still, always, making a positive difference. I feel very lucky to be part of this industrial revolution and ever curious to see how this changing landscape will continue to affect the way we operate and communicate now and into the future.
Ready for PR? Make sure you do your homework before you sign.
So you’ve got some loose change in the marketing budget and everybody agrees it’s time to do some PR. Before you start the process of choosing an agency that’s right for you, it’s worth taking the time to make sure you’re ready.
Here’s a checklist to help get you started:
Do you have a good selection of images of the product, person or service you want to promote? Media require hi res deep-etched images of 300 dpi, at least 1mg. If you don’t have a good image selection, then budget for a photographer before you start. Your PR agency can brief the photographer and advise on the shots required.
Who is going to represent your company or product to the media? It can be one person or more and who says what can depend on the subject. Lifestyle media for example would prefer to speak to a designer or buyer, whereas business journalists will want to speak to the MD.
3. Media Training
Once you’ve allocated your corporate/product spokespeople then take the time to consider carefully how they will front up in an interview. Interviews take many forms, either on the ‘phone or face–to-face, or in front of a camera.
Without media training, and correct preparation, you leave your company wide open to the probing eyes. What you say, or your employees say can affect your reputation either way. Even when you have nothing to hide and a fantastic story to tell, you want to make sure you tell it in the best way possible way to maximise your returns. Many clients who have experienced media training at the hands of a professional will carry the experience through their careers. The investment is worth it. Confidence is priceless.
4. Website and Online Presence
Often I am approached by companies to manage their PR, or provide recommendations to them. The first place I go for information is their website. Journalists do this too. So many times I have seen websites that do not represent the company well. Before you launch your PR campaign, make sure your website reflects who you are, gives relevant up-to-date information about your products or services and also provides an image bank for media to see your products showcased in their best light.
5. Customer Service
It may sound basic to say this, but often companies want to start PR without being prepared on the front desk. Well-placed editorial about your product or services can prompt a spike in telephone calls and Internet enquires. Make sure your customer service team is in place to accept calls and that all lines of communication are open to maximise the PR opportunity.
6. Reporting and Approvals
Once the PR agency is on board, they need to have a day-to-day contact to liaise with. Decisions will need to be made on the company’s behalf and sign-off will be required on media materials, printed items and other activities. It’s worth remembering the old adage ‘too many cooks...’ It’s quicker, more effective and efficient to appoint one person to manage the agency day-to-day.
7. Interviews and Deadlines
The media work to deadlines. If your PR agency phones with an interview opportunity, it’s likely they have worked hard to get it. That’s what you’re paying them for. Most print journalists will schedule in an interview time that works for both of you. TV and Radio journalists are less able to be so flexible. Whatever type of media, deadlines rule. If you appoint an agency, try and be flexible when it comes to interviews, as the media won’t wait.