23 March 2021|Business Growth, Latest Posts, Marketing, PR, Promotion
By Lorraine Emmett, Founder and Managing Director of tech B2B PR agency, EC-PR.
I set up my first PR company at the end of the 1990s, a time at which public relations were generally considered as somewhat fluffy, and definitely a distant second cousin to the giant global advertising agencies based in London.
The less than flattering image of public relations was arguably driven by the BBC’s early 90s comedy Ab Fab. Reprised for a single series in 2001, it featured the Bollinger swigging magazine fashion director Patsy, played by Joanna Lumley, and Jennifer Saunders’ PR practitioner Edina. Other characters like Jane Horrocks’ Bubble, the secretary, and June Whitfield, Edina’s mother helped contribute to the general sense of anarchy and chaos. Only Saffi, Edina’s put-upon daughter was “normal”.
The Times claimed that Edina was based on PR guru Lynne Franks, while Jennifer Saunders revealed in 2012 that she was also inspired by the band Bananarama. Whatever the inspiration, PR was not really regarded as a serious marketing discipline then and its potential contribution to business success was largely unexplored.
At the time PR was perceived as a job for the less academic, more creative ‘daughters’ who knew people and could party… hard! On reflection, in many ways it seems like the Dark Ages. At the time, much of the PR process was driven by a ‘little black book’ of contacts, which you guarded with your life and would never share, even with your colleagues. If you had a good contact, you made sure you worked hard at cultivating it.
Smoke and mirrors
PR execution and reporting in the 90s were styled on a ‘smoke and mirrors’ magic act. So, often it was a case of quantity of media coverage over quality. If you were going to a monthly or quarterly meeting with a key client, you made sure that your cuttings book made a hefty thud when you put it down on the boardroom table.
It was often the case of “throwing a bucket of PR at the issue” with the more cuttings the better and rarely were these cuttings actually looked at in depth. It was a pure numbers game, with return on investment (ROI) being the dominant key indicator of success. So many clients just wanted to know how many column inches had been generated and what that was worth in advertising space. As a rule of thumb, it tended to be that when you looked at PR space generated in a newspaper, it was worth around three and a half times the cost of the equivalent advertising space. There was very little thought, however, about reputation, influence, impact or propensity to buy or consider. Perhaps I’m being harsh to make a point, but PR definitely lacked accountability in the 1990s.
The arrogance of youth
When I set up my initial PR business, I did so with the arrogance of youth, coupled with the commercial awareness of a fly! I admit that I was green, naïve and gullible – not particularly good qualities for a successful entrepreneur. I did, however, have an idea; and it was a really good one. I would deliver a completely accountable PR service, where clients knew exactly what they were getting for their money.
They would be aware of exactly how many press releases, interviews, features and comments there would be for them in a year and crucially, they would be intrinsically tied to their commercial goals. At the same time, however, there would be a level of flexibility that would ensure we could quickly respond to their changing business demands. The crux of the offer, however, was about delivering an accountable, responsive service.
Although my former career of advertising had been mainly in the consumer sphere with household brands such as Max Factor, Texaco, Birds Eye and then the Health Education Authority, I instinctively chose to exclusively target B2B technology businesses. It’s easy to forget that in the 90s, not all brands were underpinned by technology as they are today and this turned out to be a high quality piece of instinct!
Focus on accountability
My focus on accountability has become the value proposition that we express at EC-PR today: “We deliver certainty to CMOs of technology scale ups with aggressive growth targets; we do this through a three phased approach to PR which is accountable, effective and thought provoking – underpinned by a performance guarantee.” Such a guarantee is certainly not the norm in PR.
Certainty, however, has become our cornerstone, constantly seeking to review and improve our methodology, always raising the bar and giving clients confidence. We make sure that PR is ‘taken care of,’ doing its job by protecting and nurturing our clients’ reputation in line with the agreed goals and that it is supporting each client’s business to achieve its purpose. This is absolutely what underpins everything we say, do and develop.
Certainty of process and clarity of purpose
Our approach to communication strategy is designed to remove all the variables that hinder effective PR and reputation management. By providing a clear line of sight between marketing communications and the business plan; by establishing target priorities, we ensure focus in our PR outreach and avoid wasting time, effort, or money. At the same time, it gives personal ownership to the marketing team rooted in insight gleaned from the most experienced and informed officers in the business. This equips and enables them, and us, to deliver compelling, strategically aligned, messages through whichever channel is relevant to their key audiences. Unlike the days of Patsy and Edina, every action is significantly more targeted and impactful!
Campaign planning is now designed to execute the communication strategy in the most effective and efficient way, harnessing relevant earned media with a clear idea of the task in a competitive environment.
This campaign delivery, while disciplined and methodical however, is still elevated by our creative thinking.
· Focus on accountability
· Be accountable AND responsive
· Prioritisation makes a plan workable
· Believe in yourself
· Constantly seek to review and improve
· Elevate campaign delivery with creative thinking
About the Author:
Lorraine Emmett delivers CEOs and CMOs with certainty through accountable, effective and thought-provoking PR consultancy, underpinned by a proven phased approach to communication strategy and a performance guarantee.
Direct, passionate and results oriented, Lorraine helps make b2b brands visible, valued and understood. She believes that effective communication should always provoke a response whether that is to think, to feel, to do or to engage in a certain way.
In awe of what engineers, scientists and technologists are capable of and how inaccurately their contribution is celebrated in society, Lorraine’s client roster includes: Defence, Energy, Environment, Maritime, Science & Technology, Transport and Cyber Security.
Lorraine started her first B2B PR company in 1994 and in 2016 launched Emmett & Churchman – continuing to deliver globally at a strategic level.