Sian Gaskell CubanEight

PR Interview: Sian Gaskell, managing director at CubanEight

CubanEight was founded back in 2009 when the big technology trends included an abundance of apps, book lovers switching over to e-readers and the rise of smartphones. As we increasingly rely on all things digital in 2020, CubanEight was recently recognised by Forrester as one of the top channel-focused firms in the world.

Managing director Sian Gaskell shares how lockdown sparked innovation, the importance of nurturing new talent and the resilience of the tech PR and comms sector.

What are you most proud of when it comes to CubanEight’s approach and aims?
I’m extremely proud of what we have achieved at CubanEight over the years. We are an agency that is committed to doing outstanding PR that makes a difference for our clients. We aren’t here to be the ‘yes’ people or for box ticking, but rather to strategically help businesses engage with their audiences and build their brands. Our approach has always been to develop and implement campaigns that really deliver on business objectives – whether that’s reaching new markets, attracting funding or selling more. I’m also immensely proud of the team at CubanEight; we have an incredibly talented, knowledgeable and expert team that are all on board with the agency’s vision.

Tell us a bit about your career so far and what led you to PR…
I’ve always been interested in technology and how it shapes how we live, work and play. My first taste of PR was as PR manager for Channel 4 Schools, then I really started to get immersed in the world of technology at various agencies and was a founding director at Hotwire for the first five years of its existence.

Having worked through the first dotcom boom and across the tech sectors since then, I have been involved in building globally recognised brands including TomTom, Zendeck, Outbrain and launching BlackBerry across Europe. I started CubanEight in 2009 and took my big agency experience and combined it with an agile and proactive approach of a boutique agency. Combining my knowledge for campaigns with my passion for tech, I knew from the start what clients were looking for with agencies.

You’ve worked in B2B, corporate and on global campaigns – what are the biggest challenges in each of these sectors?
In the world of B2B it’s about helping clients understand how valuable PR is when it comes to the buyer journey. The average B2B buyer reads 3-5 pieces of content before even contacting a vendor, so the results of a PR campaign can help to fill those gaps of knowledge. It is also about generating content that is going to resonate with the audiences you want to engage with and taking a customer-first approach. Start with understanding your customers’ pain points and then generating a campaign that speaks to those challenges. Also, be human: is good to remember that B2B buyers are still consumers.

When working with corporates one of the challenges can be their ability to be responsive and nimble. As a PR partner it is about establishing best way of working so that we can help the in-house comms teams deliver what they need – whether that is getting reactive comments signed off ASAP, or spending time with a CEO or spokesperson to understand what they want to say, so that we can be as self-sufficient when pitching or drafting up thought leadership.

Global campaigns require a lot of co-ordination and clearly communication is key. When you are working with multiple markets but want to ensure a synchronised approach, it’s critical that comms don’t get lost in translation. We always work closely with agency partners to find out what will and won’t work in their markets to ensure consistent results and impact. Also time zones can be interesting to manage when it comes to global news releases, so it’s about working collaboratively and finding solutions (which sometimes include slightly random embargo times).

How did lockdown change the way you work and how CubanEight serves its clients?
As an independent agency focused on technology, agility has always been an integral way of how we work. I’m not saying that it was business as usual, but we were able to quickly move to a remote working model as we were already set up to do that anyway. When the lockdown came, knowing that our team and technology enabled us to seamlessly keep delivering great work for clients with minimal disruption, was a positive in a trying time.

Responding to the changing needs of our clients’ business, we launched a new project offering – CubanEight Project +. This allows clients to outsource immediate needs to an expert, agile and responsive team that understands the pressures they are facing and can proactively deliver a solution. From copywriting to launch announcements, social media and strategic media relations, we have helped clients get the results they need in the short-term.

Do you think the PR industry can ever return to the way things were before the COVID-19 crisis?
Yes and no. I do think the way agencies operate will change for good. We were moving towards a virtual model before COVID-19, but the viability has been proved this year. We are all able to work remotely, and this is a good thing in terms of work life balance, and for client delivery and working as a team. We are recognising that we don’t need to be in the office every day 9- 5pm; this brings tremendous opportunity for building out the team – you don’t need to tick the box of location and can find the right people for the job regardless of where they are based. But also, we need to be mindful of working from home stresses and how we still foster team spirit and togetherness when we are apart. It’s a bit cliched for a communications agency to be saying so, but communication really is key.

At the core, good PR remains the same though – being that bridge between businesses and their audiences. The expert knowledge, understanding and methodology that existed before COVID will continue to be key and in fact communications has risen in importance during this time.

Which particular sectors do you see making the quickest recovery post-pandemic?
We have been fortunate that the technology sector has proved to be resilient – and has grown linked to the fact that it has been technology that has powered the working from home revolution that we are all a part of. E-commerce, customer experience tech and digital marketing are strong sectors – as more of us shop online and brands and retailers want to deliver ways to engage with us as customers. Those businesses that can get close to their customers and really understand their changing needs, are set to survive and thrive.

With so many journalists being furloughed, has contact with the media been harder over the last few months?
Like many businesses, journalists and publications had times where there are doing more with less. Many media outlets are grappling with team challenges – editorial teams have been scaled down, and many journalists are working in different locations and with different working patterns than usual. Journalists you could always count on may not have been as readily available or, if they are, their priorities may have changed.

Good news is still cutting it as a sign of positivity. We have worked on several UK market launches for clients from Denmark, Germany and the US, as well as pushing out news of tech innovations that are fit for purpose right now.

What we are finding is working well is content that is providing real value and insight. Many media outlets still want expert voices and comment from business leaders that share advice and best practice. And the same goes for data – one of our clients has been sharing their e-commerce data and trends weekly during these past months and has really helped to build their brand familiarity.

Different titles have folded, but at the same time others are being reinvented to meet the needs of this changed world that we are now living in. And others are holding on in there but changing how they accept content – some in badly hit sectors like retail have started to charge for inclusion.

The PR industry has a diversity problem – what can agencies do to create diverse teams and promote people from a variety of backgrounds into higher roles?
There has been an increased level of awareness of the issues of diversity in the industry recently but more work needs to be done across the board to tackle the problem. It’s important that we collectively work to continue to highlight and showcase a diverse range of people at all levels. A diverse range of people mean a greater range of voices, ideas and approaches, rather than an echo chamber.

As an agency you want to create an environment for people to succeed regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. It is also about promoting PR as a career at school age and widening that appeal across the board so that we have a diverse mix of people entering the industry. I do think and hope that a move toward flexible working may help some people at early stages of their careers, as the industry will not be so location specific and focused around traditionally expensive places to live. However, on the flip side of this, I think that supporting, mentoring and nurturing new talent is key, and this is something that we will collectively need to figure out as an industry as we build teams that are dispersed rather than centralised.

What have you enjoyed most about your career and what advice would you give to those considering working in the PR industry?
I am passionate about technology and love helping tell good stories, building narratives about how technology impacts and can empower the way we are living our daily lives or running our businesses. I love the innovation within the tech sector as well as the opportunities I have to work with amazing entrepreneurs and founders of businesses.

In terms of advice, learn your craft; read, listen, watch the media; become immersed in what you are doing but don’t forget the bigger picture and the trends that are impacting consumers and businesses. PR as a career can give you so many opportunities – collaborating with amazing clients, journalists and influencers; creative thinking; positive impact on how businesses are perceived; working across borders, and you also get to meet so many interesting and varied people along the way. Go for it!

Connecting with award winners

3 tips for connecting with 2020’s Online Influence Awards winners

Friday’s Online Influence Awards brought together the best of bloggers, vloggers, instagram campaigns, celeb Cameos and more. Here are three quick bits of advice for getting in touch with the best of the best when it comes to UK Food & Drink, Health & Fitness and Interior Design influencers…

1) Best Food & Drink Blogger – Becky Excell
‘I love collaborating with brands and using their products directly in my recipes – often it’ll help me to come up with new and exciting bakes that I’d never have even considered otherwise.

‘PRs can happily just contact me via the contact form on my website, which will land straight in my inbox.

‘The one caveat I have is that the product has to be gluten-free. I do get emails asking me to collab, then I find out that the product isn’t even gluten-free!
‘I’m passionate about food photography, but I love creating recipe tutorial videos over on my YouTube channel, too. So, either works for me!’

Read more from Becky Excell in our Blogger Spotlight.

2. Best Health & Fitness Blogger – Elle Linton, Keep it simpElle
‘I’ve found longer term collaborations to be much more enjoyable and real. After everything that has gone on in 2020, I’m even more careful about the brands I collaborate with – I’ve always taken a stand for diversity and that won’t change. If I work with a brand, I want to see that they are walking the walk.

‘Email is definitely the best option for getting in touch. And of course, I would expect the PR has done their homework and know enough about me to know if I’m a good fit for the brand. Content wise, I’m open to ideas. I, personally, enjoy creating content on my blog as it has more longevity, but I understand that social media is very popular right now. At the end of the day, I do like to create my own adventures and if a brand wants to come along for the journey, that’s a bonus.’

Read more from Elle Linton in our Blogger Spotlight on Keep it simpElle.

3. Best Interior Design Blogger: Sophie Robinson
‘Be really clear on your campaign objectives and pick a blogger who is in line with those brand ideals. I’ll never forget a PR asking if I’d like to be the face of a new trendy kitchen range they were launching. I said, ‘Sure send me over the images of the kitchen’. Well, it was grey. I thought… don’t you know who I am!’

Read more from Sophie Robinson in this Blogger Spotlight.


Online Influence Awards 2020

Online Influence Awards 2020: The Winners

The winners of the Online Influence Awards 2020 were revealed tonight (Friday 20 November) in a virtual event celebrating talent across influencer marketing, blogging, vlogging, podcasting, Instagramming and communications.

We are delighted to reveal 2020’s winners in full:

Best influencers by sector
Arts & Entertainment – London Theatre Reviews
Beauty – makeupbytammi
Current Affairs – Stuart Thomson
Fashion – styleidealist (highly commended – Permanent Style)
Food & Drink – Becky Excell
Health & Fitness – Keep it simpElle
Interior Design – Sophie Robinson (highly commended – Lisa Dawson)
LGBTQ+ – The Globetrotter Guys
Lifestyle – Little Green Shed
Parenting – manversusbaby
PR & Comms – Ronke Lawal (highly commended – comms2point0)
Travel & Leisure – Brogan Abroad
Disruptor – Ethical Hour (highly commended – Maddie Moate)
Newcomer – Plantastic Mr Fox

Best in UK influence
Best Influence Campaign – Flourish Management – Topshop SNO (highly commended – The Lewis Foundation)
Best Cause-Led Influence Campaign – Zero Waste Scotland – Scotland is Stunning – Let’s Keep It That Way

Best UK Influencer
Ethical Hour

Hall of Fame
Caroline Hirons

Thank you to the thousands of entries in this year’s awards – 3,149 nominations in total! – as well as all the guests who joined us this evening.

And a huge congratulations to all of the winners – thank you for helping us all get through such a difficult year so far, and for making Friday such a special night.

We’re starting work on 2021 already – fingers crossed we’ll see everyone in person then!

UK Black Comms Network event: One Step Forward Two Steps Black

Last night’s UK Black Comms Network One Step Forward Two Steps Black event revealed new research finding that almost half (48%) of Black professionals have never received an internal promotion.

Moderated by the network’s head of PR Addy Frederick, the panel discussing the research and what it means for the communications industry included Opinium Research’s Susan Bello, Black Woman in HR’s Adesse Okojie, Birchwood Knight’s Seri Davies and COLDR’s Kamiqua Pearce, founder and CEO of the UK Black Comms Network.

‘We saw lots of companies speak out against racism this year, relating to the murder of George Floyd,’ said Seri Davies when talking about the work that still needs to be done for PR and comms to be inclusive. ‘Now the lights and cameras are away, what are you doing in your organisation to create an inclusive environment for everyone? A workplace where people feel safe to bring themselves and their opinions to work?’

In the first research of its kind for the PR industry, the report gathered data as well as one-to-one interviews with professionals working across the UK, across a mix of age groups and seniority levels, both agency and in-house level.

Key figures include:
– 73% of communication professionals of Black heritage have received written or verbal praise
– 72% of communication professionals of Black heritage have not received a bonus
– 75% of communication professionals of Black heritage have not received a pay rise
– 79%of communication professionals of Black heritage have not received a promotion

‘I haven’t been promoted in five years despite receiving continuous verbal praise for my contributions,’ answers one survey respondent. ‘I am also every aware of who in the team has been promoted or who has roles created for them. None of them look like me.’

For what senior management, HR and recruitment teams need to do to break down their barriers keeping Black PR and comms professionals from promotion and leadership roles, organisations need to go further than tokenistic ‘Hiring Black’ and make real changes to company culture, believes Kamiqua Pearce.

‘We all talk to each other; the Black community within PR is very small. We know what’s going on. You’ve got to be humble, honest and open. People are much more confident to ask what is in place.’

Seri saw the problems beginning right at the start of the hiring process: ‘Recent PRCA research shows less than 1% in the industry are Black – that in itself is a barrier. There’s likely to only be one Black person on shortlists. Sometimes feedback from interviewers can be ‘this person was too nice’ or ‘they lacked gravitas’ – a feeling that Black people can’t hold senior roles because they don’t look like people within the business, or their stakeholders.’

‘What needs to be transparent are those active measures that are being taken,’ added Adesse Okojie. ‘We need that change now, we need those black faces and voices at the table.’

Founded in July of this year, the UK Black Comms Network is now open for membership, with a mission to increase the number and seniority of PR professionals of African or Caribbean heritage in the UK PR and communications industry and the ambition of providing a space for professionals to make change in the industry. But with all the advice for fellow practitioners from the panel on pushing forward, the onus also remains on the industry and its existing power hierarchies to make change.

‘This has been an interesting year,’ said Kamiqua. ‘More people are aware that racism is a thing that happens. It’s not going to be solved by hiring a chief of diversity. You might have created a culture you think is great, but someone could join and suddenly it’s not a good place for Black people again. It needs to be baked into your overall inclusion plan so the commitment is year-round’.

‘We united in our challenges this year,’ said Addy Frederick of the UK Black Comms Network’s foundation. ‘There is an opportunity here to be united in more positive things, so that more of us are here, and more of us stay in this industry’.

The UK Black Comms Network is now officially open for membership – find out more here on the website.


What are the Online Influence Awards judges looking for this year?

With changes to the nomination and shortlisting processes for this year’s super-safe, socially-distanced and all-virtual Online Influence Awards, the judging process also needed a reshuffle…

As we head towards awards night, this Friday 20 November, 17.00 – 19.00, the judging panel have looked through the shortlist and carefully selected winners across the 17 influencer and campaign categories. While we can’t reveal the winners quite yet, we caught up with a few of our judges to hear more about what they were looking for this year.

Bringing together a mix of experience across social media, PR, comms and journalism, this year’s judges are former winners Jo Middleton (Slummy Single Mummy) and Marcel Klebba (MK), the PRCA’s Koray Camgoz, CIPR’s Cat Morgan as well as Vuelio’s own in-house Influencer Expert, Holly Hodges.

For this celebration of bloggers, vloggers, writers and comms professionals, Vuelio wanted to include more of the influence industry than ever before. As with every industry, the influence and communications sector has faced its own unique challenges and this has, naturally, impacted content and approach.

‘The opinions we share now differ from the pre-pandemic world, but I think this makes the blogosphere richer in the breadth of thought and insight,’ believes Marcel Klebba, who won the best PR, media & communications blog by Vuelio in 2017 and featured in Vuelio’s top 10 PR blogs in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

‘Lockdowns mean we will see new writers and content creators who are exploring their skills. For those who have been doing it for a while, this might mean they now have more time to work on their craft and experiment with the form.’

Multi-award winning parenting and lifestyle blogger Jo Middleton has been particularly impressed by the tenacity of those working through such a difficult time for creativity: ‘2020 has definitely been a tricky year in the blogging sphere – not just in terms of work but generally in managing self-employment alongside the stress and anxiety of such an unprecedented situation.

‘I have masses of admiration for all the bloggers who have maintained a positive and proactive attitude towards work and who have gone the extra mile this year to engage with audiences and continue to create interesting and entertaining content.’

And in such a difficult year, what were the Online Influence Awards judges looking for when it came to the best in each category?

‘Creativity and interesting opinions,’ said Marcel. ‘It’s hard to stand out in the blogosphere. But it’s not impossible to find your niche and thrive in it. With that in mind, I was also excited to see how content creators are adjusting their distribution channels to the current climate and whether the interaction with their audience has changed.’

‘I’m looking for a few different things from nominees this year,’ said Jo. ‘Essentially, I want that magic mix of content that’s informative and engaging, but that also has an authenticity and, perhaps, even a vulnerability to it. For me, a successful blog is one that manages to retain the personal touch – one that enables readers to feel a genuine connection with the writer.’

Authenticity and genuine audience connection is also important to Holly Hodges, who has been involved with judging the awards since their inception.

‘I’ve been working closely with the influencer industry as it’s gone from strength to strength and am amazed at all the creativity that’s continued through 2020,’ said Holly.

‘I wish we could award everyone, to be honest, as the entrants this year have been fantastic. I’m glad we can get together (even virtually) to celebrate all the great things that people have managed to make happen this year.’

Register to attend the virtual Online Influence Awards this Friday 20 November here.

Kate on Conservation

Influencer Insight: Kate on Conservation

The blogger behind Kate on Conservation began as a campaigner and educator determined to highlight issues not yet receiving mainstream media coverage and encourage others to take an interest in protecting wild flora and fauna.

Providing green news and conservation information to her readers, Kate believes no issue is too big or small when it comes to empowering the public with knowledge – read on for what Kate thought of popular lockdown watch Tiger King as well as three small changes you can make to be more mindful of the world around you.

How did you originally get started with writing about conservation and wildlife?
I started my blog as part of my ‘Web Publishing’ unit during my Journalism degree. The topic or ‘angle’ of wildlife conservation came easy to me as it’s my strongest interest and passion. It was also so heavily rooted in the news and politics of the day, making it perfect for the brief. All these years later, I still look for the news angles in my posts – though I tell stories from a more personal perspective, too.

What’s your favourite thing to post about?
I love to write about the inspiring work of others. The conservation world is absolutely full of amazing people and everyday small successes. It can be easy to be overwhelmed by the large scale destruction of the environment, and the huge species loss we’re hearing about regularly, but it’s worth remembering there are millions of people all over the world doing incredible work on the ground every single day. I love to interview conservationists, storytellers and sometimes even celebrities to gain all manner of perspectives.

How have you had to change your approach during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Obviously, it’s not been possible to interview people in person, so I’ve been on the phone a lot more, and sometimes Zoom. I actually prefer phone calls for interviews, as I think people are a lot more at ease when they can be in comfort – wearing their pyjamas or not having to worry about how their hair looks, etc. A lot of what I’ve been doing has been the same, though; I spend a lot of time on emails and social media, and I was working from home before the pandemic, anyhow.

I suppose the type of content I’m writing has adapted somewhat, as I’ve had to be reactive to what COVID-19 means to the natural world and wildlife conservation and how wildlife organisations are reacting to it. Such as the call for a One Health approach to Wildlife Trade Laws, the End Wildlife Crime initiative to introduce an International Agreement that would help prevent further pandemics and the Global Nature Recovery Investment Initiative.

What are some of the environmental stories/issues happening at the moment that you’d wish more people knew about?
Something I wrote about recently is that burning trees for electricity is actually no better for the climate than burning coal. This has led to calls for an end to biomass burning subsidies, with organisations instead asking for those billions of pounds to be re-directed to fill a ‘critical funding gap’ for other renewable energy solutions like wind and solar. A recent infographic from Cut Carbon Not Forests contrasts the area of forest the Government pledges to plant with trees as part of its ‘Nature for Climate’ fund with the area of forest that will need to be cut down over the same period to supply the UK’s massive demand for wood to burn as fuel for electricity.

I would also love to spread the word about the controversies surrounding the UK’s badger cull. And the positive news of the return of Britain’s largest and most endangered spider; the Great Fox-Spider, rediscovered in the UK after more than 25 years.

For those who are trying to be more mindful about conservation, what are three small changes you would recommend people start with?
1. Feed the birds in your garden, or in the local park if you don’t have a garden. That simple regular contact with nature can show the importance of caring for other creatures and have huge positive impacts on our own mental health.

2. Look after the pollinators; sowing bee-friendly plants, avoiding the use of pesticides, helping out grounded or trapped bees in the Spring/Summer with a little sugar water on a spoon… think of whatever space, garden or windowsill you have as a miniature nature reserve.

3. Try meatless Mondays, or one-week meat-free a month, and aim to build from there. I think by now we all know the impact of animal agriculture on the planet – making even small changes and reductions is a vital step in the right direction.

Do you think the popularity of Tiger King earlier this year has got the public thinking more about the protection of wildlife?
I hope that it inspired people to think more about the way animals are kept in captivity and the problems with roadside zoos, but I suspect that message was lost somewhat to the personalities and eccentricities present within the series. I’ve tried to bridge the gap in my readers’ minds so that they consider that Joe Exotic and his penchant for tigers is not as rare as you may think. An estimated 7,000 tigers could be living in captivity in the United States. Compare that with the roughly 3,900 wild tigers that exist on Earth and you can start to see there is a major problem. The picture is equally concerning in Europe.

Favourite wildlife documentarians/documentaries?
BBC’s Planet Earth and Planet Earth II, Discovery’s Racing Extinction and National Geographic’s Before The Flood. I also love Disneynature’s Elephant, narrated by Meghan Markle.

How do you collaborate with brands and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I love to work with cruelty-free, vegan brands, wildlife charities and campaigns, and nature-loving/eco-friendly social enterprises. I often work with brands to write features on the blog (sponsored content written by me, or hosting guest posts), or to promote on social media, including Instagram and Facebook giveaways. I have a media pack available here.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
Via my email address. I also have a contact form on my blog site.

What other blogs do you check out regularly (whether conservation-related or not)?
I actually run an initiative called The Wildlife Blogger Crowd, where I bring wildlife bloggers together to share their work, collaborate and support other bloggers. I’m following lots of bloggers from here and keeping in regular contact through the database of wildlife storytellers I’m growing.


PRCA COVID-19 Taskforce

Globally-crowdsourced comms lessons published by the PRCA COVID-19 Taskforce

The PRCA’s Global COVID-19 Communications Taskforce has published its report ‘How to recover fast from the pandemic’ featuring crowdsourced insight from 75 industry leaders working across 23 countries.

Today’s virtual event at 1pm, Chaired by PRCA COVID-19 Taskforce Chair Tony Langham and featuring a panel representing four of the featured continents, will introduce the 85-page report’s key themes. Topics include the role of comms in creating a better world, the importance of comms counsel for businesses, the industry’s impact on people and culture as well as best practice for supporting organisations recovering from the pandemic.

‘I am absolutely thrilled this project has turned out so well. Reading contributions from 23 different countries, you’ll be struck by the spirit of positivity that runs through the report – so many of us want to be part of improving the world,’ said Lansons’ chief executive Tony Langham.

‘I found that I learned something from every contribution and I’m deeply grateful to all our colleagues around the world who’ve helped create this fitting legacy for the Taskforce.’

PRCA director general Francis Ingham believes the work of the taskforce embodies the worldwide collaboration happening across the industry throughout the pandemic: ‘This extensive new report is a powerful example of what PR professionals around the world can achieve when they come together to face a common challenge’.

Find out more about the PRCA Global COVID-19 Communications Taskforce report ‘How to recover fast from the pandemic’ on the website.

Fashion journalists

How to pitch to fashion journalists

Though many of us may have spent much of UK Lockdowns I and II in scruffy pajamas, hoodies and slippers, fashion doesn’t take time off. London Fashion Week 2020 went on unabated in September (part digital, part real space) regardless of the pandemic, and online shopping for new fits doesn’t look to be tailing off any time soon… even when it is for more pajamas.

Below is a selection of advice on how PRs can help fashion journalists covering what’s hot and what’s not in coverings across national newspapers, high-fashion quarterlies, regional reads and blogs – because useful PR pitching will always be on trend, whatever the season…

1) Check the label

‘For Fashion Finder, we credit the exact item celebrities are wearing. We work on stories which are new to the site each day and add in Fashion Finders to images which have already been used in stories. If you notice we have used an image of a celebrity wearing your client, please email us with the link to the story, and a link to the product.’

Hannah Eichler is the acting deputy editor for Fashion Finder, MailOnline.

2) Good tailoring is important

‘I think it’s most important for PRs to tailor their pitches: for example, sending me/the Telegraph poor-quality fast fashion launches, ‘look at this celebrity wearing our brand’, or responding to a specific pitch with something unrelated won’t be in anyone’s favour. Especially when followed up every day for a week-plus (journalists get hundreds of priority emails a day) – it tends to hurt relationships. Thoughtful, interesting and tailored pitches always get a response.’

Lela London is a digital lifestyle writer for and blogs at

3) Timeless content is as good as quick trends

‘To be honest, I don’t really want to hear “pitches” from PRs, I just want to be informed about news and access about their clients and brands and see whether they might be able to work with a story I’m working on or planning, or might spark an idea for another. Because, essentially, it’s the job of the journalist or editor to come up with the editorial idea and angle of a story, not the PR. I’m happy to receive emails with said news in but don’t necessarily expect an immediate response. A lot of “news” isn’t actual news, but might make a nice nugget of information in a long read.

I also hate having my inbox gate-crashed by huge-sized image files. And if you send a WeTransfer, please give it the longest possible expiry date – often, I don’t get around to looking at it until it’s expired which then means a whole back-and-forth again… which is frustrating for all involved!’

Jessica Bumpus is a contributing editor at The Week: Fashion and a freelance journalist – read more about her career and work in this ResponseSource interview.

4) Include pictures that aren’t passé

‘I know opinions vary but personally, I prefer to hear from PRs or brands via email rather than messaging. I also appreciate low-res embedded images so I can easily get a sense of what is being presented. Links to hi-res images are always helpful, especially if there is no expiry date.’

Sophie Elkan is the fashion & beauty editor for OX and OX Weddings. Find out more about her work on her website

5)Full length shots and less moody models, maybe

‘I like to receive information from PRs which is relevant for the publications I work for, or of interest for my Instagram where I like to focus on sustainable fashion. It’s great to include all pricing and stockist details on the hi-res imagery – both cut outs and campaign imagery. It’s great to have an option of full length model shots, with no cropping at the top of heads or feet, as one of the publications I work for often uses fashion model shots as front covers, where the clothes are credited and appear on my fashion spread. I also appreciate ‘to camera’ smiley model shots, although I’m aware that brands don’t always want to get that image across, preferring to evoke more of a ‘mood’. It’s easy if pictures are all available and fully credited on PR shots.’

Wendy Rigg is a fashion and style director whose work can be seen in publications including the Sunday Post’s P.S. Magazine and Saga. More about her and her work can be found at

6) Check the fit

‘I love to work with brands that are close to my style and ethics, as well as brands that are a household name. Personalised emails are usually my favourite. The PR needs knowledge on who they’re contacting (blanket emails are cold) and need to show a genuine interest in your work for a relationship to build.’

Lorna Burford blogs at Raindrops of Sapphire – read her Blogger Spotlight.

‘A PR should always know what a publication is about before even thinking about contacting them to sell a story idea or brand. Nothing worse than when people get in contact with irrelevant ideas.’

Jo Phillips is the owner of .Cent.

7) Personalised emails are always in fashion

‘Email is definitely the way to go – Instagram DMs unfortunately get lost among personal messages. I always warm to a personalised proposal more than a blanket email, and if the brand is a good fit for my readership and they get straight to the point with what they’re proposing, then I’m all ears.’

Catherine Summers is a fashion blogger posting at Not Dressed As Lamb. Read more in her Blogger Spotlight.

8) Make sure you know the writer’s style

‘I like to work with PRs who understand what Grey Fox stands for and have looked at my media before contacting me. I like to present well-made and sustainably produced, stylish products to my following in a way that is authentic. I prefer personal contact and am rarely impressed with the impersonal “Hi, how’s your day been? Here are some cool products for you to feature on your blog” sort of approach.’

David Evans blogs at Grey Fox – read more about his work in this Blogger Spotlight.

Do you have experts, statistics and surveys, products for review and people for interview that UK journalists, bloggers and broadcasters would find useful? Take a trial of the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service to get their requests for content directly.



UK Black Comms Network

The UK Black Comms Network to launch One Step Forward Two Steps Black research

The UK Black Comms Network will continue its work to improve the number and promotion of Black talent in the communications industry with the launch of its research One Step Forward Two Steps Black on Wednesday 18 November, 6.30-7.45pm.

Panelists discussing pay, promotions and experiences from their time working in the UK communications industry will include Opinium Research senior research executive Susan Bello, Black Women in HR founder and CEO Adesse Okojie and UK Black Comms Network founder Kamiqua Pearce.

During the evening, conversation will focus on the research and what it entails for the industry at large, as well as initiatives and action already leading to improved diversity across all levels of business: entry level to leadership.

The UK Black Comms Network was launched earlier this year to provide resources and peer-to-peer networking for the empowerment of Black PR and communications professionals of African or Caribbean heritage in the UK.

Sign up for the event and find out more about the UK Black Comms Network here.

CIPR National Conference 2020

‘What a crazy year’: CIPR National Conference 2020

For the first time in its history, the CIPR National Conference (rounding off today) was an all virtual affair. With its agenda formed by a survey of members in May to confirm what would be most useful in such an unprecedented (more of that word later…) year, its themes were ‘What is this new world?’, People and today’s focus business.

That the way business is done in PR and comms has had to change this year is without question – which lessons we all take forward beyond this time was what KPMG head of communications Tom Goddard explored in his speaker session ‘The value of communications – reflections on a crazy year’.

‘Well… what a crazy year,’ was how Tom began, openly admitting to feelings of exhaustion, times of fear and a more relaxed approach to presenting than usual (from his loft room, in jeans and slippers, rather than a standard business suit and tie for big industry events). Introducing the three pillars of Instinct, Action and Polish as his main takeaways from this year, it was the idea of polish that was pinpointed as particularly important to consider.

‘Trust expressions have rocketed into cliché faster than ever before,’ said Tom, pushing away from overly polished and performative language. ‘I don’t want to use words like “unprecedented” today, nor do I want to “pivot” at any point.’ Instead of that ‘u word’, Tom talked of ‘nervous, uncomfortable’ days at KPMG during the start of the pandemic, a time of struggle for businesses everywhere, and more immediate troubles for Tom and his team as KPMG’s UK chair Bill Michael was taken ill earlier in the year.

With 2020 the year KPMG was due to celebrate its 150th anniversary, planned campaigns, firmly-structured meetings and sign off processes had to be abandoned and switched up. ‘Senior leaders needed our advice and common sense instead,’ said Tom, who spoke of the need for authenticity, instinct and swift action from businesses and their leadership teams, using examples from brands like BP, McDonald’s and Tesla.

Action at KPMG included the launch of ‘DIY-aesthetic’ The WFH Podcast (which featured guests including Alastair Campbell, Alain de Botton, Bonnie Greer and even Mr Motivator) and paid time off for colleagues with family duties on the announcement of school closures in March. The results from KPMG’s comms during the first few months of the COVID-19 crisis – the highest engagement levels they’d ever experienced.

Where have the events of 2020 left us? ‘We’re all feeling quite exhausted, but we need to use this moment – the challenge now is to build on what we’ve learned,’ believes Tom, who ended his session with a message to everyone in comms working towards better days and future challenges.

‘Comms has to be on its toes, bringing challenge and conscience. If we manage commercial needs with the importance of being human, we really earn our stripes. I believe it’s our time; let’s not waste it.’

Catch up with more from this year’s CIPR National Conference on the CIPR website.

UK and US public relations

Healthy UK/US relations: Onyx Health’s Karen Winterhalter and JWA’s Jeff Winton

As the ‘special relationship’ between the US and UK looks to change once more following the US election results and fallout, we hear how healthy (public) relations between UK and US companies can work out in our chat with UK-based Onyx Health’s managing director Karen Winterhalter and US-based Jeff Winton Associates (JWA)’s chief executive officer Jeff Winton.

Following time working together back in the 90s, Karen and Jeff have teamed up once more – this time to add to what their respective companies can offer to clients, wherever they’re based and operating. So, is health PR that different either side of the Atlantic? And was working in public relations in the 90s as hectic as some remember (or, rather, don’t)?

What originally led you both to careers in PR?

Jeff Winton

Jeff Winton: I have been working in the life sciences communications area for four decades now, starting with a career in agriculture and animal health. I was raised on a farm and had a background in agriculture, but I knew nothing about PR. An agency in New York City took a chance on me and taught me about advertising and PR.

Eventually, I had the opportunity to move to human health with Roche in the early days of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Living in a time like we are today, surrounded by another global pandemic, there are many similarities and lessons from the past that are still relevant today. We started our new firm focused exclusively on the life sciences in February 2020. The business has grown faster than we anticipated because of our healthcare focus and experience in infectious diseases.

Karen Winterhalter

Karen Winterhalter: I started my working life as an NHS nurse, before becoming a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company. I soon became drawn by the bright lights of London and made a move down south, where I became involved in the fast-paced world of healthcare PR.

I headed up the EMEA healthcare divisions for two of the biggest global PR agencies, before setting up Onyx Health. Initially, we were based in London, but after coming back to the North East for the Great North Run – the largest half marathon in the world – I decided it was time to head back home, so ten years ago Onyx Health part two was born.

How will Onyx Health and JWA be working together?

Jeff: Onyx and JWA are now collaborating on behalf of several clients. Some of our clients who are US-based are getting ready for their first foray into Europe, so Onyx Health’s experience and expertise has been extremely beneficial.

We are also benefitting greatly from their tremendous design capabilities. Onyx Health’s design team in the UK is also serving as the JWA design team for several of our US clients. Conversely, some of Onyx’s clients who have been historically based in Europe are now coming to the US, so we are helping to get them established here with key stakeholders.

Karen: For us, it’s a win-win situation. Jeff is a renowned figure in the industry, and our partnership enables us to pool resources, share clients and expertise. I am delighted to be working with him again after all these years. The unique combination of our many decades of experience in global communications will help our clients break into the US market with a trusted partner.

You first met in the 90s – what do you really miss about the PR industry during that time?

Jeff: Indeed, Karen and I have known each other for many years, and we had a very good relationship when she was at Ketchum, and I was her client. So, when Karen initially reached out to me about a potential partnership, it seemed like no time had passed at all. The health care industry is much more highly regulated today than back in the 90s. Social media is also a driving force in health care communications, and in the 90s, this wasn’t something that was even in existence.

Karen: The 90s was an exciting time to be involved in PR, as it was the era of the blockbuster drugs being launched. These drugs are things we take for granted now, but when Lipitor, the first-ever statin, was launched, this was big headline news. In the days before Twitter and Facebook, nearly all our work revolved around media relations. Healthcare editors on the nationals and women’s magazines lapped it up, and if there was a photo opportunity, you were guaranteed coverage. I once had photographers stand on the roof of a fertility clinic to get a shot of the hundredth child born through IVF.

What differences are there with the way the PR industry works in the UK and in the US?

Jeff: In healthcare communications, one of the main differences between the US and the UK is that we can do branded direct to consumer product PR in the US, which is not allowed in the UK, or most other countries, for that matter.

Karen: Aside from the regulatory differences, a lot of our work focuses on communicating and educating the healthcare professional rather than the patient, but one of the main differences is access to medications. In the UK, many of medicines and diagnostics go through cost-benefit analysis appraisals ran by NICE, which can significantly delay getting vital treatments in the hands of healthcare professionals. When you get a positive NICE appraisal, it is brilliant, whereas negative appraisals are exceptionally hard to deal with, especially for patients.

How did lockdown change the way you both work?

Jeff: Since we were established as a virtual agency at our founding, we’ve had little impact from the shutdown, since we didn’t have any bricks and mortar locations that needed to close. When the rest of the world became virtual, it helped to accelerate our growth. Because of travel concerns and restrictions, we haven’t met many of our clients yet, nor have our team met each other.

Karen: One of the big things we did during the COVID-19 disruption, was diversifying our service offer into digital. We do a huge amount of work around congresses, and with them all being moved online, we needed to find a different way to communicate with healthcare professionals.

A big part of this was launching our new virtual reality learning platform over the summer in response to the COVID-19 crisis. We developed our Interactive Learning Environment, or ILE for short. The ILE offers a practical solution to overcome the industries communication challenges, such as restricted access to health care professionals and the cancellation of face to face conferences and sales reps appointment.

Do you think the PR industry can ever return to the way things were before the COVID-19 crisis?

Jeff: I don’t think that any business will ever return to the way things were before the pandemic. There have been many lessons we have all learned that will ultimately, make our business much more streamlined and efficient than ever before. We have several associates now living and working all over the world, working collaboratively on Microsoft Teams.

Karen: I think remote working and a greater focus on digital to bridge the communication challenges caused by the pandemic are likely to become the ‘new normal’ for the industry. This also creates opportunities for agencies, looking at new ways to access journalists and healthcare professionals, as well as increasing the talent pool available to us.

With so many journalists being furloughed, have either of you found contact with the media harder over the last few months?

Jeff: We have actually found that US media are easier to access now because reporters are no longer required to travel extensively from medical meeting to medical meeting. Video platforms are working very well for us in keeping in touch with reporters, and I think that they may be more open and willing for this connectivity now.

Karen: When the pandemic first hit back in May, our inboxes became littered with out of office messages from journalists who we had worked with for many years. PR is all about relationships, and the strength of our longstanding contacts saw us through the initial disruption. Remembering our news values and avoiding bombarding journalists suffering from COVID-19 fatigue was crucial to keep things going.

What can agencies across the globe do to create diverse teams and promote people from a variety of backgrounds into higher roles?

Jeff: Diversity continues to be a large issue in this field. This issue starts before people even reach university, so partnering with academic institutions early in a student’s career is essential. I’m also concerned about what happens when people representing a diverse community enter the workforce.

The inclusion of such individuals, and their integration into the business, isn’t going nearly as well as it should. My experience has been that organisations spend a great deal of time recruiting such individuals, but they do very little about keeping them via proper onboarding and mentoring.

Karen: When I started in PR way back in the 90s, PR agencies were often headed up by white middle-class males. I was fortunate to join BSMG Worldwide, whose chair, CEO, and financial director were all women. Many of those values that were instilled within me then I still hold with me today.

If you do not bring diversity into your agency, how can you communicate with people from different cultures and social-economic backgrounds? It is like saying it is your way or no way.

What have you both enjoyed most about your careers so far and what advice would you give to those considering working in the PR industry?

Jeff: What I have enjoyed the most about my career is the people with whom I have been associated. Karen Winterhalter is a good case in point. I have reconnected with many people from my past who are now clients and associates, and once we start working together again, it is like no time has passed. We have all been touched by some type of health care crisis, either personally or through friends and family. So we have an appreciation and understanding of how important the companies we represent are for the betterment of society.

Karen: I’ve enjoyed working with some of the biggest pharmaceutical brands in the world. However, one of the things I’ve found most rewarding since starting my agency has been helping SMEs and start-ups grow into thriving global businesses. The digital revolution has transformed the sector in recent years. The disruption caused by COVID-19 has made it even more essential to connect with key target audiences. My main advice to people would be to get digital savvy, to get ahead of the competition.

Toxic workplace environs

Women in PR event to tackle workplace toxicity

Toxic environments and cultural bias will be a focus of this week’s Women in PR event. Taking place tomorrow (Thursday 12 November) 16.00-17.30, and featuring a panel of industry professionals chaired by WPR and Hera Communication Strategies founder Anna Geffert, the event will also launch a related WPR and Opinium survey of workplace issues.

Alongside the problems wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic on workplace culture this year, the pernicious challenges of racism, sexism, ageism, cliques, favouritism, nepotism and social class bias continue. Discussing this as part of the Women in PR event panel will be BME PR Pros and Blueprinted founder Elizabeth Bananuka, Creative Equals CEO and founder Ali Hanan, Arqiva chief people officer Vivian Leinster, Halo psychology founder and director Hayley Lewis, and Brands with Values managing director and BAME2020 founder Adrian Walcott.

The launching WPR survey will also aim to address toxic behaviours in the workplace, with plans for it to eventually become part of a charter to drive sustainable change.

‘If the professional progression of women and those from underrepresented groups in the PR industry has any hope of changing, it is vital to challenge and remove the outdated cultural barriers that still exist and hold people back,’ said Anna Geffert of the aims of the event.

‘We expect the discussion at this event to be candid and open, which could make for some potentially difficult realisations about our industry’s working practices. This is not an issue which can be solved in an evening, this change is an evolutionary process. Harassment and unfair treatment in workplaces across the communications industry is something that simply cannot be ignored any longer.’

Register to attend the Women in PR event on 12 November here.

Vuelio is proud to be an official sponsor of Women in PR, supporting their events and work.

Mike Douglas

Mental Health Blogger Spotlight: Mike Douglas, Open Journal

As we prepare for the all-online Online Influence Awards 2020 next week, we catch up with someone who is well-versed in reformatting awards ceremonies to stay safe while celebrating, Mike Douglas. Blogger, podcaster and founder of the Mental Health Blog Awards, Mike shares how he got started by sharing mental health insight and resources, and what he sees as the possible longer-term impacts of the pandemic in day-to-day life.

How did you get started with blogging about mental health?

I started to write about my experiences with a mental health illness because I needed an outlet for my own mental health, and it seemed to be therapeutic for me. It helped to get some things out of my system and to see them in a different light. Blogging very much started as a coping strategy, and while it still is, it is also something I now do because I enjoy it.

Blogging allows me to share mental health insights, resources and support.

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?

I think for me it’s about personal connection, and that could be different things at different times. The core of my blogging is personal experience, thoughts and insights. So, while I may include research, products or services, they are almost always as part of ‘my story’ rather than the focus.

I also have a podcast, and that facilitates much more inclusion of a guest’s story and their product/service/ research/campaign as part of our discussion.

I think one of my favourite things to post about is attending an event or an activity. Reflecting on the inclusion of wellbeing and/or mental health as part of the event and on the conversations I’ve had/people I’ve met there.

That’s definitely something I have missed this year.

How did you change your approach and content during lockdown?

During lockdown I have found that I have less desire to write, I think because I have spent so much time in the same location (at home) and because I have been so busy with other commitments. It hasn’t/I haven’t created an environment where I want or feel able to write as much. Alongside that, the podcast has been increasingly taking more time with more guests and opportunities to have different types of conversations. Which has been amazing, but it has impacted on the blogging.

Mike Douglas masked

What do you think the longer-term impacts of the pandemic and lockdown will be on mental health and how can people combat them?

I believe there are two sides to this (probably more, but I’ll focus on two).

There’s a positive aspect to some people’s experience, in that they have had time with family/co-habitors they would likely never have had before. The impact on their wellbeing and their sense of self could be hugely impacted and be a benefit they look back on for the rest of their life.

There is however the other side. The side that shows already, many people are experiencing their mental health worsening, be that a diagnosed illness or symptoms of poor mental health.

The disparity in our communities has highlighted how we are all very much not in the same boat during the COVID-19 storm. I have read many posts by people struggling within their home settings, particularly teenagers and young adults that have been forced to stay with people that may not accept or understand their struggles, also those within violent or abusive home settings.

The impact on workplace mental health will take a long time to clearly identify and understand, particularly with many, including myself, now moving to home/remote working as a semi-permanent change.

Are mental health issues taken seriously enough in 2020?

I’m going to give you another double answer.

Yes, more common mental health illnesses and symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, OCD and maybe eating disorders are more widely accepted and spoken about. We have seen ‘celebrities’ and influencers share their lived experience and there are a number of great campaigns that have/do draw attention to these illnesses/symptoms of poor mental health.

However, there is still a real lack of focus and education for more complex illnesses such as personality disorders, Schizophrenia and dissociative disorders.

There is a massively improved ‘awareness’ of mental health, but seemingly still a lack of education and service provision.

Do initiatives like World Mental Health Day help with breaking the stigmas surrounding mental illness?

Yes, massively!

I understand there is often a desire for people to do more than talk about this once or twice a year. And you can. You don’t need to wait for WMHD to talk to someone or do something, you can do that any day.

If you want greater access to services or education, get involved in a campaign, support your local providers (who are often charities that rely on local support for funding and volunteers).

A big mistake I personally feel some people make is thinking days like WMHD are for everyone. They aren’t (again, in my opinion). They are for the person who is experiencing pain like they have never felt before, maybe for the first time, and they don’t know where to go. Maybe they have been struggling for a while or a long time but haven’t felt able to talk about what they are experiencing. These days are for the people who are at that first step of accessing help, of talking to someone, of telling a friend ‘I’m struggling’.

So yes, WMHD and days like it may not be for you. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

When you’re having a difficult time, what helps you?

I try to keep a good routine to stay active and occupied physically and mentally. This has been particularly important for me to keep on board with this year as during lockdown and through the summer I gradually came off my medication, having been on anti-depressants for several years.

I used to walk every day and while that has dropped off since March, I try to keep moving at different points in the day and I run once a week.

I make sure to drink plenty of water and squash. This helps balance out the sometime excessive amounts of fizzy I drink.

Getting outside is important to me too, not just for walking or running, but to just be outside to feel the sun or the wind or, on occasion, the rain. It can really help to ground me.

When I am struggling to process something or start to feel that dark depression taking hold, there’s two (maybe three) things that are key for me. Number one is writing down what’s going on. I am not always ready or able to talk about it or say it aloud, so writing helps massively. Number two is talking to my partner. She is amazing. She listens and understands that sometimes I need time to work up to talking. In fact, on a couple of occasions when I’ve needed space to process things, she has left the room (which I have asked her to do previously). But she makes noticeable noise in the other room, just so I know she’s still nearby. I really appreciate her understanding and willingness to work with me; she is amazing. Thirdly, the cats. I love a cat cuddle. They often seem to know when you’re in need of comforting.

How do you collaborate with brands, and which kind of brands do you really like working with?

My best collaboration ‘tool’ would be the podcast. I love collaborating when I can speak to someone willing to share their experience and/or thoughts of mental health. Importantly, that doesn’t have to be illness, it can be wellness too. Find out more about being a guest here.

I do occasionally have collaborated blog posts, where the service/product/campaign does not have a mental health/wellbeing focus. In these occasions, I am collaborating because I personally see a mental health/wellbeing connection or aspect. A few examples of this are attending cafe openings, comic and games events, fitness festivals, and leisure services/product launches.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?

The best way is to email me, provide a brief overview and a web link so I can find out a little more. Keep in mind I am likely going to be thinking about the podcast, so please consider if there’s someone happy to talk via an online platform (currently Skype).

What other blogs do you check out regularly?

Right now, I am checking out some of the winners from this year’s Mental Health Blog Awards. Their recent blog posts and/or social media discussions have been really interesting to read, so I definitely recommend checking them out: Mental Health Crisis Angels, Elspethfit, Rainy Bay Blog, Just Checking In Podcast, Bex’s Anorexia Recovery, CaraLisette and Psychreg.



5 areas for brands to start addressing in recovery

This is a guest post from Kirsty Maxey, CEO of Teamspirit.

Although the current outlook is still uncertain, we are undoubtedly moving into the next phase of ‘COVID life’. Both in our personal lives but also in how we interact with companies, from the ones we work for to those we interact with every day. Expectations and relationships with these brands are continuously evolving in this ever-changing landscape and both customers and employees need trust, clarity, engagement and constant forward thinking from businesses, all with a touch of humanity. We’ve seen many brands do it well and some not so well.

We believe there are five key areas that brands must consider when navigating the potentially choppy waters ahead as we steer ourselves through to recovery.

1) Reputation, more than ever

In the current climate, people want to see businesses act with integrity and transparency, and deliver on their promises. Connection with your brand is vital to maintaining and recovering market share in the wake of any crisis. Nowhere has this been more evident recently than in the supermarket sector. The major supermarkets have used multi-channel communication strategies to move from simple food provider to an essential public service. And Opinium’s research found that these were the brands people felt had responded most positively to the pandemic (Opinium surveyed a nationally representative sample of 2,006 U.S. adults aged 18+ between 20 – 25 March). Businesses cannot just pay lip service to reputation: it has to have meaning and depth. Effective communication must work hand in hand with the operational strategy of any well-run business.

This is about much more than what you do or say as a business; it’s about the essence of why your business exists and how it’s holding itself accountable.

2) UX – revisit and reinvestigate

In a business world that has finally had its hand forced and become fully digitally focused, the online experience has to be the focus of investment for businesses that will now live or die through their customers’ full experience. Starting with revisiting their customer personas and purchasing styles, it is essential that businesses focus on the online journey, and how that dovetails with the rest of the customer experience, whether in store or on the phone. Then making sure it’s personalised for each individual. We envisage that there will be a lot of work focused on micro UX in the coming months. That means the key point of interaction, be that ensuring customers see the easiest way to the next stage of their journey, or how easy it is to stay in touch.

Small percentages of uplift in customer engagement are going to be crucial to future success. It’s time to start to focus small, not just big.

3) Authentic social really counts

It has become impossible for businesses that want to win in the social space to not consider more of a customer-centric approach to their social marketing. With the rise of influencers and peer-to-peer reviews being considered the most ‘authentic’ content when it comes to lead generation and brand awareness, it’s important that businesses step into this space to not get left behind.

Active C-suite social profiles, as well as value-added content exchanges, are key drivers in terms of reaching and engaging your audiences in an authentic way for long-term loyalty.

4) Purpose and culture: the new ‘4 Rs’

From John Lewis revisiting its ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ customer promise after 95 years, to brands focused on one-to-one sales or in-store experience, the need to Revisit, Refine, Redesign and Reinvigorate mission, vision and values is increasingly being discussed. In relation to both external audiences and internal culture. The output being not just validating and exercising due marketing diligence on their current purpose, but also aligning it with the short, medium and long-term commercial opportunities that COVID has accelerated.

5) Think internal experience, not internal comms

With Schroders and PwC already announcing a significant (or total) departure from the traditional office, companies are reviewing the necessary new needs of the internal employee experience (what we term IX). The need for a rethink on how town halls, key business announcements and social engagement can be replaced and updated to reflect the new needs of motivation, engagement and information.

Now is a time of change and this can feel scary for companies. But it is also an opportunity. An opportunity to refresh values, re-engage employees and ultimately transform ways of thinking.

Future Planning for the Built Environment

Our recent webinar discussed the Government’s Planning for the Future White Paper, how it has been received, and what more should be done to address the housing shortage and to strengthen local communities.

Boris Johnson’s intention to ‘recreate an ownership society’ was received sceptically by our panellists who argued that the current Government was out of touch and that more powers should be handed to local government which is in a better position to understand the needs of its residents.

Our webinar panel was broadly critical of the Government’s plans, and addressed areas they believe the White Paper doesn’t adequately cover such as social and affordable housing.

Given the wide-ranging discussion on the White Paper and its proposals, the Vuelio Political Team has analysed the policy context and a summary of the webinar, drawing together local government experts, serving councillors and a member of the House of Lords. The analysis also includes tips for effective stakeholder engagement for informing the debate around the plans.

Get your copy of Future Planning for the Built Environment below.

Tas Bhanji

PR Spotlight: Tas Bhanji, Director at Blakeney

‘Good communications has the potential to change the fortunes of companies, even whole industries or communities. What could be more exciting than that?’ says Blakeney Director Tas Bhanji, who’s helped make change for clients and companies across the globe.

With experience of communications in-house and agency-side across the UK, Belgium and Beijing for companies including McDonald’s, CBI, the British Chamber of Commerce in China and even the European Formaldehyde Manufacturing Association, Tas knows the difference that good comms and PR can make. Can PR ever go back to the way things were before the challenges of 2020, and should it? Read on for Tas’s take.

Tell us a bit about your career so far and what led you to PR…
I graduated with a degree in Mathematics and no idea what I wanted to do with my life other than travel. I got an internship in Beijing which led to becoming events manager for the British Chamber of Commerce. One day, after a long conversation over the exact diameter of a canapé, I realised it probably wasn’t the career for me, so I resigned to decide what to do next.

I knew I liked writing and politics, and I just happened to talk to someone who suggested I might like public affairs/corporate comms. I didn’t really know anything about PR then – it’s funny now to think that despite having read the papers every day for years, I was quite surprised that comments weren’t actually really written (or said) by the people that said them.

I owe a lot to that chance encounter – after a couple of years with Weber Shandwick in Beijing, I moved to Brussels with Fleishman-Hillard, and then came back home to the UK and have worked in-house for CBI and McDonald’s, either side of a stint with MHP, and now I’m back consultancy-side with Blakeney.

You’ve held roles at agencies across the world – what differences (if any) have you noticed with the way the PR industry works across the globe?
One of the main ones is about channels – China has its own social networks which many people in the UK would never have heard of. WeChat for example is way more than just a messaging app; you can use it to order a taxi, get groceries delivered, or pay for your dinner. In some countries in mainland Europe, Facebook is often more dominant than Twitter and used for both corporate and consumer communications.

Public affairs in China is very different to public affairs here in most ways, although having a good network of contacts is very useful wherever you are. My first crisis communications experience was the melamine scandal in China in 2008 – farmers had been adding melamine to milk products to up their protein content, but it was damaging to health, particularly to babies. I was working for an international confectionary company that had its own verified supply chain and therefore not in any way impacted, but our first action in a lot of countries was to apologise for the situation. If we did that here in the UK, it could be seen as an admission of guilt.

What have you enjoyed about working in-house compared with working for a consultancy?
In a consultancy, you can get a lot more variety – no two days are ever the same and that keeps you constantly on your toes. In-house, I enjoyed getting to see something right through from conception to delivery, getting to understand the minutiae of issues and the way it impacts business. In lots of consultancies, you don’t get that because you’re just brought in for quite specific bits of a project. One great thing about Blakeney is that we are set up to really own issues and work as partners with our clients on projects – that means we get to see it from start to finish.

How did lockdown change the way you work?
At first it didn’t seem like a huge shift – I already worked one day a week from home. I actually only came back from maternity leave in January, so I’d already been working hard at being disciplined around working hours – as a working parent, you have to be super-organised – something I, like many parents, have to constantly work at. Over time though I did start to miss the office, and especially those chats that seem inconsequential at first but actually trigger a great idea. Thankfully with such a small team we were able to adapt pretty quickly and those chats, though slightly more planned as they are over Zoom or Teams, still happen, and we have a plan in place to allow small groups of people to go to the office on their specified days.

I have also found that the change has meant more time with clients – Zoom and Teams make it so much easier to bring people together for a quick chat about things, whereas before we might have shied away from having meetings to discuss just one topic.

Do you think the PR industry can ever return to the way things were before the COVID-19 crisis?
Why should it want to? We have shown that working with greater flexibility doesn’t mean any reduction in quality of work. There’s no need to go back just for the sake of it – PR is all about adapting to this ever-changing world; we should embrace that.

Which particular sectors among your client base do you see making the quickest recovery post-pandemic?
Honestly, it’s so hard to say – this pandemic is unlike anything any of us have ever experienced, it’s a risky business if you start making too many predictions. But I think tech can only grow – not least with companies creating and launching new tools, platforms and solutions to allow us to help work, rest and play.

Sectors which invest in communications and corporate affairs are giving themselves the best chances – if there’s nobody making the case for why what you do is important, you risk getting forgotten.

With so many journalists being furloughed, has contact with the media been harder over the last few months?
Definitely – sell-ins have been much harder. As you say, furloughing has meant there are fewer journalists, and the ones that remain are more stretched. Plus, in many instances, people haven’t forwarded their desk phones on to their mobiles. It puts a premium on really understanding what journalists want and being able to capture their attention on email.

The PR industry still has a diversity problem – what can agencies do to create diverse teams and promote people from a variety of backgrounds into higher roles?
I find the issue of diversity a difficult one – I think we often get caught up thinking about diversity as just gender or race, but it’s actually about so much more. Our country, the world, is diverse in many different ways and to truly understand those people, and be able to communicate with them, you need to have an insight into their lives and that can only really come through living it.

So, I think there are two big things. One, understanding that diversity is about more than just having women on your leadership team, and two, truly understanding the value of people with different backgrounds. Think about work you’ve done that has been successful; did it come from people thinking in the same way you’ve always done, or by bringing in a new perspective?

Which campaigns/projects from your career are you particularly proud to have worked on?
Earlier this year, Blakeney ran a campaign for LIVE, the industry group representing live music. With politicians receiving so many competing demands from different sectors affected by the pandemic, we wanted to the live music sector to get the support needed to save it from collapse. Our campaign, #LetTheMusicPlay, focused on the sector’s economic contribution – it supports more than 200,000 jobs. A week after launching the campaign, with the hashtag having been the top global trend on Twitter, the Government announced a £1.57bn rescue package – that really does demonstrate the value of good communications!

What advice would you give to those considering working in the PR industry – is it still a good career choice in 2020?
It absolutely is. Good communications has the potential to change the fortunes of companies, even whole industries or communities. What could be more exciting than that? It’s also enjoyably varied – I once worked for the European Formaldehyde Manufacturing Association, which was surprisingly interesting.
With more competition for jobs right now, be creative about gaining experience. Can you help a local community group with social media? Or talk to local businesses about their challenges and see if you can lend a hand? And make sure you’re visible online – blogging and keeping up your own social media presence will show you’ve got the skills needed for client work.

Steve McComish

6 questions PRs ask journalists that are guaranteed to make them annoyed, angry or irate

This is a guest post by Steve McComish, MD at Motive PR and a former national news journalist who spent six years fielding PR stories at the Daily Mirror before setting up his agency in 2008. Here, he gives his insights into the six questions PRs ask journalists that could actually be damaging your chances of coverage.

Journalists are busy people and as PRs we should aim to make their lives easier, not more difficult. Having sat on both sides of the desk I am aware of the pressures both sets of professionals face and there are certain behaviours and questions that I always tell my team to avoid if they are to maximise their chances of coverage. So here are six questions that we as PRs should never, ever ask journalists.

1) Did you get my press release?
Sadly this is a question which many inexperienced PRs still ask journalists every day. It gives away a lack of understanding of how journalists and media outlets work and the pressures writers are under every day. If you find yourself tempted to ask this question take a deep breath and pause. Think for a moment about what life is really like for the person on the other end of the phone/email. Imagine, if you can, how many press releases are sent to their outlet each and every day. Ask yourself how well do you know them and more importantly, how well do they know you? Are they likely to remember your name above the other hundreds or maybe thousands of people who have pitched in a story in the past week or month? As a journalist, being on the receiving end of this question is a total turn-off. It causes your heart to sink through your stomach and hot phlegm to rise up your throat. The obvious answer is ‘What press release?’ but can you blame them if they just hang-up the phone?

2) Can my client see your questions ahead of the interview?
If your client is Lord Sugar then this question is just about permissible. If you’re representing Prince Harry and Meghan, then it might just fly. But for everyone else, forget it. Why should they give your client a preview of their questions? They are journalists, not ad sales people. Let them do their job. As PRs, we should already have a good idea of the likely line of questioning and we should already have a well-prepared client. Trying to control an interested journalist like this is another turn off and could easily lead them to reconsider their decision to feature your client. But if he’s Lord Sugar, you might get away with it.

3) Can we have copy approval?
This is another question which comes from a lack of understanding of the media/PR dynamic and stems once again from an attempt to control and manipulate the journalist. Therefore it’s almost certain to leave them fuming and asking their aghast colleagues, ‘Can you believe the cheek of that PR?’ Like the question above, it could work if your client is so important the journalist doesn’t feel able to say no but it certainly isn’t the way to build trust and create a long lasting and mutually beneficial relationship. If that is your goal then once again your focus should be on preparing your client well and letting the journalist do their job. If you want copy approval, buy an advert.

4) What day will you run it?
I used to get asked this a lot in the early days of my career when I worked on an evening newspaper in a provincial city. The implication was, ‘I don’t buy the paper so you need to tell me when I’ll be in so I can make an exception that day’.

The truth is journalists usually don’t know if or when something will run. Their job is to file copy and move on to the next story. As PRs we should be all over our target media every day and we should have alerts set for clients so we don’t miss anything. It’s ok to ask for a heads-up, but don’t expect them to know exactly when a piece will run or what kind of treatment their seniors will give the story. Which leads me nicely onto the next question…

5) What page will it be on?
Another classic question I used to get asked a lot when I worked in newspapers. Much less relevant today but journalists still get asked all kinds of questions about how a story will be treated. What will the headline be? Will it be a substantial feature or just a short snippet? What photos will be used? The truth is, they don’t know and bothering them with meaningless questions like this is just going to annoy and damage the relationship.

6) Can I have a link please?
Okay, we’ve all been guilty of this one, myself included. In the early days of the internet it was ok to ask outright/beg for a link but now it’s becoming more and more of a no-no. Those of us engaged in digital PR must find more creative ways to earn links for our clients. This means creating content that encourages the media to link to the client’s website.

Usually that content will expand on the story offered in the media release and present the journalist with something they can’t resist linking to – something which offers their readers greater depth of understanding, experience, education or entertainment. Earning these links is an exciting challenge for us and one which makes the role of a PR in 2020 so much fun. So stop begging for links and start earning them instead. Journalists will love you for it.

Life In A Breakdown

Mental Health Blogger Spotlight: Sarah Bailey, Life In A Breakdown

We talk mental health with Sarah Bailey, who shares her own successes and struggles with her blog Life In A Breakdown. Sharing and learning new ideas and coping strategies with her readers is just one of the things Sarah appreciates about being a part of the mental health blogging community – read on for her advice on protecting your own mental health during challenging times.

How did you get started with blogging about mental health?

I was going through a really bad time in my life. I had just been diagnosed with a physical disability in addition to my existing mental health issues and it felt like just as I had started to do something with my life, it had all been taken from me. So, from the start, my blog was partly mental health related, thus the name being a play on breakdown. Although I started with only talking about ‘good’ things.

In the years that have followed, I found it cathartic to write about my issues and hopefully help others going through the same situations. While offering a small amount of help in dealing with issues from a patient’s perspective.

It has, in many ways, helped me come to terms with my own diagnoses as I used to be very secretive about those that had more of a stigma, such as BPD. Now, I openly speak about it.

My blog has also opened doors for me as well. For the past few years I’ve written about anxiety and depression on the Life Effects blog also.

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
I struggle to focus on any one thing for a long time, so I often ping between topics. One day it might be about my health, another about products, or just a general run down on how things are.

I’ve found that I’ve been able to incorporate that part of myself into my blog, rather than having to just focus on one single niche.

How did you change your approach and content during lockdown?
I found lockdown really hard to cope with. I went from posting five times a week to three. This gave me more time to rest. On a Tuesday, I team up with another blogger to host my Life in a Lockdown series, which goes into how I am coping mentally (and physically) each week.

From this, I’ve noticed a lot of people are struggling with their anxiety even if it isn’t something they normally do. I’ve personally found it interesting to read the comments in this series as it’s interesting to see how people cope. I’ve even found some new strategies from it.

What do you think the longer-term impacts of the pandemic and lockdown will be on mental health and how can people combat them?
I think anxiety is going to be a big one. Wearing masks, keeping our distance, washing hands constantly is all new for people. Talking to people about how you feel is a big help and sometimes means you can connect with people feeling the same.

Utilising online services such as Messenger and Zoom can help you feel connected with those you love. Also, if you need to remove yourself from reading the news – do it. That is another thing I’ve learned from my Life in a Lockdown series – I admitted it was something I found I had to do and a lot people agreed they either had, or should, do the same.

Are mental health issues taken seriously enough in 2020?
No. I think especially in the UK mental health teams are underfunded and while they are trying and some techniques are better some things have gotten worse. For instance, I can now access better therapy for my BPD, but the constant support of a CPN coming out to visit is no longer available.

Do initiatives like World Mental Health Day help with breaking the stigmas surrounding mental illness?
These initiatives are both good and bad. They get people talking and opening up, which is good, but they also bring on the trolls, which isn’t. It is also something we need to begin talking about all year around, not just on certain days. Mental health doesn’t disappear when people aren’t talking about it.

When you’re having a difficult time, what helps you?
It depends on how I feel at the time; sometimes being with people, sometimes just having a few minutes alone. I’m also working on things like the TIPP and ACCEPTS skills which I recently learned in DBT. It is hard working on new skills to try and get them working, but repeated use will hopefully make it easier.

I’ve also very much learnt that what works for one won’t for another and it’s OK to accept that a certain skill doesn’t work for you. At last, mental health workers seem to be coming to terms with that as well. The first time someone said ‘it’s OK that this doesn’t work for you’ rather than them looking at me like I had an extra head was such a huge relief for me.

Which books on mental health and wellness would you recommend people check out?
I honestly struggle with a lot of mental health books, many are around CBT, which doesn’t work for me.

Instead, I use things like affirmation cards to give me a short positive statement to think on at bad times, or puzzle books/colouring books as a way to self soothe.

How do you collaborate with brands, and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I collaborate with brands in a host of different ways, from reviews to sponsored posts and even writing patient views for their own websites. I love anything that gets me thinking and focusing and as I said before, I write about a host of topics as I find that works for me.

I do have a passion for small brands as I guess, as a blog, that is what I am, too.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
Show that you have looked at my blog, show that it interests you. So many emails are often generic and feel like they have been sent to anyone and everyone. A bit of personalisation goes a long way. After all, that’s what you would like me to do if I approached you.

What other blogs do you check out regularly?
This is a hard one, as I bounce around blogs (and vlogs) a lot like I do my own writing. I must be careful with other mental health blogs as well as they can be triggering. However, The Mental Elf, Sectioned and Life on the Borderline are some I regularly go back to.


Trina Runs

Running Blogger Spotlight: Trina Dawkins, Trina Runs

Trina Dawkins runs and also blogs, sharing updates on races she’s participating in, how she’s preparing for upcoming challenges and what routes she’s enjoying at the moment. Read on for tips from Trina on which snacks to pack in your pockets or backpack before heading out for a run, which kinds of brands she loves working with and how she stays motivated.

What got you into running as a hobby and what keeps you passionate about it as a way to keep fit?
I have always been a sport fanatic and participated in athletics, basketball and weightlifting in my teens. My running picked up again and became more consistent three years ago when I started participating in races, beginning with Race for Life 5k and 10k. I love running as a way to keep fit as I love my food, and this helps to create a good life balance!

Trina Dawkins

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
I have been posting my running updates, races and updates on preparing for them. I am planning on writing reviews for clothing and footwear.

Did you take part in the London Marathon this year?
I did not get into the real London Marathon but ran the Virtual London Marathon on 4 October! I was supposed to run the Manchester Marathon in April, but that has now been postponed to next year.

Do you think the different format of the Marathon, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, was a good idea?
I think it was a great opportunity for runners to test their fitness and a great motivation to keep running.

How did you change your approach and content during lockdown?
I completed many virtual challenges including Race to the Stones 100km in a week. This was great motivation for me to keep running and stay mentally and physically healthy. I also developed a love for podcasts and now routinely listen to them on my runs.

What’s the best route you’ve ever taken for a run?
I love running along the Thames Path, which runs forever. Also the Jubilee Greenway. I ran from Hampton Court to Canada Water for my Marathon route.

Best snacks/drinks to take along for a race?
I love electrolytes in my water. I also love Soreen loaf and Haribo!

What advice would you give to someone who’s never been into running but would like to start?
I would say start by going for walks first, then slowly maybe walk for one minute and run for one minute. It would be great to do this with a friend so that you can motivate each other, or follow a Couch to 5k programme to get started. If Parkrun was happening currently, this would be great, even just to walk the route as there are tail walkers and other newbies there for support. It is also a great way to make friends!

How do you collaborate with brands, and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I am currently an ambassador for Runderwear, Vaga, National Running Show and Sundried. These brands reached out to me through my running posts. I love working with brands that are inclusive and are open to provide opportunities for new and established runners or fitness enthusiasts.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
They can approach me by sending me a direct message on Instagram or via email. I am happy to work with any PR working on running, diversity in running/fitness.

What other blogs do you check out regularly?
I love to check out other blogs like Lazy Girl Running, Pick Up The Pace, Susie Chan and many more!


Mandy Kloppers

Mental Health Blogger Spotlight: Mandy Kloppers, Thoughts On Life And Love

Sharing her thoughts on life, love and looking after your mental health is Mandy Kloppers, who blogs at Thoughts On Life And Love. With 2020 throwing up new challenges for mental wellbeing every day, coping strategies and open communication about how you’re feeling are a must – read on for some advice from Mandy.

How did you get started with blogging about mental health?
I decided to get stuck in one day, in 2013, instead of just thinking about it. I wanted to share my knowledge as a Psychologist to help others. I saw many common patterns in my clients and wanted to share this inside information (while maintaining confidentiality, of course). I taught myself everything from SEO to using WordPress (a lot of trial and error!) and graduated from Blogspot to WordPress after a year or two. WordPress enabled me to personalise my blog and add more features.

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
I love posting about strategies and interventions that are useful to help others cope with life and reduce their anxiety. There are many ways that we can tweak our thinking and our behaviour to lead lives that are more fulfilling. When we spend more time being mindful and less time ‘in our heads’ we can instantly ease some of the distress we feel when life is challenging. I love animals and also love it when I can spread knowledge and information about how animals improve mental health and reduce anxiety (apparently up to 30%). I watch animal videos on Instagram and they instantly cheer me up when I am feeling sad or having a hard day.

How did you change your approach and content during lockdown?
I focused more on motivation and acceptance as many people have reported that they feel demotivated since the Coronavirus pandemic began. I have added more inspirational posts as well to offer hope to those who are feeling fed up and disillusioned. Our control has been taken away in many ways and this can lead to increased anxiety and/or depression. This won’t last forever and accepting what we can change is important as we waste emotional energy trying to change things that are beyond our personal reach. All we can really control are our thoughts and our reactions. Focusing on what is possible is empowering.

What do you think the longer-term impacts of the pandemic and lockdown will be on mental health and how can people combat them?
I believe that many individuals will experience PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) due to the pandemic. It has affected people’s relationships, finances and turned many people’s lives upside down. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy is especially effective in dealing with PTSD. Apart from counselling, it is important to deal with unresolved fears that might arise from being in lockdown and the pandemic. Those who feel vulnerable and more fearful might avoid tackling their fears (such as being afraid to mix with others). The best thing to do is to face your fears using baby steps – one day at a time until you feel confident. Avoidance will diminish self-confidence.

Are mental health issues taken seriously enough in 2020?
We are getting there but progress is slow. I find this frustrating because if you asked someone whether they would rather lose a leg or their mind, most people would rather lose a leg. Yet physical health seems to receive more funding and more services are in place than for mental health.

Do initiatives like World Mental Health Day help with breaking the stigmas surrounding mental illness?
Yes, definitely. The more we normalise mental health issues, the more likely people will be to open up about their own personal stories. We have all experienced times when we felt we couldn’t cope yet many of us still say ‘Yes, I am fine’ even when we aren’t.

When you’re having a difficult time, what helps you?
I use positive coping statements to reassure myself such as, ‘I have gotten through bad times before and I can do it again’. I also try to keep busy and don’t overthink as this makes things worse. I do my best to problem solve and focus on real worries (like a breakup, or losing a job) and dismiss hypothetical worry (‘what if’ worries) as they may never happen.

Which books on mental health and wellness would you recommend people check out?
Stop Thinking, Start Living by Richard Carlson is a brilliant book about getting out of your busy mind and being more present in the moment. Our minds make up all sorts of scary stories and learning to ignore these thoughts is a key skill in mental resilience. I am currently reading Untamed by Glennon Doyle and I am really enjoying it – it’s all about stopping ‘people pleasing’. I also recommend good reads on my website under ‘Books I love’.

How do you collaborate with brands, and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I haven’t collaborated with many brands but this is definitely something I need to improve on and integrate into my blog more. I love working with brands that showcase innovative technology to help people improve and/or support their mental health. There are many gadgets that help ease anxiety or promote focus whilst decreasing an individual’s distractions. There is so much out there, and I love sharing this with readers. I also enjoy sharing products that promote wellbeing such as spas, travel destinations (travel is great for mental health) as well as animal therapy.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?

PRs are welcome to email me via my website if they have a great idea to promote mental wellbeing or improve relationships. I am also keen on veganism, protecting the planet, animal therapy and sustainable products. I love the idea of making life easier for others or helping them in some way.

What other blogs do you check out regularly?
There are a few blogs that I love. I like as they champion mental health and share personal stories of mental health struggles. Another blog that I regularly read is They provide useful advice and inspirational stories on life and relationships. Oh, yes – last, but not least, is; a wonderful website with a variety of inspiring stories.