Bad taste or good business?

The topic of this update is one that troubles me now and again. I don't have the answer and I can't seem to find much written about it on industry pages like PR week or The Drum so I wonder if its a dark art spoken about in hushed tones.

Sounds sinister? Well I think it is, a bit. Let me explain.

When I started my own business I was supported by a business network and an advisor, who helped with business plans and alike. He seemed keen to help me network which I was hugely grateful for but he then explained that there would be an introduction fee for this work. I was very green and equally keen to make my business a success so I agreed but it never felt right. Especially as he suggested I didn't need to tell anyone. I wonder now if he was getting kickbacks on both sides. Now, you could call that entrepreneurial but I am not sure it is ethical - especially as he was being funded to work with me.

On one hand I don't disagree in referral fees, or kick backs in principle if all parties are aware it's happening but to me its something that should be done because you think person A (me) would be the right fit for business B.

Thankfully I won a large piece of work a few weeks later and I was off the hook!

The topic came up again last week as I recommended a contact of mine for some work that my agency couldn't service as we are happily nice and busy. The second comment from the star of a lady I was passing the opportunity to, after thanking me, was to ask what my referral fee was. I was astounded as it just isn't the way I work. I really liked the person who needed some support and I really rate the business I recommended. End of.

But is it. If that conversation leads to a contract and my contact buys me a bottle of wine or shouts me lunch next time we see each other is that a kickback dressed differently?

If someone refers me for work I commonly offer something 'thrown into' the contract as we haven't had to pitch for work as such but I think I would turn down any work if a fee was wrapped in it somewhere.

I would love to hear what others think. For now here's a Friday picture for you *from tinterweb*.

Emma, Chief Sayer x

It's all about the Bolly daahling...

Erm no, it's not actually!

Unfortunately there's a little irony in the fact that the very business engaged to tell stories and (mostly) promote the facts and the benefits of the latest brand, product, 'thing' we PRs suffer from a bad case of image hangover.

I'm not sure PR was ever really a round of lunches, champers and glam trips. But then I cut my teeth in health PR in-house! Anyone graduating around this time will have hopefully realised that PR is a long way from expensing the Michelin Star lunch with a client and tottering in Choos, here's hoping that isn't why they got into PR in the first place.

I read Liam Fitzpatrick's opinion piece on PR Week online recently and I have to agree with his three PR myths - sorry to anyone expecting to carve a career as a sweary Malcom Tucker meets Edina from Ab Fab. Proper PR is about as far from spin as you can get - well if you want to build lasting relationships with clients and their customers it is. A bit like Patsy's mascara after an all-nighter, the veneer starts to slip all too quickly if too much spin is attempted. Now more than ever with 24/7 news, social media and savvy consumers people see straight through spin.

My advice to any rookie PR?

  • Get an awesome task list set up - be it on paper like me or an app like Any Do
  • Be honest and polite to journalists, remember they are just doing their jobs too
  • Don't promise your client the moon on a stick - even if they want it. Real bad.

A one way conversation

You may have noticed, if you follow You Say on Twitter, that I had a little issue with my mobile dying last weekend and needing life-support (read rebooting and carrying a juice box to charge it 24/7) so I reluctantly ordered an upgrade - albeit in a bit of a rush, on Monday.

Phone arrived as scheduled but it was the wrong one - not sure if it was me or the supplier but anyway I picked up the phone to call their 0800 no to get an exchange organised. Oh. My. Days. I seemed to jump on a merry-go-round and not a nice one from a fair but one that made me sick, stressed and exasperated.

So when I saw Dom Burch's opinion piece on the Drum I was agreeing with all he wrote. (I have a lot of time for Dom generally but this was 100% on point Sir). If, as a business, you are going to get involved with social media and 'communities' then you HAVE to be on the ball and you have to be real and authentic.

I just wanted a reply, I wanted someone to take responsibility and I wanted to be listened to. Not too much to ask when I part with £100s of pounds a year for my contract and was upgrading, so also showing some brand loyalty. The reason eventually given (it took over 48 hours to respond to my tweets) was that the mobile phone supplier in question was busy as the Samsung S7 had launched. Errrr - I don't care, I wasn't ordering a Samsung and quite frankly you saw that one coming and should have staffed up. All that did was make me feel they were prioritising someone else.

Will I recommend the supplier I use? Right now no. Brands of what ever size need to either stay out of the kitchen full stop or be able to take the heat. Twitter and Instagram is not somewhere to talk at people about sales and your messages or share emojis for LOLZ it is very much a customer relations channel and when the customer in question (me) had a bad ride with the call centre and this was one of the reasons to reach out via Twitter then a quick and kind response would have gone a long way to resolving the issue.

The irony of it being about mobiles and communications is not lost on me... So Carphone Warehouse its a massive fail from me I'm afraid. Twitter is not a megaphone or a one way conversation.

The killer press release - or kill the press release?

I was having lunch with a Lyanna from Station Road this week and as well as chatting about growing our businesses and the old catch 22 of working in your business too much and not on it enough. We chatted about the PR cornerstone that is the press release - it's a bit like the chicken and the egg, I am not sure which came first PR or the press release.

For me there is still a place for a good 'old fashioned' press release. But it should very much be viewed as a tool in the toolbox and not the only way to communicate everything-and-anything-to-the-media-and-not-a-non-targeted-throw-it-at-a-large-dartboard-hoping-something-will-stick-kinda-way.

It is also as much about what is in the press release, why you are sending it, when you send it and also some discussions with your client about if the news they are sharing needs to be a 'traditional' press release at all.

In the last week I've sent an email to food editors inviting them to taste a new product. This didn't need to be a press release. It may have been kicked into the long grass as being too pushy if it was. Happily we got to see BBC Good Food, Delicious, Olive, Red, Stylist....

I've also sent out two regional press releases about a national food award. The content was quite complex and there needed to be sign off from three different organisations so a press release was the best way to share the information.

I saw in the Drum this week that Steve Waddington said that the press release isn't dying. I have to agree. He came up with eight reasons why it still is an often used channel of communication.

I have two more reasons to add:

  1. Clients feel they are getting VFM if press releases are being issued to the media. I think we as comms professionals have a job to do to take our clients on a journey on how it may not always be the right vehicle for the results they want.
  2. It's quick and 'safe': Clients or Directors of in-house teams are sometimes cautious to give their PR person a freer reign to have a chat with a journalist or pitch looser ideas or themes. The good old press release has an audit trail.

So as much as some people in my industry may groan about a press release and having to hit the phones if you have done your homework and a press release is the correct tool in your kit then it should fly. If it doesn't then it may not be the release that is the problem. It could be that you are using the wrong tool.

Now don't get me wrong, as Wadds also pointed out we have all probably had to release a PR we didn't believe in from time to time. But maybe that bit can actually die?


Power to your elbow

It's over two weeks since I decided to set myself a challenge and address some work /life balance and see if I can instill it in You Say Towers.

It feels like it is still really early days and I am having some successes, but some things feel like they are stalling. I guess I don't help myself when a fellow PR needed a bit of support on a new account so she could take her planned holiday in peace. Of course I said yes and of course the work needs doing **NOW**.

So what is working? Well, the power hour is great, it fits with my attention span and it is long enough to achieve some copy for a client or a call around to journalists. I try and do at least two a day and they aren't interrupted by social media, calls or buying that vital thing on Urban Outfitters!

The honed to-do list is working and I have integrated it into my day book, which does make it smaller, but it means it is with me wherever I am.

And the confessional... what isn't working I hear you ask. Well the Friday for just business development is sort of working but it isn't always the day other people are free and I also see a whole day as available in my head and I have moved client work into it as I had a bit of a domino effect with incoming work. As I work with several clients I have to be very flexible and something urgent dropped in on Thursday so I had to re assign some work to make it fit and also do a later night than this experiment is supposed to allow.

That said I did manage a lunch with a former client Friday just gone, albeit I was a little late and an afternoon working in a cafe so on balance it is definitely progress.

However what is taking longer to un-learn is guilt. Self imposed but guilt all the same. If I am not in at 0900 (we are working on that one) or I do business development or pitches in 'client time'. But I guess Rome wasn't built in a day and I have a lot to unlearn...