2021 in PR and communications so far

2021 trends so far in PR and communications

Back in December, we asked a selection of thought leaders working across PR and communications for their predictions on the big trends coming up for the industry in 2021.

Ethics, fake news, the growth of digital and opportunity in disruption were some of the topics that came up at the time, so we caught up with Sarah Waddington, Shayoni Lynn, Stuart Thomson, Kerry Sheehan, and Tolu Akisanya to see how things have panned out so far…

Upcoming areas of opportunity – healthcare, policy and change
‘COVID is nowhere near over and businesses have never needed professional comms support more. Specific industry experience will be a huge boon as the economy opens up further. Those with experience in healthcare comms and economic development will continue to do particularly well.’
Sarah Waddington, Astute.Work and #FuturePRoof

‘It seems that, under Boris Johnson at least, interventionist governments are here to stay. There are very few areas of life that the Government doesn’t seem to have an opinion, or policy, on. The big opportunity, and threat if not addressed, is for organisations to engage with Government to ensure the policies work. There will be no more obvious policy area where this applies than climate change. With COP26 coming, the Government will need to make some big policy announcements to accompany the impressive targets it has set. Engagement will be critical throughout and beyond this time.’
Stuart Thomson, BDB Pitmans

Digital data is an essential part of the modern PR toolkit
‘Data, digital and understanding of human behaviour will continue to be an important driver for effective, strategic communications. Why are we doing it? What do we want people to do? How will be measure it?’
Shayoni Lynn, Lynn PR

‘Because of the pandemic last year, brands and organisations have had to shift their attention to digital; I think there will be a conscious effort to continue this, with a focus on building online communities. There’s an opportunity here for strengthened loyalty, genuine interaction, and not just for our clients but also with peers and the wider industry. Ariatu PR’s work with new authors is a great example of this; working with new authors, from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds, raising awareness for these authors (that statistically would have been overlooked in the past), creating new communities and reaching new audiences. The organisation also has built a great interactive community online, with other PR professionals, journalists, and the wider industry and created a strong reputation of being knowledgeable, approachable and impactful.

‘Some other great examples over the last few months include the fantastic Weetabix x Heinz Twitter thread, and Marcus Rashford’s School Meals campaign, both of which started online and went on to captivate the nation, lead to wider discussions offline, and ultimately changed behaviours.’
Tolu Akisanya, Ariatu Public Relations

Accountability and ethics
‘For public affairs as a profession, there is no doubt that the texting habits of politicians, for example, have adversely impacted on our reputation. The rules that he [David Cameron] put in place, which everyone said were lacking at the time, did not prevent him from doing whatever he wanted without fear of retribution.’
Stuart Thomson

‘There has been an increased expectation for accountability. Last year, there was pressure for brands and organisations to be seen saying the right (socially conscious) thing, this year they have been asked to show the work behind their public claims. It’s no longer enough to pay lip service to global issues, organisations and brands be must be seen to authentically follow up with real-life changes and examples, and not just performative PR activities, they must work much harder now to be genuine and transparent to build trust and relationships with their audiences.’
Tolu Akisanya

The fast pace may not ease up
‘We’re returning to urgent planned and unplanned work, and supporting organisations, businesses and brands to move to a place of not only surviving but thriving in their evolved ways of doing things and their accelerated transformation and innovation as a result of the pandemic.

‘Some are still trying to fathom this out and even though some economies have seemingly bounced back to a better than anticipated place at this stage, we are seeing behaviours continue to adapt and change at a faster pace than before. This continues to be a big challenge for us to ensure we can land our communication right to ensure the compliance, buy-in, take-up and so on we require.

‘There has been no let up. There never will be. Working at pace is the norm now.’
Kerry Sheehan, Business innovation and communication advisor

Big surprises of 2021 so far?
‘The refocus of gaining coverage in alternative media – which I love! Over the last year or so, one of the biggest challenges was being able to effectively cut through the global stories dominating the news in hand with changes in content consumption. Many practitioners were able to quickly pick up on this and pivoted, to utilise smaller, more localised and niche media outlets, to reach their target audiences.’
Tolu Akisanya

‘The way that the Government has tried to shift the Covid-19 public inquiry off until mid-2022 is surprising given that another wave of infections are widely expected for later in 2021. The political imperative of putting the findings of a public inquiry off until some future date seems to have outweighed the potential health benefits of learning lessons sooner rather than later. If you want a prediction for 2022 then it will be how much the inquiry will dominate public life as the evidence starts to be heard.’
Stuart Thomson

‘The amount of communicators tuning into and building on their emotional intelligence, and using this to build relationships. The need for emotional skills, the cornerstone of employee and audience engagement but also competitive advantage, will continue to grow and could even outpace the demand for cognitive skills in the future.’
Kerry Sheehan

PR continues to show its value
‘COVID-19 may be one of the worst natural disasters global society has faced in recent years, but it has been good for the public relations industry which has been able to pretty bullishly demonstrate its value to business, not least through stakeholder engagement and internal comms. The biggest challenges have been managing demand and helping the hardest hit industries get back on their feet, closely followed by a talent shortage at the account manager level. The ongoing concern is how to keep PR in front of management teams so they continue to appreciate what it delivers and invest appropriately.’
Sarah Waddington

‘Public sector comms teams continue to knock it out of the park with COVID-19 comms – huge respect to everyone working through this tirelessly, especially colleagues in public health. This has contributed to our excellent vaccination numbers with more people than expected taking up the vaccine, helping us all move towards some sort of ‘normalcy’.’
Shayoni Lynn

‘Some of the biggest achievements for the industry this year – embracing change, mastering the art of the pivot, and finding new ways to be creative and communicate our products/services and clients. Despite starting the year in the middle of a pandemic we’ve really been able to highlight our value in our ability to adapt, be creative and deliver effective PR campaigns. The #GettyMuseumChallenge is a great example of pivoting, increasing brand awareness, and building a community of art-lovers from user-generated content on instagram.’
Tolu Akisanya

‘I am continually impressed by how resourceful people have been during the continued lockdown, on a personal and professional level. We all need picking up sometimes and my network across PR and comms has always been there. It is fantastic how many organisations really are thinking about the wellbeing, especially the mental wellbeing, of their people.’
Stuart Thomson

Looking for more from our PR and communications trends predictors?

Interview with Stuart Thomson about his PR & Comms Best Influencer win at the 2020 Online Influence Awards

Sarah Waddington’s #FuturePRoof Five

In the event of an emergency webinar

In the event of an emergency – communicating a summer of live events webinar

For our latest webinar we spoke to the people behind the planning as we ready for the return of in-person events. Sharing the big challenges from the last year were Cheltenham Festival’s PR and communications manager Bairbre Lloyd and ME Travel founder Hannah Mursal, who have successfully battled through cancellations, changing restrictions and internationally-inconsistent rules on travel and event attendance.

Part of the relaxation of social-distancing rules in the UK is the uncertainty over what is to come over the next few months. Read on for practical advice on how to prepare for every eventuality regarding events.

Challenges of the last 18 months
‘It’s been tricky!’ said Hannah. Looking after every element of booking for ME Travel’s entertainment clients, their bands and their crew has required increased flexibility as well as patience.

‘In the UK and across Europe, it’s been quiet – people have been doing music videos and virtual performances instead of touring. In the US, it’s been more focused on domestic travel. They haven’t really stopped; people were still travelling to do gigs. We’re looking at the bulk of events coming back in September. It’s been a waiting game to book tours in and find new venue dates.

‘Restrictions are changing constantly, but it all depends on who’s going where. I’ve got Jamaican artists, but their crews are American, English, German. There are times where you could only get half of the crew there.
‘You have to know what every country is allowing in. Do they need forms, vaccination – you can’t really book in advance, either. You can’t book today to fly next week, because it will change by mid-week.’

Plus points of the pandemic (there have been a few)
For Bairbre, juggling different priorities has brought positives as well as challenges.

‘When you’re a location putting on a festival, you can make your own decisions but you have to think about the audience if you want people to come.

‘Some of our speakers were delighted to get out of where they were, and others were… not so keen. What it has opened up to us is the idea of dialling in. Our Literature Festival was a hybrid of a socially-distanced audience and streaming online. There were people on stage while guests from the US were able to join digitally. That will have repercussions in the future – when this all finally lifts. It’s another string to our bow. It worked for us.

‘Like a lot of our fellow cultural organisations found, there was a huge appetite for us to provide support for the community. Our Science Festival was a godsend to lots of parents schooling from home. Our audience has increased enormously and that’s something we want to develop.

‘It has been difficult, but it’s jump-started our digital ambitions. We had to do all of this in five weeks – it would otherwise have probably taken us about five years.’

Lessons learned
‘We were making decisions as late as possible to have maximum flexibility – we were on tenterhooks waiting for the go-head for things,’ said Bairbre.

‘While we brought in lots of technology, there wasn’t really time to test it. We could have done with more user experience for next time. It worked, but it was hairy.’

For Hannah, the importance of communication and relationships has been a main takeaway:
‘We were all in it together, we became a family – I know how my clients’ mums are doing, their dads. It was panic stations in the beginning, so it was good to keep that communication going. In terms of hotels, the entertainment reps were the first to lose their jobs. My contacts all got made redundant. It was important to keep in the loop of what everyone was doing.

‘It was useful to know when someone was in the studio recording – it tells me when things lift, they have an album to tour. Building these relationships lets me know when are going back to work.’

Contingency plans
‘We’re planning for a full capacity without social distancing for our next Literature Festival in October – we made that call fairly early on,’ shared Bairbre.

‘I think if restrictions are put back in place, however, we will go back to what we’ve done before. This will be the eighth festival we’ve done in lockdown – we can bring in distancing and Covid-secure measures. Our senior management team will be in HQ cooking up plans. We were lucky last year because we slipped in between lockdowns. And I think we were the first literary festival to do a hybrid version.’

‘Not to sound complacent, but I’ve done so many cancellation announcements that we have our contingency plan for if it’s needed. If you’ve got a plan written and ready to go, you roll that out; you know that it works. Having those comms ready to run, is the key for me.

‘People are still going to be a bit insecure with events. One of the things we were conscious of were that some people were going to be really gung-ho and ready to come out, some would be more cautious. You need to be really clear with everybody with how you’re managing your event. If the audience knows what to expert – that they’ve got to sit in bubbles, wash their hands, have e-tickets and wear masks – they will accept it. It’s the not-knowing that makes people angry.’

Practical tips for planning events during COVID-19
‘Have your communications plan ready in advance,’ advises Bairbre.

‘We went through looking at scenarios, what negative reactions we could potentially have to safety onsite. We thought about all the things that could be picked up on and made sure we were proactive with our safety measures. And with sending comms out, make sure your stakeholders are onboard and informed – artists, staff and suppliers.’

‘Insurance has been huge in my world,’ Hannah added. ‘It’s hard to get event insurance that covers COVID now. Make sure you’re covered with your suppliers.’

‘Be prepared; have that contingency plan. The rug may be pulled from under you at any moment.’

For more trends to prepare for when it comes to getting back outside, download our white paper PR & Media Travel Trends 2021.

Simon Mouncey Transport for London

‘Start by speaking the same language as the person you are talking with’ – Simon Mouncey, Transport for London

Everyone in society is different and has different experiences of the same things. This is a fundamental truth that everyone in PR must accept in order to design the right comms strategy and speak to the right audiences in the right way.

In this guest post, Transport for London’s communities and partnerships specialist Simon Mouncey shares the importance of listening to your audience and taking on new approaches to embrace inclusivity.

‘I’ve been in PR for as long as I can remember, indeed long before emails, when you used carbon paper and did things in triplicate. I even remember a training session on how to put the paperclip on the right way round so it didn’t catch with all the other memos in the tray. Thankfully most priorities have changed since then, from how you did things to making change happen. I can now say I have changed people’s lives for the better. That’s a nice feeling. It’s nice being able to say you did the right things than just did things the right way.

What is the right way now anyway?

Something we’ve learnt over the past year is there is a disconnect to what we believe to be true and what others know is true. This has turned into a discussion on inclusive leadership. Whatever you think inclusive leadership is, the bottom line is that you cannot possibly know what it is like to be judged unless you too have been judged the same way. So, decisions affecting people’s lives need to be made by the people whose lives are being affected. Call it Ivory Towers or call it what it is, a systemic failing in our society based on opportunities and therefore positions of power reserved for those who look and sound like the people who are already in those positions.

No amount of unconscious bias training or other gestures will change how you are hardwired; it is just another easy tickbox. As a society, we surround ourselves with people who reinforce our beliefs, values and prejudices. Real unconscious bias training will parachute you into a life totally alien to you, an escape room, where you have to find new friends and allies to achieve your aim. Maybe, subconsciously, that’s why escape rooms are so popular. But to be effective you will need to be with total strangers, randomly picked from society.

The place to start is speaking the same language as the person you are talking with. The only way you can do that is to let them do the talking and listen and learn. So, don’t restrict them to a survey with questions based on your own experiences, views, opinions, perceptions and so on. But also amplify their voice. If they have no experience of being listened to then you have to bring them up to the same level as you, in knowledge of what your outcome is, and skills in making it happen.

I learnt this very early on, when I was charged with implementing national policy for people with learning disabilities. I think being naïve back then I was given it not as a challenge but as something everyone else had turned down (I was asked to become a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate after that and turned it down, but that’s one of life’s crossroad moments). The policy was that adults with learning disabilities should be able to decide their own lives. They had new personal care packages known as Independent Living allowances, which is an income they could spend on what they wanted, like ice cream and holidays. But how do you know what they want if they have never been listened to before, been institutionalised, and had other people make decisions for them? Many of those living in institutional care had never had a voice and therefore never developed speech well enough to have a conversation. There are many aspects of society where that is still true today. Well, in this case a pictorial language was developed, that meant they could say what they wanted in a conversation and their voice was heard for the first time, unfiltered by other people who had their own values and opinions.

Zoom (pun intended) forward to 2021 and many have woken up to the realisation that so many are excluded from society by their voice being excluded from decisions and have therefore developed their own communication methods. That can be rage, a protest, a counter-culture or just opting out of society. All of them, whatever your perception or judgement is, are methods of communication because they aren’t listened to the way the decision makers will hear. I call it prismatic thinking, where all the colours of the rainbow are there but when you apply your own filter to it you see just one colour. When decision makers say ‘limit the right to protest’, they are in effect masking those voices. And glass isn’t just in ceilings, it is all around us, and we see what we want to see based on our own reflections.

What I’m looking for in someone to communicate for me when I can’t is sincerity and authenticity. They need to believe in the message and what they are trying to achieve, and they need to tell it how it is. And when they look for what comes back it needs to be unfiltered. When people talk about a Green future what they mean is panic; we are feeling the effects of climate change now and it will only get worse, do something now. Relate that to what we are doing to make people’s lives in London better. What is better for them? Is it to be treated fairly and equally, a home, a job, a future? So there is a disconnect between getting more people cycling and walking and what we really mean is that all our futures are at risk if we don’t panic.

As professionals we need to get across to decision makers that everyone is starting from a different place and you can’t apply the same policy to everyone. Someone reminded me recently of the big tent idea. Where, in our western colonial culture, we get all the friendly like-minded experts together to agree what needs to be done. When in fact the name originates from native Americans where to deal with threats, like to their way of life, they would bring all the tribal leaders together, most of them enemies, leave their weapons outside and not be able to leave the tent until they agree what they need to do.

I’ve always advocated for local decision making, so you give the problem to a local community, you give them the skills and opportunities to become leaders (which by default is inclusive leadership), any risks, constraints and a framework to reach a consensus – in other words, everything you do to reach your conclusion – and you help them make a decision. It has become known as Citizen Assemblies. But call it what it is; people deciding how they as individuals and members of a wider society will achieve the same future as everyone else wants. That could be cycling where you can, it could be driving just for essential trips, it could be anything the individual can and knows they need to do. But to get there you need to abandon the structures and processes put in place that limits their voice. Amplify the hardest to hear and turn the volume down on the loudest heard all the time.

Take the example of going cashless on London Buses. Just like when I was in social care policy, I leapt at the chance to do it. Only then was I told TfL had been trying to do it forever and no one had attempted it in case in went wrong. My first thought was what was ‘going wrong’; it shouldn’t be about image. Failure to me was someone being hurt because they were carrying cash. Or someone trying to get somewhere just in time only to have to wait for people paying their fare with pennies. Or the person who is just a few pence short but trying to get the bus to get away from being hurt. So it was presented to people as, these are your friends and family, your neighbours, your community. We will help you engage with them so you can tell us what you’ve agreed. We helped communities find their leaders and supported them. I called it Co-Production.

In a later project involving a school, the headteacher told me I had changed the life chances of the students involved in the project, their confidence, hopes and aspirations and how they had just expected to leave school with nothing but were now planning a degree, career and a future for themselves, as lawyers, engineers and business leaders to help their communities.

I don’t have any plans for the future; I’m a water sign so go with the flow. Who knows the next thing around the corner. Another pandemic, certainly. The warnings were given years ago that with the climate and ecological emergency there was likely to be more diseases jumping species. And then there have been record after record tumbling on temperature, drought, rain. My advice would be, be nice to people, open your heart and that will open your mind. Make friends with people who are really different from you. Take a leap of faith and trust people to do the right thing. Forget the hashtag and campaign slogans. Give them your knowledge and skills and watch people reshape society in everyone’s image.’

For more on communicating with different audiences, read insight from this year’s PRFest on keeping PR sustainable

Leadership styles that work

Types of leadership styles that work (and those that don’t)

Gordon Gekko from Wall Street, Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, David Brent from The Office – toxic styles of leadership have been immortalised on the screen through the decades, but none of them can compare to the horrors of bad leadership in real life. And when it comes to unrealistic demands, unachievable targets and damaging work environs, the creative side of industry has been an ideal breeding ground for particularly nasty styles of management over the years…

We asked our PR network for some of their own stories (names removed to protect the innocent):

‘An old boss of mine was the definition of The Devil Wears Prada. She once commented that I would have to charm with my personality since my looks let me down. During the launch of a restaurant she insisted we all walk around with our hands on our hips in case a photographer caught us with a devastating case of Sausage Arm…’

‘…my first ever job was for a well-known trade publishing house in the early 1980s – one of my bosses would verbally abuse me and occasionally hit me over the head. One of the other editors said I needed to stand up for myself (I was 18), so the next time the chap started on me, I told him not to. He said ‘make me’, so I stood up and swung a punch at him. I missed almost completely and ran off…’

‘…controlling, insulting, demeaning. She got violent and used to throw things. The receptionist bought my boss the wrong kind of roll from the bakery once. Thankfully, she had great reactions and ducked just in time…’

PR, marketing, advertising and media have been known as a haven for bad and outdated leadership styles and truly awful workplace superiors – if you’ve been in the business for a while and don’t have a related anecdote that springs to mind immediately, it’s very likely someone you work with does. This history of crappy leadership is understandable. In these creativity-focused sectors powered by financial targets, lead generation and, above all, the bottom line, unconventional working styles and abrasive personalities can reign free… if they are seen to get results.

‘The reality is that all sorts of bad leadership approaches may be tolerated by companies if the person is generating commercial value or has specialist, hard-to-replace skills,’ says Access Intelligence’s Head of HR Kate Fraser, who has worked with her share of big (for both the good and the bad) characters in important roles.

‘At least now it is normal for both managers and team members to talk about the impact of individual management styles on company environment.’

Approaches to management and leadership have – thankfully – changed drastically since ‘Management Science’ came in the wake of ‘Mass Production’. Even since the 1990s, where bosses loudly calling their employees The C-Word during frustrating projects – another example shared by a former pro who worked with a certain big brand during the decade of fax machines and pub-as-office – wasn’t so frowned upon.

Beyond the anecdotal, old-school cruelty at work just doesn’t really… work. A survey from Businessolver this year found that 92% of employees would be more likely to stay in their job if their bosses would show more empathy. An OC Tanner study showed that 79% of employees who quit their job left because of a lack of appreciation. Cruel leadership styles can even impact physical health within teams, as found in a Karolinska Institute report that showed links between leader qualities and incidences of heart disease in the workforce.

‘Human nature hasn’t fundamentally changed, whether we are talking about employees in the 50s or employees in the 90s or now,’ says Kate. ‘People have always valued development opportunities, autonomy, recognition and meaningful work, and good leaders have always understood the value of adapting their approach depending on individual competencies and personalities.

‘There are two key things to which leaders and managers have needed to adapt in the past decade or so which are not easy to get right. Employees expect meaningful experiences that have a purpose going beyond money or even self-development, in which the positive reputation (as opposed on to commercial success) of companies is important. And work is often undertaken/achieved through networks and influence rather than through role authority.’

Exerting control through rank-pulling and tyrannical rule (a la Katharine Parker in Working Girl, or, perhaps one of the worst film bosses of all time, Darth Vader) is out – or, at least, it should be – and supportive leaders that allow creativity and good ideas to flourish are what can make modern teams work.

New people-first initiatives – like Bumble’s week-long closure back in June to give staff experiencing burn out a break, job sharing for senior roles at the BBC, KPMG’s voice-only meetings on Fridays, and the Human Givens approach being used at Splendid Communications – are positive changes and, hopefully, signs that aggressive and outdated leadership styles will go the way of those fax machines and printed media directories – relegated to the past.

‘…Every day I wanted to crash into the central reservation on the motorway just so I would have a good enough excuse not to go into work. I left to work in-house for a global brand. Guess who made contact with me two weeks into my new job? Nice as pie, telling me she knew I’d go on to great things and did I need a PR agency? I had great delight telling her that while I was working there, she would NEVER make it onto the approved supplier list and to never contact me ever again. That’s the last I heard from her.

‘I see her name pop up from time to time and it makes me think back to my early days in the industry. As hard as it was, it shaped me into being a better boss. I’d never want anyone junior to me to feel how I did. For that, I’m grateful.’

For more on maintaining mental wellbeing at work, watch our accessmatters session with KDP Consulting’s Katie Phillips on spotting the early signs of burnout and how to protect yourself and your colleagues.

Your team are key stakeholders too

Stakeholders aren’t just clients or suppliers – don’t forget your team!

This is a guest post from PRFest founder and Aura PR‘s Laura Sutherland.

If you’re not familiar with the term ‘stakeholder’ then just assume anyone with an interest in your business or organisation is one. They have an opinion about your brand and they also have the power to influence other people’s perceptions.

Too often we think of customers and shareholders as the main stakeholder groups and all too often the people who keep the business running are left off. Your team!

Often staff is considered a challenge rather an asset. What if staff were nurtured as stakeholders? What if staff were fed them with learning opportunities and watered with the chance to feel empowered to take on challenges and solve problems? I say that mindset is 75% of the battle.

Staff is one of, if not the most important stakeholder group. Don’t forget them. Include them. Nurture them.

This isn’t all the responsibility of the CEO. Line managers/middle management, have a large role to play and they need supported in order to nurture the team.

So, what key things do line managers need to do, to effectively support the team and give them these opportunities?

1. Genuinely get to know staff members
2. Listen and observe – be present
3. Regularly have 1-2-1 discussions with the team – it’s not always work challenges you can help with
4. Ensure the exec team is communicating with middle management regularly
5. When there is a challenge, ensure there is an action plan developed to try and overcome it
6. Celebrate good work – notice it and ensure it’s acknowledged
7. Communicate with the exec team when there is a challenge and you need support
8. Set up internal recruitment schemes to offer progression within and bespoke perks
9. Develop a programme for innovation where staff feel empowered to solve problems
10. Be genuine
11. Be aware of your own style and be open to constructive feedback

As a result, your team members will want to help you succeed and will be more productive, participative, caring and hold themselves accountable. Most importantly, they’ll be happier!

It comes back down to the basics of PR. Build relationships by genuinely caring and that’s when trust and respect is earned and given.

Find out more about Laura Sutherland’s work and this year’s PRFest here.

How to nail your PR story to awareness days

How to nail a PR story to an awareness day

This is a guest post from Jamie Wilson, Lead Publisher at Bottle PR.

Pitching a story to the media around an awareness day can sometimes feel a bit like planning your perfect New Year’s party: there’s a lot of pressure to have the best day ever but there’s always the risk that the expectation ends up greater than the reality. Oh, and don’t forget the FOMO – or in this case the fear of missing out to one of your competitor’s campaigns…

There’s no doubt that awareness days can provide brands with a timely hook to elevate a key message or align themselves with a particular topic or discussion. But with over 1,500 awareness days taking place over the course of a single year, identifying the ones that are worth your time and effort can be tricky and time consuming.

The biggest challenge you’re likely to face is working out the ones that journalists will be interested in covering that year. From the widely recognised household names like Mental Health Week, there are a few heavyweights that every editorial team will be aware of.

Then you’ve got the more humorous ones – the Gorgeous Grandma Days and the Lost Sock Memorial Days. Often designed to amuse and delight, these can make for great social content, but you shouldn’t be too quick to discount them as a possible media hook.

While you can’t predict which of the awareness days will be taking a journalist’s fancy, you can be your best PR-self and ask yourself a few important questions before creating an associated story.

Does the awareness day align with longer-term brand messages?

Inclusive PR isn’t about selling in stories at various points throughout the year because you want to be part of a wide-reaching conversation. It’s about building a brand that consistently shows a target audience what you stand for. Remember, the topics that are important to that audience are just as important to you as a brand. Many brands are being called out now for marketing rainbow-coloured products just to be associated with Pride Month. But in reality, the LGBTQ community seek support and recognition every day. Be selective with the awareness days you want to tell a story around and be certain it tallies up with your other PR activity.

What relevant assets do you have in your content bank?

The simple mantra to keep repeating to yourself is ‘do I have something new and exciting to offer?’. Too many brands simply jump on the bandwagon with lukewarm content that’s pre-destined to get lost in the noise. Remember, an awareness day is not a story in itself. Therefore, if you want a journalist to cover your content, you need to have something worth covering. This could be new research, the launch of a campaign, or simply doing something out of the ordinary.

What angle are the competitor brands likely to take?

You should also remember that you’ll be competing with other brands on the day. Therefore, preparation becomes key. Identifying the most important awareness days for your client should be first up on the agenda. Then beaver through what your competitors’ key PR messages have been in the last three months, say. With your PR head on, you can probably work out what theme they’ll write their story on, so you can sense-check you don’t double up (and worse, lose out).

Have I left enough time to nail this awareness day or am I panic-reacting?

Prep and pitch your story at least a couple of weeks in advance. This means you stand a better chance in cutting through on your chosen awareness hook. And of course, pipping those competitors to it. With that (good) story prepped, pitched and secured ahead of the day itself, not even a Hollywood actress or the latest politician fumble (as I almost lost out to around World Bee Day), can get in your way.

In such a crowded arena, and with no guarantee of success, pitching your story or campaign around an awareness day can be a daunting task. However, that’s not to say it won’t be worth it. On the contrary, a lot of homework and elbow grease, mixed together with a dash of good luck, can bring big results.

The lesson here: nailing a media story on a global awareness day takes serious graft. Give yourself as much time as possible: those few extra weeks can be make or break when it comes to long-lead journalists. Rest assured, though – with a truly unique story and the right preparation, the day will be one worth remembering!

Extra answers on building better relationships between PRs and journalists

Cut for time: extra answers on building better relationships between PRs and journalists

Our virtual event Building better relationships between PRs and journalists featured advice and insight from the freelance journalists behind Journo Resources, Jem Collins and Faima Bakar, and Freelancing for Journalists, Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson.

Watch Building better relationships between PRs and journalists here.

We ran out of time to answer all of the questions that came in during the session, but Jem, Faima and Lily have very kindly taken extra time out of their busy schedules of freelance commissions and supporting the freelance journalist community to give their take on them. Read on for their perception of PRs, why pitching over the phone is a no-go and where to find what journalists are actually looking for.

What is your perception of PRs in general? Do you find them helpful, or a hinderance to your work, when they show up in your inbox?

Jem: To be completely honest, a lot of time it is a hinderance. I have a separate inbox for my freelance journalism work, and honestly, it’s just like a constant avalanche of press releases. Right now, there are 786 unread emails in there, and I did a clear only the other day. Realistically, there is no way I can read all of these (let alone reply to them) and get anything else done, and the majority really aren’t relevant.

This isn’t to say that I think badly of PRs, it’s just the mass send out approach I find frustrating. The PRs I have the best relationships with are the ones who actually send me a personal email and really know what I do. I do appreciate that is a lot more work, and sometimes you do just have to get something out, but I really would stress how important the personalised approach is to building a relationship that actually works.

Faima: It depends on what they’re offering me – unsolicited PR emails can be annoying but sometimes they’re useful, I was more likely to read PR emails as a staffer as I was able to pick up stories of product launches/weird/quirky news which I can’t do as a freelancer. So there is no point sending the same things to freelancers as you would staffers. Now, these emails end up in my bin as they are just not relevant which can feel like a hindrance. However, they are helpful when they listen to what I’m after – which is interesting and unique case studies, and new research that can be turned into a feature.

Lily: If I am completely honest, I would love to go back to the times when you could talk to people directly, but that’s not the world we live in so I acknowledge that I need to work alongside PRs and they can be incredibly useful at times.

The best way a PR can work with me is to respond to my calls for help rather then fill up my inbox. I just don’t read these emails. Recently I put out a call via #journorequest on Twitter for an article I am writing for a running magazine. The PRs that got in touch were great at putting me in touch with exactly the right people to speak to. This was the ideal situation where PR worked well for me. Had they sent me a press release at any other time of the year the chances are I would have deleted it straight away. I get 50 to 100 PR emails a day, so I have to be pretty ruthless.

Do you think pitching over the phones is outdated? Would you prefer to be contacted via email?

Jem: Personally, I hate being pitched over the phone, but I think a lot of that is down to me being a freelancer and working from home. When you’re calling a newsroom, there are loads of people around and whoever isn’t busy will pick up the call, so it works. When it’s just one journalist at home, constant phone calls are just really distracting and you don’t get anything done. It’s especially frustrating when it’s not even a story on your beat – as a freelancer and business owner I do a lot of different things in a day and it’s actually just really intrusive. This isn’t to say that I’m not open to a chat, though – but I’d much rather someone send me a personalised email and ask to schedule in a time for a chat or a coffee.

Lily: I actually don’t like PRs pitching me ideas. My job is to find and report on stories not to be promoting the work of an organisation, so for me this actually undermines journalism. By all means work with me on a story I am developing but don’t tell me you have a story – you have something to promote, not a story.

For somebody that has joined the field mid-pandemic, do you have any tips on how to reach out to journalists and build relationships when communication is so difficult? What advice would you give to PRs for approaching a freelance journalist that they haven’t met/spoken to before in order to start building that relationship?

Jem: While I would very strongly urge against people pitching stories via Twitter DMs, I do think Twitter is quite a good way to get involved in the Twitter conversation. We all spend way too much time on The Bird App, so just getting involved in the conversation and being friendly will help me remember your name and come to you when I need anything. I’m forever grateful to the PR who saw me having an eczema flare up on there and sent me some cream that actually worked!

I’d also recommend the No 1 Media Ladies Facebook Group – they have a dedicated PR hours where you can intro yourself and your clients and it’s a really lovely community where people actually chat to each other and help each other out. You’re also very welcome to our Journo Resources Facebook Group, too! It could also perhaps be worthwhile coming along to some of the virtual workshops and events which are on at the moment – it’s a good way to not only get an in and connection with people, but also to see the kind of issues journalists are having at the moment.

Faima: Go for a personalised approach, ask them what their interests are, Google their work beforehand, see if your clients line up with their interests, show them how the two can work together. Maybe chat over a coffee?

Lily: It’s all about being useful to journalists and giving them what they need. Respond quickly to call outs and come up with the goods. Most of all: be honest and reliable.

Any tips on making sure that our emails are read by the journalist? For example, subject line, bullet points in the email, images?

Jem: The main thing for me is just being as clear and to the point as possible. As I mentioned before, I get a lot of PR emails and I don’t even work in a big newsroom. So, for me to open your email I need to know exactly what it’s about from the subject line of the email alone, otherwise I probably won’t get around to it. The other thing I would avoid is pretending something is personalised when it’s not – it really irks me when someone says this would be a perfect fit for my beat, or that they’ve tried to give me a call about it when they’ve not looked at my beat or tried to give me a call. Journalists just see through those kind of tricks and get annoyed!

Faima: I would put the most interesting thing in the subject line; is it an invite, is it new research, what’s the hook? Include images if you’re talking about something visual and links! The amount of times I’ve received a PR email, wanting to know more but they don’t provide links for more info, leaving me to Google information – which is not what you want.

Lily: Think like a journalist, not a PR. Write a headline that a journalist would write. Write a press release like a news story, not a press release. It might go against everything that you know/have been trained to do but journalists actually don’t like press releases and most of them are really badly written.

Be helpful when they are looking for information or sources. That really is your best way in. Emailing and asking to meet for a coffee will probably not work. Also never assume they are in London, that really winds a lot of freelancers up because many don’t live anywhere near London.

Do B2B and B2C journalists differ in what they want from a PR?

Jem: I’ve not really worked in B2B newsrooms, but I do genuinely believe the basics of good PR are basically the same. We’ve all got the same pressures, so we just want people who take a personalised approach, and are clear, concise and reliable.

Are you having the same types of conversations with journalists, or do they tend to be more structured/more formal? Do you still have relaxed chats and catch ups to chew over/discuss what’s happening?

Lily: Freelance journalists have informal chats, rants and moans in lots of online communities, especially on Facebook.

Aside from a media database (obviously!), would you recommend any websites or tools for finding the most relevant freelance journalists for the stories you’re wanting to pitch? And do you think PRs underestimate the importance of a freelance journalist in an age of where they have a greater role?

Jem: I definitely think that some PRs I’ve worked with haven’t quite realised the long game you get from working with a freelancers. Sometimes the requests I send out are for smaller places, and then I get very few people offering to help. But those are the people I’ll then go back to when I do get a bigger opportunity. A really lovely PR helped me out for a piece for a niche website on freelancing, for example, and when I got my next commission at The Big Issue, I went back to her first as I knew she was reliable, so I think it’s about seeing a bit more of the long game for your clients and coverage. Plus, freelancers mean you have the opportunity to pull in even more wins when it works out – we’re not just tied to one newsroom, we can go anywhere!

Faima: I would keep an eye out on the #journorequest tag on Twitter, and then go through that writer’s profiles to see what they cover. Usually when writers send out a request, they’re inundated with DMs/emails but usually they’re not relevant – so again, make sure you’re offering someone they can actually use. And remember that freelancers don’t need to stick with one publication, use that to your advantage – if your story is interesting, they can pitch it to a wide range of publications.

Lily: It is tricky as there are no comprehensive databases specifically focused on freelance journalists and it takes quite a bit of detective work checking bylines and social media profiles. MuckRack can be handy for seeing what journalists do and if they are freelance. And, yes freelance journalists play an increasingly large role in shaping the media landscape particularly in securing exclusive stories. Plus, they like to get more than one bite of the cherry from a story so if you work with them, an article could end up in multiple publications.

Is Twitter where journos put out requests most often? Are there any other places we should be looking for requests?

Jem: You do see a lot of stuff on Twitter, so would definitely be across that, but I’d also say the same for Facebook Groups too. I know I’ve banged on about them a lot today, but they are super useful! I also use the Journalist Enquiry Service a lot if I need an expert, so being across that can often be a quick win, and I do try and include as many people from there that I hear back from as possible.

Faima: Look out on Facebook Groups, I put out a lot of my requests on journo-friendly pages. I also read them on, as Jem mentioned, the No 1 Media Ladies Facebook Group.

Lily: Definitely keep track of #journorequest on Twitter. I also use niche Facebook sites but I will be looking for individuals and actually don’t want to do it via a PR in this instance. I also use the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service quite a lot when I am looking for experts.

What’s the best way to find out specific interests of freelancers other than trawling through publications?

Jem: Journalists are pretty big on self-promotion (we can’t help ourselves) so I know it sounds simple, but a flick through social media is really helpful. When I do a news shift, I have to write eight stories a day, but I wouldn’t tweet them all out, because they’re not all stuff I’ve spent ages on, I just tweet the stuff I’m really proud of, so having a look at social can give you a good steer on what they’re actually really interested in. Similarly, looking at portfolio websites is also a good shout – again, people will just include their best bits and often have a line or two about their main beats.

Faima: Check out their websites – a lot of the more established journalists have their own websites or Linktrees. I have a Linktree of my most cherished articles which gives a good idea of what I’m interested in. You can search a writer’s name and type Linktree – it will come up if they have one.

Lily: You do need to do the work yourself in the same way that freelance journalists have to trawl through social media to identity commissioning editors to pitch to. Keeping track of the Freelance Writing Awards nominations could be a good way to start making a list of relevant freelancers.

Watch the full virtual event Building better relationships between PRs and journalists or read our round-up for more from Journo Resources and Freelancing for Journalists.

To find out more about the Vuelio media database and the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service, check out our services and how they can help you in your work here.

Allegory report on Corporate Digital Responsibility

Allegory launches report on Corporate Digital Responsibility

A framework for dealing with Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) issues has been launched by Allegory as part of its report Corporate Digital Responsibility: What You Need To Know Right Now.

A panel of experts, academics and industry professionals from organisations, think tanks and associations convened to work on the report in April 2021, including Office for National Statistics deputy director of communications Karen Campbell-White, Open Data Institute learning & business development director Stuart Coleman, Academy for Board Excellence CEO Janhavi Dadarkar, Huddersfield University chair of corporate communication Anne Gregory and ODI director of communication & marketing Emma Thwaites.

CDR, which shares many elements with ESG (Environment, Society, and Governance), is a major trend within PR, comms and corporations this year. According to the report, comms practitioners can play a significant role in its adoption.

‘Communications professionals have a pivotal role to play in the process of making organisations CDR-fit,’ says Allegory CEO Charlotte McLeod. ‘To do so, they need to be fully immersed in the issues surrounding data management and processing in their organisations to offer the best professional advice and support possible.’

Allegory’s report posits that C-suite leaders and communicators, with support from data governance experts, should approach CDR as a strategic issue and as an opportunity to play a part in tackling larger worldwide issues such as climate change, diversity and sustainability.

Navigating data ethics, including assessing and identifying potential ethical issues associated with data and digital tech, must be part of a multi-function, multi-stakeholder approach, according to the report. With both data and digital responsibility embedded within an organisation’s culture, everyone within a business can consider it part of their role and responsibility.

The framework for adopting a CDR plan within report includes six steps to support leaders with planning and communication:
1. Landscape analysis and audit
2. Comms planning
3. Community of practice
4. Horizon scanning
5. Internal communications
6. Stakeholder engagement underpinned by open and transparent communication

‘Communications professionals often get involved when a crisis arises, but this is too late,’ added Charlotte on the need for the report.
‘They need to take part in early conversations to address potential and existing issues related to data and digital within an organisation in collaboration with C-suite executives. This is a collective action needed to future-proof an organisation, safeguarding its reputation and profits.’

Download the full report Corporate Digital Responsibility: What You Need To Know Right Now.

Lessons from PRFest on keeping PR sustainable

Lessons from PRFest on keeping PR sustainable

This year’s PRFest took ‘The Sustainable Future of the PR and Communications Industry’ as its key focus, but if you thought ‘sustainability’ = environmental issues only, think again:

‘By sustainable I don’t just mean environment and sustainability practice,’ said PRFest founder Laura Sutherland in her introduction to the five-day virtual festival. ‘I mean: how can we stay relevant? How can we thrive?

‘I would like our industry to start thinking positively, so we can start planning for the future; recognising change and embracing it, rather than running away from it.’

To catch up on sessions focusing on social innovation, upskilling, underrepresented voices and more with speakers from across the industry, passes to the recorded webinars are available here. For a taster, here are some of the insights from day one’s session: ‘How will PR pros need to adapt and what are the learnings from COVID?’

1) Think local
‘Stupidly, I used to think that if there’s a national message being put out, while we might not like the creative, we should accept it – why would we try to recreate it? The pandemic has made me change my view. Local organisations know their people best; messages do have to be tailored to very specific communities. You really understand how important local knowledge and local insight is, now – localism really does work.’
Zander Mills, corporate communication manager for South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

2) Get to know your audiences
‘The understanding of community has had to get so much deeper. We’ve worked on vaccine hesitancy in Hackney, why some of our communities don’t trust the NHS – when you listen to black women talk about the enormous disproportionality in terms of maternal death during pregnancy and childbirth, how can you expert them to trust vaccinations?

‘Another example: we consulted our behaviour and insights team on connecting with the members of our community who aren’t technically-savvy. We ended up calling them on their landlines, and that’s something we wouldn’t have considered doing before. Community insight has helped us connect with different people in different ways. It will help us to be better communicators for years to come.’
Polly Cziok, strategic director, engagement, culture, and organisational development for the London Borough of Hackney

3) Turn your camera on (yes, really)
‘It’s great being able to IM people on my team. I found digital transition hard at first; I didn’t know if I should IM particular things; I didn’t want to bother my manager. But people made themselves available, and that made me make sure I was as helpful as possible to my colleagues, too. I felt closer to my team, even though I was further away. But for that to happen, I had to put in effort. Putting my camera on in meetings, speaking up. People can be very anti putting their cameras on, but you can read body language, people can see that you’re authentic with what you’re saying.’
Naomi MG Smith, account executive for Westco Communications

Watch all the recorded sessions from this year’s PRFest with a catch-up pass, available here.

You can also read more about the aims of this year’s PRFest from founder Laura Sutherland and get more tips on sustainability in our write up of this year’s CIPR conference Climate Change and the Role of PR.

Corporate Purpose Summit

‘Comms always thrives in a crisis’: Helen Dunne on the upcoming Corporate Purpose Summit

The CorpComms’ three-day Corporate Purpose Summit starts on 29 June and we’re delighted to be partnering with the event to offer a number of tickets to our network at no charge.

To secure a place (one ticket per person), fill in the form here – but first, read on to find out more about the event’s packed schedule and roster of speakers from brands including Marks & Spencer, Aviva and Penguin Random House UK.

‘I have had an idea for a summit for some time,’ says CorpComms editor and event organiser Helen Dunne. ‘Corporate purpose is a subject that really intrigues me, because it is so multi-faceted. Most corporates now acknowledge that their stakeholders, including ESG investors, want them to do more than simply make money. The events of the past year have also exacerbated that.’

Speaking at the summit to share best practice, as well as their successes and the challenges of the last year, will be:

• Gillian McGill, former global internal and social communications director, Aviva
• Matt Carter, founder of Message House
• Maeve Atkins, external communications manager, Budweiser Brewing Group
• Rupert Gowrley, director of corporate affairs, Bupa Group
• Victoria McKenzie Gould, director of corporate communications, Marks & Spencer
• Miguel Veiga-Pestana, head of corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer, Reckitt
• Greg Dawson, director of corporate affairs, DS Smith
• Yasmin Diamond, executive vice president global corporate affairs, IHG Hotels & Resorts
• Greg Sage, director of corporate affairs, Greene King
• Rebecca Sinclar, MD, audiences, brand and communications, Penguin Random House UK
• Hilary Berg, responsible business adviser, Iceland Foods
• George Ames, director of client services, Forster Communications
• Christine Crofts, founder of Kinetic Internal Communications
• Danielle Jones-Hunte, head of employee advocacy, global, BP
• Katja Hall, chief corporate affairs and marketing officer, Capita
• Rosemary McGinness, chief people officer, Weir Group
• Innis Scott, head of engagement, Weir Group
• Esme Knight, head of corporate affairs, Costa Coffee
• Kerry Parkin, director global communications, Zip
• Asad Dhunna, founder of The Unmistakables
• Matt Bell, director of corporate affairs, Grosvenor Group
• Pia Huusfelt, business leader for IKEA global innovation, Inka Group
• Steve Butterworth, chief executive, Neighbourly
• Amanda Powell-Smith, chief executive, Forster Communications
• Nigel Prideaux, director of corporate affairs, NatWest Group
• Roger Barker, director of policy and corporate governance, Institute of Directors
• Matt Young, co-founder, Apella Advisers

Securing such an impressive line-up of experts for an event is tough any year, but in 2021? Even tougher, says Helen:

‘We’ve had many false starts along the way. I don’t envy people who put on summits full-time! But luckily, I have managed to secure a fabulous list of speakers through their kindness and also with the help of my sponsors, Message House and Forster Communications.’

While the full impact of the pandemic on the communication industry and the audiences it serves is yet to be seen, there have undoubtedly been opportunities alongside the new pressure points:

‘Comms always thrives in a crisis,’ believes Helen. ‘Internal comms really stepped out from the shadows during the pandemic as companies put their people first, which meant that, ironically as they were often in remote mode, in many companies employee engagement levels were at record highs. There is a new respect in many organisations for their internal comms people, and I’d like to think that will continue.

‘If purpose is currently on your ‘to do; list, the summit should spark inspiration. But there is something for everybody – including discussions on diversity and inclusion, inclusive capitalism, brand activism, sustainability and even how purpose strengthens the position of the corporate affairs director.

For whether the lessons learned regarding purpose-driven communications and corporate responsibility will last, Helen isn’t certain. But being ready for what comes next will be vital:

‘Inevitably, as business returns to normal, old practices will come back into play. But I think where comms has been integral to the corporate response to the crisis, it will be hard to go back.’

Find out more about the Corporate Purpose Summit and secure your place here on the CorpComms website.

PRCA Equity & Inclusion Council

PRCA renames Diversity Network as the Equity & Inclusion Advisory Council (EIAC)

The PRCA has renamed its Diversity Network to the Equity & Inclusion Advisory Council (EIAC) to better reflect its aims to set benchmarks on Equity & Inclusion for the industry at large and build inclusivity through greater visible representation of the society PR serves.

Mark Webb Podcast

The group will continue to encourage the growth of inclusive cultures in PR, launching monthly podcast Disability@thetable. Hosted by Mark Webb, the podcast will feature guests, best practice advice and the sharing of stories. Potential guest speakers and sponsors are invited to get in touch and more information can be found in Webb’s blog here.

EIAC Chair Sudha Singh said of the rebrand and new projects:

‘For the longest time organisations have been focusing on diversity as a way to correct institutional and historic inequalities. Referring to people as diverse actually ‘others’ those who don’t belong to the dominant groups. So, diversity had to go. We have also seen that this approach has not really worked, the pace of change has been glacial.

‘COVID-19 and BLM last year provided a springboard to accelerate action for changing the status quo. We want to use this momentum to help bring meaningful change within our industry. We want organisations to focus on the equity inspired designs for bringing about that change – to creating equitable workplaces where talented people can thrive, no matter where they come from, what they look like. And this will require organisations to actually identify the problem areas and it is not helpful if you are determined to treat everyone equally. Inclusion of course is an outcome and has diversity at its core – do people feel valued, can they bring their true self to work? What is their experience of the workplace? Do they belong?

‘As an industry which has been striving for a seat at the table we should be able to speak from a position of knowledge and authenticity. That can only happen if we as an industry stop being tokenistic and become more intentional about our journey to equity and inclusion.’

Find out more about the EIAC’s mission, governance and key priorities here.

For more on the PRCA’s ongoing work to increase and support inclusion in the PR and comms industry, read our interviews with PRCA Race and Ethnicity Equiry Board members Barbara Phillips and Emmanuel Ofosu-Appiah.

Five reasons to work with freelance journalists on your PR campaigns

5 reasons to build better relationships with freelance journalists for your PR campaigns

Should freelancers be at the top of your list for building meaningful – and useful – connections with the media? Yes, and here are five reasons why, from our latest webinar with Journo Resources’ Jem Collins and Faima Bakar, and Freelancing for Journalists’ Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson…

Watch the full Building better relationships between PRs and journalists webinar or read our write up with more advice from the event here.

1) Most freelance journalists are already au fait with, and effective at, working remotely
Switching to remote working had its difficulties in the PR and media industries as calls to offices weren’t always diverted to homes and inboxes were flooded with more emails than ever, just for starters. One community who already knew how to manage working from home effectively? Freelancers:

‘With people working from home who weren’t used to it during the first lockdown, the amount of requests for calls and catch ups with me really went through the roof,’ said Jem. ‘There was a month or two that was Call Central, so it’s good to see people have settled more into hybrid working. I’ve always worked from home and already had quite a good comms system set up.’

2) Your working relationship with a freelance journalist can be more intimate than with a staffer…
…in the most professional meaning of that word. Staff news teams may find relevant press releases useful to write up, but a freelancer will want exclusivity and something deeper.

‘It really is a different relationship that you’ll have with freelancers,’ said Lily. ‘Exclusivity is key. I want something that nobody else has. An exclusive case study, or you can work with me to do an exclusive report from some data you’ve been able to gather.

It’s about building a unique relationship with an individual. It’s more of an intimate relationship that you have with a freelancer.’

3) A freelancer may have more freedom to collaborate closely with you on content
‘The relationships I have with PRs that work will be those that come to me with something specific and they want my advice as well,’ said Emma. ‘Like, “I’ve got this info, where do you think this might fit?” It can be more of a back and forth between us.

‘Those PRs will also note when I tweet when I’m doing a particular feature, or send out an enquiry via the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service, and understand that commissioning process. If I’m interested in your story, I will pitch it, but I don’t have the power to just publish that information. Understand our beat and how commissioning works for us.’

4) Want a different take on your research/data/survey results? A freelancer will be able to think of a new angle
If you have some intriguing data and think you’ve come up with all the possible angles that might be of interest to the media and its readership, think again:

‘As a freelancer, I keep getting those generic press releases, but I’m interested in unique and interesting case studies, even if you’re pitching them to in-house staff,’ said Faima.

‘If you have commissioned research – get in touch with me. I might be able to pull out a line and build a whole feature around it. I’ve managed to pitch a piece based on research like that to Stylist. If it’s research that’s relevant to the journalist; go for it.’

5) Freelancers potentially have a broader reach than staffers working for one publication
While staffers are often limited to certain topics, times and formats, freelancers can be writing on a variety of subjects, to different deadlines, for many different outlets:

‘I’m normally working several weeks ahead, but for a magazine, it would be two or three months in advance. If it’s for Metro, it might be a month in advance. It does depend, so that’s why I’d advise building a connection with freelancers,’ said Lily.

‘They’re working for lots of different publications. It might be print, websites, magazines – lots of different audiences.’

‘Understand how each freelancer works, because we all do it very differently.’

For more on working with freelancers, watch the full webinar here, check out these tips for making the most out of the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service and here is more advice on pitching to freelancers effectively. 

Building better relationships between PRs and journalists

How to build better relationships between PRs and journalists with Journo Resources and Freelancing for Journalists

We teamed up with Journo Resources and Freelancing for Journalists for our latest virtual event Building better relationships between PRs and journalists to find out how better connections can make working life a little easier for both sides of the equation.

Watch Building better relationships between PRs and journalists here.

Sharing wisdom with our mixed PR (mainly PR – 90%) and journalist audience was Journo Resources founder Jem Collins and senior staff writer Faima Baker and Freelancing for Journalists co-founders Lily Canter and Emma Wilkinson.

Each regularly freelance, with the combined panel covering topics as diverse as lifestyle, healthcare, human rights, religion, culture, race, medicine and personal finance. Despite the vast differences in subject, each shared common experiences of working with PRs and how the industry can better serve them in their work.

Not everything has to be a video call
‘I noticed this – if you set up an interview, now PRs are saying to you want to do a video call rather than a phone call,’ said Lily. ‘Zoom is great for this kind of thing, but I prefer doing interviews over phone, for example, because I’m not going to have eye contact with the other person – I’ll be taking notes. We don’t have to do everything as a video call.’

Keep your email signature and Contact Us pages up-to-date
‘Contacting PRs and their clients became harder when working from home, at first – I was in the habit of Googling a client and then calling them,’ said Faima.

‘It was harder to get through to people – I was someone who’d meet up with PRs; I like that face-to-face interaction. I’ve had less contact with PRs since the start of the pandemic, but some have been really good with putting their mobile number on their website.’

Approach freelancers differently than you would staffers
It really is a different relationship that you’ll have with freelancers,’ said Lily. ‘My top tip for working with us is that exclusivity is key. We don’t want the release you’ve sent to every single news desk – there’s nothing we can pitch. It’s different if we’re covering a news shift.’

‘It’s not useful to me if I’ve been sent the same thing everyone else has seen,’ said Jem.

‘There’s a big difference between ringing a newsroom, one person on a team, and ringing one person working alone and disrupting them. I’m very guarded with my mobile number because 90% of the time I’m called, it’s to remind me of a press release that isn’t relevant to me, as a freelancer.’

Work with journalists on the ‘smaller’ publications to get a chance at the ‘bigger’ ones in future
‘Be as willing to work with a freelancer on a smaller publication as you would on a larger one,’ said Jem.
‘I’ve found that sometimes PRs won’t want to give something to me because I’m not working on a national for that piece. But PRs that are happy to reply to something smaller are great, and the value in that for the PR is you’ll be the first person the journalist will go to for something bigger.

Connect with journalists by responding to requests
‘I’d really like to emphasise, from my point-of-view, how to build a relationship – it’s not about you coming to me, it’s about you responding to me – that’s where I build relationships,’ advised Lily.

‘If I send out a request via the Responsesource Journalist Enquiry Service or tweet with the #JournoRequest hashtag, I will be more likely to come back to you next time if you reply to me with a relevant expert or relevant content. I’ll be much more likely to work with you and your client.

‘That’s where a relationship starts – with a response. It won’t happen from you emailing me. It’s the same with freelancing – cold-calling editors is hard, responding with what they need is better.’

Give journalists what they’re actually requesting
‘Every good relationship I have with a PR started with them responding to me,’ said Emma. ‘They found a case study, or they knew of some new tech. I’m more likely to have a chat over what I find useful if you’re helped me out. ‘You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ kind of thing.

‘Respond to what has been sent out in the request, exactly. Don’t use it as an opportunity to jump to something else. That sounds super simple, but I do get ‘I don’t have this, but I do have this’ responses. Make sure you do have what I’m looking for – no tangential jump. And be timely – I use the Journalist Enquiry Service when I’m under a deadline; jump on relevant requests quickly.’

Brief your clients fully before offering an interview
‘It’s so important to make sure that if you sent a press release offering case studies, make sure they’re available,’ said Faima.

Lily agreed: ‘It’s really frustrating if case studies and spokespeople haven’t been briefed properly. I understand that things are really busy but if it’s going to work everybody needs to be onboard.’

Watch the full virtual event here for more insight on connecting with journalists as a PR and here are more tips on providing media professionals with the kind of content they’re looking for with the ResponseSource Journalist Enquiry Service.

5 tips on improving SEO for your PR and communications campaigns

5 tips for getting started with SEO for your PR and communications campaigns

If the mysteries and minutia of SEO have so far alluded you, or you know a little but the latest Google update fills you with a sense of dread; worry not. SEO aficionado Judith Lewis has put together the PR best practices for SEO guide to share what you need to know about Search Engine Optimisation in PR and comms.

Here are five starter tips from the guide to get you on your way to fully-optimised and high-ranking content:

1) Know your SEO vernacular
SEO has three main disciplines. ‘Technical SEO’ is what optimises the code of a website to enable search engines to assess and rank. ‘On-Page SEO’ is your content – what you can see, but also occasionally what you can’t, such as the title tag. ‘Off-Page SEO’ relates to links and citations – the parts that affect webpage ranking, but aren’t on the webpage itself.

2) Learn your SEO-related acronyms, too
One commonly-used acronym you’ll hear when delving into all-things SEO is ‘E-A-T’: Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. Google uses each of these elements to determine the right ranking for content. Things that can help the ‘E-A-T’-able-ness of your content – an Expert author, Authority when it comes to links and relevance, and indications of Trust, such as contact information and an About page.

3) Google needs speed
Working with a slow website? Page speed is a known factor among those 200 or so used by Google to decide ranking in searches, so if your agency, company or client website is slow, that will impact its search visibility. May’s updates to Google included the addition of a factor called Page Experience, meaning slow sites will have more difficulty with ranking now than ever. Speed things up – chase up your contacts on your dev/IT team, or start out with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool yourself to find out what will make your website faster.

4) Remember that your words are still very important (alongside the links)
Just as each social media platform has a unique – and complicated – algorithm, so too do search engines. Google, for example, has more than 200 factors making up its own algorithm, which can be intimidating to think about when starting to put together content you want as many relevant people to find, and engage with, as possible. Reassuringly, the words you use, as well as links, are most important in those factors. According to available data, each account for around 40% of the ranking factors.

5) Those words you write need to be as natural-sounding as possible – no SEO-robo-speak
It’s tempting when you first get started with optimising online content to stuff your copy with keywords in the hope it will place higher in search results, but that’s very passé, very early-2000s, and very much not liked by Google in 2021. Yes, keywords are part of what attracts visitors to a certain webpage and at least one mention of a keyword will help content to be discovered. But writing naturally is how to woo the complicated but sophisticated language and grammar algorithms Google utilises these days – good writers will automatically use words that are semantically-related and create content that search engines, and readers, will rank highly.

Want more on SEO? Download the SEO best practice guide for PR by Judith Lewis or watch the webinar.

Judith Lewis SEO PR webinar

The latest Google update – what PR professionals need to know

Remember when Google used a cute animal like Panda or Penguin to signify that it was changing its algorithm?

Sadly, those gentler days are behind us, but Google still announces a core update around four times a year. These are significant changes that Google makes to its ranking algorithm that affects a large number of indexed web pages.

Knowing when Google announces core updates and what those updates are is important for PR professionals because of the potential impact on the visibility of your website, or your clients’ websites in the search engine.

This was just one of the areas of SEO that search expert Judith Lewis covered in our recent webinar to support the publication of our free SEO best practice guide for PR.

Here’s a summary of some of the questions about SEO and PR that Judith answered:

What is the latest Google core update and what do PRs need to know about it?
“The Google core update focuses a lot on expertise, authority and trust (EAT) which is explained fully in the guide. We also link to the guidelines that Google’s human quality raters use.

It’s a complex area that’s all about how you demonstrate EAT to Google. Google is tweaking those dials and really bumping up the emphasis that it’s placing on demonstrated expertise and authoritativeness, which is finding mentions about you on other sites.

So PR is all about establishing EAT and the latest Google update is actually increasing its valuing of EAT.

There are two more updates coming, so this will change over time. and I’ve seen that clients of mine are fluctuating, they’re going up, they’re going down, it’s like a roller coaster! So right now the algorithm update does still seem to be finding its level balance. I’m seeing more US search results in the UK, so I’m thinking it’s still rolling out, but this core update is really focused on quality.

Later this month is a long announced update to website speed.

Basically if your website is not fast and it does not pass ‘core vitals’, you will lose out to other people who do. So Google will rate you against your competitors in the search results, and you will go down, if competitors websites are faster and more efficient at delivering web experience to people.

‘Core vitals’ is later this month, and then in July we have another core update coming. So, this one was about more about quality, and the next two are going to be about landing page experience, and then more on quality.”

What are the differences between ‘follow’ and ‘no follow links’?
Do ‘no follow links’ in online coverage and do they have any impact on search engine visibility?
‘No follow’ and ‘follow ‘are technical attributions that are put on a link, and it’s a little bit more code techie, but don’t be put off by it, it’s a checkbox in WordPress. So if you’re working with bloggers or influencers, they can select the Checkmark, and that will make all of their links on their blog nofollow.

What does that mean? Well, it tells Google, not to pass any points from the origin page to the destination page.

However, from a human point of view, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a follow or nofollow, it is still a link. And that enables someone to go from where they are to where your clients information, or your information is.

I obviously would prefer a follow link, because it helps with search ranking. But I will accept the follow or nofollow link, because we’re pushing our clients or our company’s information and details out there and so any link is good because it draws the readers back to our websites.

If you don’t get a link in coverage, do citations or mentions of your brand or organisation help with SEO and search visibility?

It does help.

A citation – where there’s no link but a mention – is incredibly important for Google, because the more of those that you get, the more the increase of perception that Google has that there is something important about that company or that organisation going on.

It increases the words around the company and increases the relevance of that company name to those to those pieces of content. What’s happening is Google is seeing the word that is a brand and it recognises the brand usually because it’s usually in a URL or something similar and then it looks at the words around that citation. It looks at these words around the brand and increases the relevance of those words for that brand.

Google is already recalculating what that brand is possibly relevant for now. It doesn’t have as big an impact as when we get a link – a link is, is the key – but it does increase Google’s perceived relevance of those keywords of the brand and how popular the brand is.

Update ‘Vince’, many years ago was all about brand and rewarding brands. So the better that you can establish a brand, the better it is and citations are part of that because not everybody gives you a link.

If everybody gives you a link it looks artificial. If some people don’t then it looks much more natural and Google is more likely to trust it. Therefore if you get a citations with no link, it’s good, and it does help people.

Do shares on social media and closed or private social networks/communities like Facebook Groups or Guild have any impact on SEO or search engine visibility?

I think the problem is that people’s perception of links is that all links help Google rankings, but in my opinion, all links help people – and that’s the most important thing.

In closed ecosystems like Facebook and Guild links don’t necessarily impact on Google’s rankings but when someone is talking a lot about something, and links are being shared a lot, whether they’re shared through Guild, WhatsApp, Facebook or Instagram, they will reach a critical point after which people will start to blog and write about them.

And journalists may pick up on this ambient noise, and publish something with either a nofollow or a follow link.

When that happens, then Google will possibly increase the ranking of that page, because we’re increasing the perceived relevance of that page to that topic. Even though a nofollow link says to not pass any points, it still helps Google contextualise what a target page is about.

If Google was struggling up to that point, and then somebody blogs, even if it’s a nofollow link, then it will instantly help Google understand it better – and that means that it could increase in rankings, simply because Google understands more.

Here’s the video and the Q&A with Judith is from 43:17 seconds.

Want to add SEO to your PR and communications strategy or to get the very latest SEO tips specifically designed for PR practitioners?

Download our free educational SEO best practice guide for PR

Vuelio has the world’s most comprehensive media database, providing up to date contact details and preferences of >1million journalists and content creators. Learn more about this essential tool for successful coverage generation and linkbuilding by requesting a demo

Lessons learned from the COVID-19 crisis

Learning the lessons from the COVID-19 crisis

This is a guest post from Onyx Health managing director Karen Winterhalter.

Karen Winterhalter Onyx Health

Over the past 15 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the communication landscape in a way that few would have predicted.

As a healthcare PR agency, we’ve seen some of the challenges of getting out the right messages during a global health crisis first-hand. As we reflect on a period of seismic change for the sector, there are important lessons to learn about the way healthcare information is communicated and consumed.

1. Getting in the headlines when COVID-19 is the only game in town
The news cycle has become the COVID-19 cycle. Research by Populous shows that content related to COVID-19 made up 87% of news consumption at the peak of the crisis.

Getting stories to cut through in a news cycle clogged up by COVID-19 is no mean feat. Stories that would normally be big news could easily get overshadowed amid the melee. Moreover, many journalists experienced COVID-19 fatigue and grew weary of an inbox full of pseudo stories with tenuous links to the pandemic.

So, to get in the headlines, you need to focus on your PR fundamentals. The power of relationships, news values and authenticity, are crucial to get your message to cut through during the pandemic.

It’s about asking yourself what makes something newsworthy; you need something distinctive and eye-catching to get a journalist’s attention during the current climate.

Applying a COVID-19 lens to your media content is really important, as news coverage is filtered and perceived through this global news story. However, this must strike a difficult balance between adapting to the changing nature of the news cycle, without being cynical and jumping on the bandwagon to get coverage. Authenticity is the key to success and making sure your content hits the mark.

2. Fake news and information inequality
One of the most disturbing features of the pandemic is how quickly conspiracy theories and fake news spread like wildfire across social media. Whether its Bill Gates, 5G or China’s Wuhan lab leak, the growing mountain of misinformation created an uneasy sense that it was all a hoax, and the public were being lied to.

At a time when the Government needed the public to follow the COVID-19 restrictions, practice social distancing, and wear masks, this had serious implications for public health and the spread of the virus.

The NHS did some vitally important work with global tech giants Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to help lead the counterattack against fake news. This involved a series of targeted measures, including search algorithms to put NHS guidance at the top of the rankings, blue ticks for verified NHS sources and the suspension of rogue accounts spreading misinformation.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recently launched a campaign to tackle vaccine misinformation, using a series of shareable videos and images on social media to create viral content to combat the anti-vaxxers.

Tackling fake news and information inequality is an ongoing challenge that we have yet to solve. As healthcare communicators, we have a duty to uphold the highest standards when it comes to healthcare information, challenging misleading content and promoting official sources.

3. The power of an emotional message
One of the most striking features of the COVID-19 crisis is the ability of emotionally driven messaging to deliver behaviour change.

The Government’s lockdown messaging got off to a strong start with ‘Stay at Home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives’. These were clear, hard-hitting, and effective, prompting one of the most unprecedented acts of civil obedience in our peacetime history. People were left no doubt what they needed to do and why.

As the lockdown restrictions relaxed, the Government’s carefully crafted messaging unravelled. The new message ‘Stay Alert’ seemed vague and unclear. Grouping a multitude of potential behavioural responses under a single phrase lacked the same emotionally resonant call-to-action.

Learning from past mistakes, the Government’s ‘look them in the eyes’ campaign created hard-hitting TV adverts, asking viewers to think about the impact their actions might have on NHS staff and COVID-19 patients. It included a series of harrowing images of exhausted NHS staff and emaciated COVID-19 patients receiving oxygen, harnessing the power of COVID-19’s human cost to influence public behaviour.

Analysis by Britain Thinks suggests that 73% of the British public were following the rules at the height of the crisis in an extraordinary act of mass collective action. So, while delivering behaviour change isn’t easy, it is possible. Getting the public to follow the rules was a complicated task, but adopting the right communication tactics can make it happen.

For more on COVID-19’s impact on public relations, clients and consumers, download our white paper Engagement with health comms during COVID-19

Find out more about the work of Onyx Health by reading our previous interview with Karen Winterhalter and collaborator Jeff Winton of JWA on building healthy UK and US relations.  

Growing a collaborative and positive culture within remote teams

How Clarity grew a collaborative and positive culture within remote teams

This is a guest post by Clarity PR’s managing director, UK and president, EMEA Rachel Gilley.

Rachel Gilley Clarity PR

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent rush to establish a 100% working from home model, has elevated the importance of wellbeing for individuals within organisations. Business leaders have had to adapt and evolve their workforces to ensure they provide both a safe and stimulating employee experience.

At Clarity, we are proud that we’ve been able to not only retain our employees but indeed grow our team significantly across 2020 and early 2021, with nine new staff onboarded remotely in our UK office alone during that time.

As a company that has always had a collaborative workplace, adept at working across geographically dispersed teams, we recognised the importance of continuing to build social ties while remote working became the norm. In a time where the word ‘Zoom’ could instill fear in the strongest of us, we have successfully leveraged the appropriate technology platforms while implementing new initiatives all with the aim of building a stronger employee experience than even pre pandemic.

Here are some of the initiatives we put in place to ensure we continued to build and nurture a winning company culture, at a time when there were no rule books or guidance for how best to succeed.

Nurturing our existing culture

Clarity’s positive culture is one of our most powerful competitive advantages and our transition to fully remote working during Covid has been testament to that fact. The technology sector we service has been particularly robust, representing brands who saw their businesses accelerate as they supported the world to manage the pandemic. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing and the agency’s existing culture – collaborative, kind, supportive – was essential in enabling us to continue to deliver on our aspirations, especially when the relentlessness of home working kicked in.

The flexible working policies and unlimited paid holiday benefits we offer have been vital in ensuring our team got the rest and recuperation they needed. Early on, we recognised we were going to have to push our teams to take time away from screens and the constant cycle of virtual calls and encouraged all employees to not only clock off on time (and yes, we were checking!), to put lunch slots in their calendars forcing them time out during the day and to book time off to avoid burnout. We might not be jetting off somewhere exotic, but we recognised that closing the laptop was extremely beneficial. Spotting the signs of potential employee burnout is harder when working remotely but I booked in individual calls with the team every second week, reminded them constantly of their holiday entitlement, reiterated the importance of taking breaks and encouraged the senior leadership team to embody these practices themselves, we had to role-model the right behaviour.

Staying apart, together

We’re a social bunch here at Clarity. It is why people join agencies; for the noise and the banter and the excitement that comes from working together. We will always find an excuse to celebrate with a drink or two, and that didn’t stop during the pandemic. The social team went into overdrive and the virtual event calendar was stacked up with Book Club, wine tasting, meditation, yoga, drag bingo and the unavoidable interactive quiz. We sent out fun care packages on special occasions and when restrictions were lifted we all met up in Hyde Park for a picnic.

A personal favourite was our ‘Glass of Clarity’ with a direct order to stop what we were working on every Thursday at 5pm, pour yourself a tipple of your choice and just have a natter with the team. When you’re not together you forget how much you use the office for general chit chat, so our Glass of Clarity was a chance to ignore work and debrief on the latest Netflix series and share tips and tricks on how to endure the boredom of lockdown.

Supporting health and wellbeing

During this period of increased pressure and anxiety, employee mental health and wellbeing was our very top priority. At a very basic level, we provided office equipment for those who needed help creating a comfortable working environment at home through to introducing weekly meditation sessions. No Meeting Fridays were introduced, a day when we asked both clients and the teams to cancel calls and we’ve since introduced Monday Call Free Mornings created to support the differing personal priorities and ways of working we had across the team.

As an agency lead, you know that you’re only ever as good as the people you hire. And I’m blessed to have the most superb team who are smart, creative and bursting with diverse opinions and mindsets. The supportive and collaborative nature of our employees meant we successfully onboarded new staff remotely, with the team wrapping their virtual arms around every new arrival, ensuring they felt part of the Clarity family as quickly as possible.

We also acquired two new agencies, which when you consider we’ve not yet met face-to-face through this period, and yet in both instances it has been a huge success, is extraordinary. Our buddy-up programme, which encourages employees to grab a virtual coffee with colleagues across all our global offices meant new bonds were created, with plans put in place to meet up IRL as soon as we can!

The path to the next normal

As we enter the next and hopefully final phase and restrictions ease, Clarity is working towards building a safe return to the office, something the team is universally keen to do. We’ll never return to the old ways of working, the new normal is a transition to a ‘next normal’ and it will come with its own challenges, managing the hybrid working model in 2021 and beyond.

What we do know is that it’s important to get the balance right. It will require testing different approaches; listening to the team and using that feedback to ensure we’re creating something special and strong that further enhances our values.

I’m incredibly proud that at Clarity we operate a flat management structure that calls regularly for the unique perspectives of the entire team wherever they sit in the business. The past year has reinforced for me that listening and then acting on that feedback quickly, means you move forward together, as one team, and that is so incredibly powerful.

For more on working remotely together, read this guest post from Middleton Consultancy Ltd’s Richard Middleton on leading different types of people while working remotely.  


PRCA calls for an end to Parliamentary pass abuse

The PRCA is calling for reviews and reform from Parliamentary authorities following its research into the granting of over 200 Parliamentary passes to representatives of organisations likely to be engaged in lobbying.

The analysis of the Lords and Commons Registers of the interests of staff revealed that 210 passes have been given to individuals with links outside of Parliament, including those working for think tanks, business groups and commercial enterprises.

Such passes enable access to the Parliamentary estate and it is individuals have potentially unfair access to decision-makers in politics.

Professional lobbyists represented by the PRCA – the representative body for the lobbying industry – are unable to hold passes under the Public Affairs Code, other than in exceptionally rare and publicly declared circumstances.

The PRCA is calling on Parliament representatives to:

1. Urgently review each passholder who has a second job to assess whether it is appropriate for them to continue to hold a pass.
2. Remove passes from anyone whose other roles make it inappropriate for them to have access to the Parliamentary estate.
3. Reform the rules around passes to ensure this abuse is ended permanently, and that passes are only issued to people who genuinely need them for their work for Peers or MPs.

Parliamentary Passes in numbers

Parliamentary passes data from the PRCA

PRCA Public Affairs Board chair Liam Herbert said:

‘It is extraordinary that more than 200 people likely to be lobbying for think tanks, charities, trade unions, business groups, commercial enterprises, and others have been given official sanction to have privileged access to Parliamentarians.

‘No other office building would allow unfettered access to such a huge number of people whose main place of employment is somewhere else – so it is surprising and concerning that an institution that is meant to be secure location has such a cavalier attitude to the issuing of security passes. It is even more surprising that so many of these passes are held by people whose job seems to be to influence the political process. This is unfair, untransparent, and inappropriate.

‘The PRCA Public Affairs Code prohibits the professional lobbyists it represents from holding Parliamentary passes for the obvious reason that to do so throws up real and perceived conflicts of interest. It is time for the Parliamentary authorities to meet those same ethical standards and to strip individuals of passes to which they have no legitimate right.’

The PRCA has previously called for an overhaul of the Parliamentary Passes process in a Six-Point Public Confidence Plan for lobbing reform.

Faima Bakar accessmatters

‘PRs: know your audience’ – accessmatters with freelance journalist Faima Bakar

Our latest accessmatters session for knowledge sharing among the media, comms and PR community was with freelance journalist and Journo Resources senior staff writer Faima Bakar. Sharing her experiences as a lifestyle writer on the Metro desk, and some of the lessons she’s learned since going freelance, Faima had plenty of advice for PRs hoping to get in touch with useful pitches.

Watch our accessmatters session with Faima Bakar here.

While the relationship between PR and journalism can get contentious when either side isn’t fully cognizant or respectful of the other’s duties and deadlines…

‘When I first started at Metro, I wanted to get lots of emails,’ shared Faima. ‘My colleagues were like: ‘Be careful what you wish for.’

…relevant content is useful – provided it’s delivered in the right way. Faima had advice for PRs who want to build relationships with the media and get results:

‘Before selling-in, I would divvy up among your team who’s contacting who. Have a chat across your team and decide who’s doing what first. As a writer, I might be excited to pitch a story based on a press release you’ve sent over – it’s not good when I see another colleague is working on it already.

‘Know your audience, too. For example, the Metro lifestyle desk is very body positive, so there’s no weight loss stories unless they have an interesting angle. Every Christmas we’d get articles about all the calories in Christmas dinners, and we’d never cover those stories because we don’t want to make people feel crap. Get to know the publications you’re targeting; read what you’re interested in.’

And is what you’re pitching interesting to you? If not, there’s a good chance it won’t be of interest to the journalist either, or their readership.

‘If you’re sending a story you’re not interested in, what’s the point?’ believes Faima.

‘For my work as a freelancer, I pitch things I talk about with my friends. There’s always a way to make a story more interesting.

‘For example, a PR friend of mine had a low-calorie ice cream client and needed a way to publicise them. She decided to take a bunch of journalists to a big park full of trapeze artists because the ice cream was “lighter than air”. It was a good way to be creative – thinking outside of the box – and it was fun.’

While Faima’s work as a freelancer now means less interaction with PRs – publications will have their own staffers writing up quick-turnaround pieces from releases they receive – she has developed good relationships over the years. Building connections and proving yourself to be a useful source for journalists in your field takes time as a PR, but there are a few short cuts. Number one: getting the journalist’s name right.

‘I get called the wrong name about once a week. And I get it – it’s easy to miss a letter. But if you’re emailing because you want coverage, it helps to show attention to detail. If you call me the wrong name, it gets you on the wrong foot. That’s not to say I won’t use your email if you get the name wrong, but it’s not the best way to start.

‘As a freelancer, I’m sending pitches out to people, and I get it wrong sometimes – it’s so easy to do. But have a quick check through of your email before you send it.

‘Being a lifestyle reporter and now a freelancer, my interests were and are quite wide. I developed a good relationship with quite a few PRs – there are some I’ve never actually met, but we’ve been emailing back and forth for years.’

‘If there are journalists you want to work with, find out what works for them.’

Watch the full accessmatters session with Faima Bakar here and check out our previous sessions on the accessmatters hub.

PRCA Office Return Study

UK PR industry ready to embrace hybrid working model

Research from the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has found that a majority of the PR industry in the UK is prepared to move away from a traditional five-day office-based week in favour of a hybrid working model.

The PRCA’s Office Return Study of agency and in-house leaders found that 44% of senior professionals will not specify the number of days that employees will be required to work in-office, with only one in twenty industry leaders expecting employees to be office-based five days a week.

On masks, COVID-19 testing and vaccination policies, 23% have plans for weekly or fortnightly testing, while 56% have no plans as yet. Others plan to follow advice from the Government.

While 22% of those polled for the study said they have asked staff about vaccination, the majority – 86% – have no plans to implement vaccine policies.

Over half of respondents – 58% – will not require staff to wear masks, 35% will require masks to be worn in all areas except for desks, and one in twenty will require employees to wear masks throughout the working day while in the office.

‘The data from the PRCA Office Return Study are conclusive – our industry overwhelmingly stands ready to embrace a new hybrid working model,’ said PRCA director general Francis Ingham.

‘PR and communications professionals have delivered exceptional work while operating remotely. But ours is a social industry; one in which teams are built and creativity is sparked through face-to-face relationships. There are elements of our practice which simply cannot be replaced by Zoom calls. That is why our future will be built around a hybrid model that fuses the best of both worlds. But let’s be clear – for the great majority of us, our working lives have changed fundamentally and forever.’

Concerned about an eventual return to in-office working? Here are 11 ways to mentally prepare for heading back to the office with advice from mental health professionals and fellow PRs.