At just 26, Michael White has established himself as one of the leading PR bloggers in the UK. Recently featured in our ranking of top UK PR bloggers, Michael has lots of influence and is well respected within the industry. In this Spotlight Michael speaks to us about the importance of having a more personal tone to his blog, why he’s only interested in the stories behind the headlines, what online trends will change the communications landscape, and how PRs can improve their blogger outreach.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what made you start writing your blog? I’m a currently a digital account director at Lansons, focusing on online reputation management and really overseeing all of the digital operations at Lansons. I’m very lucky with what I do today – overseeing digital for a consultancy is absolutely amazing. I set up my first blog in 2005. I used to blog about atheism and humanism. I was fifteen at the time and it was a subject I had an interest at school. It helped me to improve my writing skill, it informed some of the views I have today, but it taught me that blogging is being a part of an online community. Then in 2008 everything changed, I started my PR degree at the university of Gloucestershire and I met a tutor who I’ve actually stayed in touch with, called Richard Bailey who is also the editor of a PR student magazine called Behind the Spin for PR students. He was the one who suggested blogging about PR. When I first started the PR blog I was still a student, and at the time I was interested in gaining the attraction of employers. I used to put my blog on my CV and it was a great way to get job interview. Then came an awkward transitional time when I realised I was no longer a student. The content was moving more towards corporate communications which is what I do today, and my blog now reflects what I do in my everyday working life at Lanson. I work in essentially compliance-based industries, financial services and so my blog tends to reflect that.
Why should people read your blog? What makes it different? I would say it is a little different from other blogs because I suppose you’ve got either a very strong tech focused or a large focus on PR culture and the future of the industry, whereas I’m trying to try to keep my blog a little bit more personal in terms of my experiences in my professional life. I’m talking about subjects that I’m close to during work so that might be running social media, balancing risk and innovation, and I’d say that is where my blog is at the moment. Sometimes there might be a big PR news story, but obviously so many publications providing news updates on what is happening in the industry are going to cover it. I’m not too interested in the news aspect, its more what’s the story behind the scenes, like how is it going to affect an organisation? I think the personal element in blogging is really important. I’m very into the travel blogging community, I’m quite interested in the health blogging community, and the posts that always do tend to do well for any blog tend to be more personal. My latest blog post was one example that really made me think before I hit publish, I felt a little bit uncomfortable sharing it because it explored how to deal with social media in your personal life whilst trying to balance up a professional career path. It’s something I wrote on the train back home one evening. I remember thinking, oh god people aren’t going to read it, or they’ll think that I don’t enjoy social media and that’s not true. I do like social media but the constant pressure to update makes it hard work. And when you’re leading at a senior level you have a responsibility to your clients, not to switch off but to stay connected all the time.
How do you measure the success of your blog? In 2014, I hit 50,000 unique visits which is amazing. But it doesn’t really matter if 50,000 people read the blog as long as it helps one person – that’s what matters. Blogging has opened up other opportunities, especially when I was a student, so my advice generally to PR and marketing communications students is start a blog.
What has been your blogging highlight? Being in your list! It means I can talk about being a top ten blogger and that’s fun. For blogging highlights; I think back to the very early days, it was getting work experience, it was getting job interviews, that was really important. My blogging highlight today would be the opportunities that it still opens for to me. I love receiving an anonymous parcel when its someone sent me a book to review. Those are the outreach efforts that really get my attention.
What do you think will be big in the blogsphere in the coming months? I think a lot of PRs have been slow to understand the close ties between media relations and SEO consultancy, which are absolutely critical. These days clients don’t just want print coverage, they also want to see SEO gains on their website. I also think there will be more digital activities in terms of PR companies being able to track a customer’s entire online journey. At Lansons we have done that for a number our clients. For instance we did this for one client and they managed to track their customers right to the point of purchase, which is amazing. There aren’t many organisations where you can track to that extent, but with Lansons you can. I think we’ll see more agencies understand the importance of this and make use of it. I also think they’ll be more PR agencies partnering with SEO agencies.
Another trend will be digital advertising. Digital isn’t just a big umbrella term, it has its individual specialisms and to build up an online specialism alongside say a search engine optimisation specialism is tough, so I’d say that’s another growth area. And I’d say we’ll see a lot more automation. In the past PR has been all about media relations, I think over the next 5 to 10 years that will change, and I think part of that change will be driven by automation in journalism.
List best practices PRs need to follow for better blogger outreach? At Lansons we have a blogger engagement programme, which is really good because you can’t work solo anymore. You have to treat bloggers as you would treat journalists. My main piece of advice for people in PR is that the best way to understand bloggers is to actually try blogging. I went to a PRmoment event two years ago and the speaker asked everyone in the room to raise their hand if they had a blog, maybe 200 people were in the room, and only a dozen hands went up. I assume that’s quite telling of the industry where everyone talks about the importance of social media but not everyone practices it in their personal life. I think that having that hands on experience of running a blog and knowing the struggles of it has really helped me. Social media is so important now. There are resources like the PR stack project run by Stephen Waddington and the #futureproof project, which is being run by Sarah Hall, and they are both great examples of PR professionals putting their competitive differences to one side and coming together with all their knowledge and experience to actually work for the better of the industry. Both projects teach you how to increase engagement and act as a part of a community online.
What motivates you? I’m a big lover of life, I have lots of interests my main passion is writing, blogging is how I express that. My blog is not my main source of revenue it’s a hobby that I enjoy doing, so the challenge is to keep the content coming and making sure that there’s a strong element of quality and analysis with everything that I post.