‘Technology is ubiquitous so has evolved to become a byword for disruption. Every business is underpinned by technology, so tech PR now covers everything.’ Working in a sector of public relations that now encompasses almost every industry, Missive’s multilingual and multi-skilled Gemma Dunn brings experience from her time in journalism as well as a passion for communication. Having spent ten years in PR, Gemma has seen measurement move from press clippings to email alerts and the evolution of the industry’s approach to campaigning, collaboration and supporting staff under pressure.
As one of the forces behind PRWeek’s UK Best Place to Work (Small Agency) for 2019, Gemma shares the importance of integration in the work and the working environment to produce disruptive – and effective – results.
Tell us a bit about how you got into PR originally, and what keeps you passionate about the work?
I studied languages at university, which I chose because I loved communication and travel. This led me to move to Chile where I had a brief stint in journalism. I loved the storytelling required as a journalist, but the job was too solitary for me – I spent most of each day completing research or writing on my own. I wanted the chance to be part of a team and spend my days being interactive, which led me to look at PR. Fast forward ten years and the teamwork aspect of my job is a big factor in why I’ve stayed passionate in my career. Between my team and clients, I meet and learn from a huge range of people from different cultures and with very different experiences. It makes the job hugely varied.
Missive works with clients in the technology sector – what have been some of the big changes you’ve noticed in tech PR during your time in the sector?
I’ve seen two fundamental changes in tech PR in recent years. Just like in other sectors, clients expect tech PR campaigns to be fully integrated. PR used to be siloed from the rest of the comms mix but in an ever-integrated content world that doesn’t make sense anymore. Getting ahead of what clients (and their customers) need means we have to be channel agnostic and use audience insight to determine what is the best way to reach customers – whatever that might be.
Another big change is that tech is ubiquitous so has evolved to become a byword for disruption. Every business is underpinned by technology so tech PR now covers everything from the banking and insurance industries to veterinary services, property and commodities trading.
Is there anything you really miss about how the PR industry worked when you started?
I used to love that moment of popping into a newsagent to get the paper and find my client’s coverage. The thrill of seeing a story do well is still there but it isn’t as much of a moment when the email alert arrives. Of course, the flip side is that nobody has to scan press clippings anymore!
Missive won the PRCA best place to work award last year – what are the best things about working at Missive and how do you keep employees happy and fulfilled in their work?
It meant a lot to us to win the PRCA Best Place to Work and receive recognition of the distinct culture we have – and the hard work of the founders to create something special. They wanted Missive to be a brilliant agency where people had the opportunity to take ownership of their career and have a say in how the agency is run. It sounds obvious but we treat people like adults and expect people to manage their own time – this means if you decide to work from home last minute, or leave early to play tennis, it’s fine as long as you get the job done.
We also have a healthy rewards programme that includes benefits ranging from an all-company annual holiday abroad to a weekly personal trainer as well as an annual wellbeing and tech allowance. Underpinning all of this is a commitment to innovative, ethical and open behaviour that the team is a part of creating and sustaining.
What do you think it is about the creative industries that can result in mental health issues, and how can companies work to prevent it/support their workforce?
The challenge of being in a creative industry is that your work is always under scrutiny and has to be delivered to a deadline (and in budget). This can create a real pressure cooker, which becomes even more of a problem when you’re trying to navigate the overwhelming amount of information we have to get through. It’s why there are such sustained mental health issues in the industry.
Tackling the problem has to start with being open about when people are experiencing difficulty and working together to tackle the pressure someone might feel under. We check in with our team at Missive to encourage people to find a work/life balance that works for them including a daily routine that is focused to their overall wellbeing.
Do Missive work with influencers/bloggers? What are the pros and cons of working with ‘new’ media versus print?
With every brief we get from a client, we start with research into the target audience to gain insights into who (and what channel) will have greatest impact; this could be an influencer, blogger, broadcaster, politician or journalist. For some of our audiences, influencers will be the most credible way to have impact. For others, it could be through the FT newsdesk.
The benefit of working with this new media of influencers is that you more often have the chance to partner and collaborate on the content you create. Whatever the channel or the individual, the most important thing is to be authentic to the audience.
Missive have been shortlisted for more awards recently for client work – how important are awards for PR agencies?
I think awards are a great way of showcasing results delivered to clients and giving the industry an idea of how you create success. What they don’t always show is overall value to clients in terms of strategy, commercial objectives or brand awareness. When clients are choosing agencies, I think it’s important they look at both awards and style of working to understand whether the agency is a ‘fit’. For example, do they have a strong track record in strategic consultancy that may not be highlighted through award wins?
What is the process for creating content/encouraging ideas for campaigns at Missive?
We have a really collaborative work environment with regular team-wide brainstorms for clients and those we are pitching to. We try to look outside of our immediate industry to get inspiration from other areas, and we’re not afraid to steal ideas where we see something that worked well in a different sector!
How have you noticed the relationship between PR and journalism changing during your career and what do you think is next for both?
PRs now outnumber journalists (64,000 journos to 95,000 PR) which has changed the relationship fundamentally. Journalists are more time-poor than they’ve ever been so on the one hand they need help from PRs to find stories, experts and case studies but on the other hand they are inundated with content they don’t often need, ruining relationships between the two sides.
Understanding the right journalists and industry analysts to take a story to isn’t hard if you have the right tools and a bit of common sense, and I think PRs who invest time in this are always those who have better relationships with the media (and probably with their clients as a result).
Learn more about the Missive team and their work on the website here.