Four Pillars of Design in PR

The rise of digital platforms has put even more emphasis on the role that design plays in PR. As a B2B PR agency, we have learned over the years that many successful campaigns rely heavily on a strategic design process. So, what are the key aspects to making design work for you? Let’s take a look at some great design examples and some key aspects to apply to your next campaign.

Make it user friendly

Create a seamless experience that does not confuse or mislead your audience. Design can influence trust so you should create elements that are visually friendly and inclusive. Also think about where your customers are and make you design geo-specific, as this will also contribute to the overall user experience. A recent example of this in action comes from AirBnB, which redesigned its visual identity by updating its illustrations of its community to portray a more diverse group of people.

Ensure it makes an emotional impact

There are two key questions to ask when measuring your PR campaign’s creative impact:

  1. How does the overall design make viewers feel?
  2. Does it enhance your campaign’s core message and objective?

Using certain design styles, images and colours can evoke emotion and raise awareness. Consider these design choices you make when building your campaign. A quirky illustrative style may bring across a friendly and youthful feel or you may opt for something more real and honest for greater impact. Metro Trains Melbourne recently launched a railway safety public service announcement ‘Dumb ways to die’ which captured the world both kids and adults alike by creating a catchy jingle and animated video to generate awareness.

Create content with a purpose

Your audience is receiving content at a rapid pace and through multiple online platforms, so you need to be extra creative to catch their attention. Netgear recently created a cool infographic on The History and Future of WIFI to help promote its products. If you are sharing results from a research campaign, an infographic could do the trick. Check out our video on How To Make An Infographic The Right Way.

Use a combination of mediums

New technologies and design mediums allow us to create campaigns that can be both visually engaging and subversive. Your company’s core values can spring to life through new ways of showcasing its visual identity and design. Engage your audience and take them on a journey where they are allowed to make up their own minds along the way. EXAMPLE Take a note from Sonos, which created a sound and visual experience to create awareness around the launch of Google assistant on Sonos, and use a combination of design mediums to create a more dynamic approach to your campaign idea.

Want to have a strategic design process for your next campaign? Contact us to find out how we can help.


Written by: Brent Peters, Graphic Designer

How engineers can change career to PR

Switching career can have a profound impact on wellbeing and personal fulfilment – and it’s something that most of us will do several times in response to changing circumstances. Our Senior Comms Consultant, Elaine Cobb, shares insight from her own experience of switching career from engineering to public relations.

Although I loved studying engineering, I found my early career in the water industry unfulfilling. Happily, I was able to explore alternatives through a secondment, picking up experience of change management and communications. Ultimately, this opened up opportunities in marketing and public relations (PR).

Today, working in PR for engineering and science clients, I get to work on the latest technology and turn them into stories that are interesting and appealing to other engineers. In a typical day, I might interview an engineer about their latest project, write a story about it and then find opportunities to share that story widely, for example by placing it in a trade magazine, creating posts for social media or even writing a script for a video.

Because a lot of my projects focus on “thought leadership” it’s my job to take the nitty gritty of technology, and make it accessible and interesting for a wider audience. I’m always working on something new and exciting and I speak to people who are renowned experts in their fields and who are excited to share the latest news about their work.

My knowledge and experience from engineering has given me the edge over other PR professionals. Many of them come from a career in journalism or as a graduate with an arts degree. They don’t naturally pick up on the relevance of facts and figures, such as lead times or power ratings that are so important to engineers. Because I understand that, I can ask the right questions and author stories that work better. Clients love that and keep coming back for more, so it has helped me build my career.

Advice to others who are looking for a career change

When thinking about a career change, a secondment or an internship is a great place to start, provided you already have a good idea what you want to do.

For those who don’t have a career route mapped out, I’d suggest asking people in your network about their careers, the experience and skills they needed to develop, and what they find rewarding and challenging. That should help you to develop a bit more insight about whether their roles would suit you.

Of course, there are some downsides to a career change. You’ll be competing with people who are much earlier in their career, and who have already mastered the jargon and know the rules of the game. The classic example in PR is the press release. It’s important to use a ‘pyramid’ structure when writing it, secure the right sort of approval, find the right sort of image that is suitable for print or digital formats and be careful to target editors properly when you’re issuing it.

It’s therefore worth starting in a junior role and learning the ropes. However, experience of working in the professional world means that engineers will already have soft skills such as negotiation, relationship-building and mentoring. These will help you thrive and to climb up the career ladder.

I’m always very happy to share my experience of career change so get in touch via LinkedIn or check out our recruitment page to see whether we have any current opportunities.

Running a successful broadcast campaign day

As a digital PR agency, we understand the value of taking the best bits from the traditional PR world, and further amplifying them through new and different channels. A perfect example of the best of both worlds is bringing a broadcast day into the mix when launching a new campaign.

Let’s start with the basics: what is a broadcast day? A broadcast day is a push to maximise a PR campaign’s reach via radio and TV coverage. It usually involves a spokesperson, working from a studio to get the company’s message out on as many relevant programmes and channels as possible.

When planning and launching any campaign, there are loads of moving parts, and this is especially true if you decide to bring broadcast into the mix. Having run a bunch of successful broadcast days to boost PR campaigns, we’ve put together some tips to help you get the most out of yours.

1. Choose your story

The window for coverage on broadcast days is narrow. That means that once you’ve reserved the studio, and the spokesperson’s time, it’s critical that you secure as many slots and sessions as possible. To do that, you need to choose a framing of your story that will grab producers’ attention.

Producers and program organisers, on both TV and radio, are fundamentally numbers driven. Their main concern is finding content that will be of maximum interest to their audience, will get people talking, and keep people tuned in. If your story is something the media has covered a lot recently, then consider coming at it with a fresh take.

When you’re choosing your angle, make sure to get opinions from different groups – your PR agency, your broadcast partner, and people from across your company – as that experience will help steer the story in a newsworthy direction. Don’t be afraid of considering multiple angles: it’s better to change your mind to go down another path than to go for a weaker story and limit the campaign’s impact. Do your research and find an angle that appeals to the outlets you’re targeting.

Another crucial element is coordinating your broadcast efforts with your other PR channel efforts. This can make a huge difference in how far the message spreads and how professional the organisation appears. Pitch the online and print elements the day before you broadcast so that they appear to viewers and readers simultaneously. Critically, be clear about where people can go for more information, usually a simple hashtag or URL, and make it catchy and easy to remember.

It’s also important to make sure the messaging of your brand, the story of the brand and the reason this campaign exists in the first place doesn’t get lost. Making sure the connection is there and that it’s easy for it to come through in interviews is a tricky – but important element of the story generation and moulding process.

2. Timing and matching the media agenda

We recommend doing everything possible to avoid planning your broadcast campaign launch day on the same day as another major event. The larger event will inevitably consume all of the media’s attention, leaving your efforts far less effective than they may otherwise have been. If, for instance, it is announced that the chancellor will be announcing the new budget on your planned broadcast day, you can be sure that the media agenda will be focused on the contents of the red briefcase and not your campaign.

Wherever possible, move your launch to a clearer day. Media planners such as Janet Murray’s media dates diary and a bit of research go a long way here. Some patient observation will quickly reveal which days are emptier for the media and therefore better for you to target. Keep in mind that typical broadcast sell-in starts at least a week in advance. This varies depending on whether the programme focuses on news and features, with the latter often having more rigid planners.

Of course, the nature of the news business means that there will always be a risk that you launch your campaign and are still overshadowed by an outbreak of a deadly virus, or the US President tweeting “covfefe,” but hey, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches.

3. Preparing your spokesperson

Your spokesperson plays a huge role in getting the message across and generating media interest, so it’s not something to do by halves. It’s important to choose the lead headline or story before you settle on a spokesperson. This may sound basic, but it’s a common mistake. The spokesperson needs to be able to speak confidently on the topic and, ideally, has a history and reputation in the industry.

It’s perfectly valid to choose someone from within your company, but media training is non-negotiable. It’s also preferable that the spokesperson has engaged with the media before, as this reduces the risk of nervousness. Try not to let company politics play too big a role in choosing the spokesperson: if the COO is the ideal person from a subject matter and charisma perspective, that’s great. If not, investigate your other options, as it’s always better to have someone who is confident speaking about the topic than someone senior stumbling or making simple mistakes.

Once you’ve chosen your spokesperson, the next step is to train them. Brief them on every detail of the announcement, throw them questions designed to put them off balance, and do your homework about the various personalities that they’ll be speaking with throughout the day.

Another factor which can be overlooked is your spokesperson’s accent. From a clarity standpoint, you need to choose someone who is widely understandable across regions. This means choosing someone without a thick accent who enunciates clearly and speaks in a measured tone.

4. Availability and regionality

One challenge to contend with on the day is scheduling. The unfortunate reality with a broadcast day is that many opportunities will only come through on the day itself – and rarely more than the day before.

To be safe, it’s best for your team and the relevant spokespeople to block out most of the day and be agile enough to adapt to a changing schedule. Typically, most media opportunities will come in between 8 AM and 2 PM. Occasionally, some requests for interview also come in in the following days, so make sure your spokesperson isn’t jetting off for a celebratory holiday just yet. Fundamentally, you need to fit producer’s needs and the schedules of their shows, and it’s better to be ready and flexible than potentially miss out on some great hits.

One mistake that many companies make is discounting opportunities simply because they’re not national-level programmes. This is a terrible missed opportunity. There are hundreds of local radio stations in the UK, including the regional BBC channels, and they have a significant listenership. Any opportunity to get your story out there is a chance for your story to land, so don’t turn down local media unless you absolutely have to.

During the research phase, try to find some regional demographic breakdowns of the data, as these are perfect for tailoring your story to different regions and appealing to local stations.

Want to make sure your broadcast day is a success? Contact our PR strategy experts today.


Written by: Tom Pallot, Digital Strategist




Storytelling for engineers – how to do it well

Storytelling is an excellent tool for marketing managers who want an engineering PR agency to promote an engineering product or service based on its superior quality and technical capability. However, engineers are a tough and unforgiving audience. Slip up and you can undermine your entire argument, causing readers to keep browsing to competitors’ sites.

So what appeals to an engineering audience and how can you build stories that appeal to them? Here are a few rules from our Senior Comms Consultant for engineering, Elaine Cobb, to follow.

1. Research, research, research

It’s essential to get under the skin of the industry you’re selling into. For example, I was writing content to promote a specialist premium tool for the forestry industry last week, which isn’t my normal patch.

So, rather than dive straight in, I did some basic research: legislative trends, environmental issues, forestry products, ecological forestry zones, how operators navigate issues around the rights of indigenous peoples, the state of the market and the supply chain, as well as how the big players are presenting themselves and the strategies followed by major forestry nations and industry bodies. Having done my homework, I understood the pressures faced by forestry companies and could write something relevant.

I also checked out my client’s customer carefully: their products, markets, pricing, etc. So when I interviewed the expert, I was able to ask relevant questions and got great answers.

Much of my research wasn’t spelled out in the content I created but it helped me avoid making any blunders, and I made the best use of the expert’s time and knowledge.

The same goes for any industry – only when you have a grasp of the issues faced at the sharp end can you hope to write a story that appeals to your audience. And if your introduction is weak, then nobody will read the rest, no matter how compelling your evidence.

2. Short sentences, straightforward construction, simple words

We often write content that needs to appeal to people around the world. It’s often translated into other languages and it’s often consumed by people who don’t speak English as a first language.

If you want to influence people, you need to make sure they can understand your messaging – so keep it simple.

3. Avoid fancy scene-setting

In a bid to do storytelling, some writers try to emulate the big-name celebrity interviews that appear in the Sunday supplements. These are some of the most high-profile stories we see today, so it makes sense to follow their approach.

However, as they’re the lead story in the supplement, the journalist faces the challenge of fulfilling thousands of words from just a five-minute interview.

To plug the gap, they write about their arrival to the interview, the venue, how they were greeted by the PR, the furnishings, the lack of time, how the interview was stopped short because they asked about the celebrity’s divorce… we read them because of the A-list draw and the fantastic photography.

But with a talkative and insightful interviewee and plenty of industry context, you should have plenty of content to fill 1,500 words of editorial space. The tricky thing is to be strict about sticking to industry issues, avoiding branded mentions, and taking care around sensitive topics.

4. There are seven stories in the world – but engineering companies should only use five of them

In fiction, they say there are only seven stories (overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, voyage and return, rebirth, comedy, and tragedy).

And the same is true for engineering companies – with the exception of comedy and tragedy (for obvious reasons).

A case study about how a product helped a customer save money could be an example of overcoming the monster, rags to riches or voyage and return. The achievement of an R&D programme is a quest. A major step in technology or major improvements to a production line could be framed as a rebirth.

In practice, companies want to show how they help their customers to save money, save time (which is often the same as saving money) or save carbon dioxide emissions, improve quality or respond quickly to save the day.

The skill of a specialist engineering PR consultant is in recognising the story in a piece of software or a new widget and presenting it to the audience respectfully and with supporting evidence. They don’t let storytelling get in way of the story.

Contact us today if you want advice on making your engineering stories more persuasive.


Written by: Elaine Cobb, Senior Comms Consultant for engineering


The secret to great client-agency relationships

Our Client Services Director Katy Bloomfield answers a few questions about what makes a successful relationship between a brand and its B2B PR agency.

How did you get into PR?

I’ve worked with B2B clients since my first role as agency intern. This turned into a permanent role and provided me with a lot of variety, including guiding a major paint brand as it made its first forays into social media. I then moved to a role in strategic messaging and branding before returning to the front lines to deliver PR for tech and consumer clients at another agency. I joined TopLine in 2017 to move into a leadership role and to work across B2B and digital PR.

How has your experience informed your view of client-agency relationships?

What I’ve learned is to view client-agency relationships as a partnership. Clients choose to work with an agency because of its specialist skills. They also value an agency that can act as an extension of their team. At the same time, the client needs to offer work that is interesting and relevant to the agency and provide the right level of access and support for the agency to produce great results. It’s not just about paying the bills – we also rely on our clients to motivate us, which in turn helps with employee retention.

What does the ideal client-agency relationship look like?

Obviously, the ideal relationship depends on the client. For me, the best clients are ambitious, with fair expectations and an understanding of how a PR agency works.

Typically, clients seek four things in an agency partner:

  1. A deep understanding of their business. The ideal agency should understand their client’s bigger goals and objectives, and why their customers have chosen to work with them. Getting coverage is great – but if it doesn’t ladder up to business objectives, there is little return value.
  2. Great chemistry – after all, a client needs to trust and enjoy working with their main contact, as well as the wider team.
  3. Creativity is also vital. Clients are often time-poor and are so close to their brand that they find it hard to see it from a fresh perspective. That’s why we see it as our job to provide strategic insight.
  4. The last one is accountability. It’s essential that an agency gets results, is determined and driven.

How does this differ from reality – and what does TopLine do about it?

At TopLine, we have processes in place to keep things fresh. We prompt our team to hold regular brainstorms, as well as quarterly strategy reviews designed to encourage the team to imagine what they could achieve for a brand. Regular checkpoints like these help us keep client relationships on track. And in turn, we’ve nurtured long client relationships – 10 years or more in many cases.

And what should the brand do to keep things on track?

The key to keeping a client focused is providing solid, achievable objectives and clear timeframes. For example, a client may want to generate more leads by using PR to raise awareness. However, an awareness campaign is a long-term strategy and will struggle to deliver leads within a week. If they don’t understand this in advance, they can become frustrated. That’s why we always encourage our clients to talk with us about what they want to achieve, as we can suggest how to achieve shorter-term goals while working towards a long-term vision.

Ultimately, a client-agency relationship is a two-way thing. To keep things healthy, we always need to act in the best interests of our clients and they should treat us as a partner.

How to run a STEM media roundtable

Media roundtables do exactly what they say on the tin. They’re organised conversations, usually between subject matter experts and journalists, around a table. A representative from a company typically hosts them, and it allows them to meet with important people, position themselves at the forefront of their industry and, most importantly, have interesting discussions.

Media roundtables are an essential part of a PR strategy to build relations with press, stakeholders and influencers, and they’re particularly useful for companies that deal with complex or technical issues. At TopLine Comms, as a Science PR and Engineering PR agency, a lot of our clients deal in such matters, which is why we still like to host them as often as possible. But we know that they’re overlooked in favour of PR campaigns that produce quick wins. This article will explain how to prepare and run a successful STEM media roundtable, using feedback from journalists in top STEM publications and our expertise here at TopLine.

Between them, these journalists have attended countless STEM media roundtables (including some we have arranged) and were more than happy to provide us with feedback on their experiences. This includes what they like, dislike or expect, and whether they feel that they are useful (spoiler: they all agreed that they’re useful).

Decide the theme

The first step when organising a roundtable is to select a theme for the event. Roundtables provide an opportunity to focus on one specific area of your client’s expertise and arrange an engaged conversation and discussion between your experts and journalists on the topic. Remember, roundtables shouldn’t be used as an opportunity to discuss product and service features. Instead, think about what problem you (or your client’s) product is trying to solve, and create a discussion around it. Then, you can showcase thought-leadership in the area and mention the soon-to-be-launched product.

When asked whether he found roundtables a useful format for press events, Nigel Blackaby from Power Engineering International emphasised that it “depends on the subject matter but on balance they do often allow greater insights”. Therefore, selecting a theme and a journalist who is interested in that subject is essential for gaining interests (and RSVPs!).

Who to invite

Once you’ve decided your theme, you’ll need to decide on who to invite. You’ll want to keep the conversation flowing, so you don’t want too many people around the table. Equally, you’ll want people to feel free to discuss sensitive topics, so will need to pick your journalists wisely. In terms of the number of people to invite to the roundtable, the consensus across the journalists we spoke to was “no more than 10”.

Thought leaders and influencers who attend roundtables tend to be potential clients, regular public speakers and academics. If you’re organising the roundtable on behalf of a client, you might need to rely on them to give you a ‘wish list’ as well as doing your own research.

In terms of company spokespeople to invite, Henry Edwardes-Evans from SP Global thinks “a good mix of technical, commercial, regulatory, management leaders” should attend. But as Junior Isle from The Energy Industry Times mentions, this can always “depend on the topic”. Nigel felt that “some senior management, along with technical experts, without too many corporate communications handlers” makes a good mix. Just always make sure that the person is fully briefed: give them potential moderator questions, show them articles that the journalists attending have written recently and make sure they know how a roundtable works (i.e. don’t just assume that they’ve done it before).

It’s worth noting that traditional roundtables often operate under Chatham House Rules (whereby what’s spoken about can be published but not attributed to any one person in particular). Make sure that everyone involved in the roundtable is aware beforehand that whatever they say is going to be on the record. Or, if you do operate under Chatham House Rules, make sure the press is well aware of the fact (and expect fewer to attend as a result).


Choosing the right date, time and location for your roundtable can be complicated. As a general rule, it’s best to stick to somewhere convenient, interesting and at a time that allows everyone to still get on with their typical working day. When we asked our journalists about the formality of the location, we had a very mixed response. Junior Isles felt that the venue should be set in a formal environment, whereas Henry felt that casual was more appropriate. Nick Smith from Engineering & Technology didn’t mind on the formality, so long as the venue was “a quiet one as it makes audio recording better”. And Nigel made a good point that “Sometimes a tie-in with a site visit offers a fuller picture and more value to a roundtable.” Ultimately, they all agreed that convenience trumps formality.

The ideal length of a roundtable can also vary between journalists. Across our four STEM journalists, the range was between one to two hours (so, 90 minutes). You’ll need someone to keep a close eye on the agenda – you’ll be shocked at how quickly the time flies by, especially if you get stuck on a particular topic.

While small roundtables don’t need the same level of admin as a large-scale event does, you’ll still want the basics including:

  • Name tags (to make networking a little easier)
  • A register so that you have a record of who attended
  • Name places
  • Ensure that the venue has a coat hanger or area to store bags
  • Ensure all technology is charged and ready to use
  • Make sure there are clear signs for the bathrooms
  • If you’re recording the event, have a sign and make a statement to ensure that everyone knows that is the case.

With regards to food, always make sure you’ve asked for everyone’s dietary requirements before the event. You should have drinks, including tea and coffee, waiting on arrival. As for food, all the journalists we spoke to felt that a buffet or finger food was the best form of lunch for these events. It promotes a relaxed environment and easy conversation.

Finally, you’ll need to decide who will chair the event, as the success of the roundtable relies heavily on them. They’ll need to explain how the day is going to unfold; drive the discussion; keep an eye on the time and interject with interesting questions.

Structure of the event 

A good place to start is by introducing the chair (this can be the PR team). The chair will then introduce the clients and experts. Then ask the journalists to introduce themselves. Then, the chair can start working through the agenda for the day.

At the end of the event, thank everyone for their time, hand out any additional material and promise that you will be in touch. When asked what additional content he preferred to receive at a roundtable, Henry felt that “some printed material and ideally some news and data for charts, tables, graphics” were useful. Junior and Nick added that “presentations from the day on USBs are very helpful.”

Follow up

After the event, you’ll want to follow up with those who attended, and those who maybe couldn’t make it. This is where your notes will come in particularly handy. The sooner you write them up, the sooner you can share them with attendees and company stakeholders.

With regards to press coverage, you shouldn’t expect a frontpage splash – instead, the aim is to build long term relationships and longer-term story ideas. It’s worth thanking those who came and asking them if they’d like any follow-up conversations, but otherwise, you should just make sure they got everything they needed from the event.

And there you have it – the recipe for a successful STEM media roundtable. It might not be the right format for every story, but it’s nearly always a worthwhile endeavour to improve media and stakeholder relations. Just make sure you’ve got something interesting to talk about, the right people at the table and a hospitable environment, and you’ll be on to a winner.

To get a better insight in planning your STEM media roundtable, get in touch with our specialist STEM team today.


Written by: Fleur Stamford, Comms Assistant 

Journo intel: Meet The Sun’s digital consumer reporter, Alice Grahns

Alice Grahns is a digital consumer reporter at The Sun. Formerly staff writer and section editor at MoneyWeek, Alice covers everything from consumer buying trends to tips for saving money. Alice kindly agreed to join us to discuss her career and how she likes to work with PR teams.

How did you first get into journalism?

I always knew I wanted to be a journalist and came to London in 2014 to study journalism at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. I did a lot of work placements and internships during my course, and got a job in the industry before I graduated. 

What do you enjoy most about journalism and what advice would you give a journalist who is just starting out?

The best part about being a journalist is talking to people and telling their stories. If you’re just starting out, I’d recommend going to events and chatting to people. You never know who you might bump into! Experience is also key, so get as much experience as you can.

 What does a typical day at work look like for you?

I come in around 7am-8am in the morning and put together a list of ideas for the day (based on published articles, contacts, and issues I want to look into). Once I’ve checked with an editor I start writing articles and pick up news as it comes in during the day. In the afternoons, I usually have more time to work on long-term pieces.

What would you say are the biggest challenges facing the profession?

Fake news. It’s a fast-paced environment and the pressure is high, especially with online news, but it’s important we get it right or we’ll lose trust.

How do you prefer PRs and brands to work with you?

I love hearing about new brands and stories coming up. The best way to get my attention is by sending an email, summarising the story in a few sentences. There’s not much point in calling as I’ll pick up stories via email. If of interest, I’ll get back to you.

That’s it from Alice for now, but if you want to learn more about media relations – or any other part of running a digital PR strategy – you can contact us today.

Tech PR case study: Building a SaaS company

In 2009, Bullhorn, the leading US recruitment software company, was planning its launch into the UK market.

Bullhorn needed to:

  • Educate UK recruiters as to the benefit of SaaS over on-premises CRM solutions
  • Build its profile in the recruitment industry
  • Attract its first users

Our strategy

We started with a hard-hitting integrated PR strategy that included:

  • A regular stream of news announcements and opinion pieces aimed at dominating the UK recruitment media with Bullhorn’s content.
  • A series of events and speaking opportunities to leave UK recruiters in no doubt as to the value of Bullhorn as a bespoke CRM.
  • A thought-leadership campaign aimed at positioning Bullhorn as a leading SaaS solution to help recruiters cut costs and increase efficiency in a tough economic climate.

Initial results

Within 18 months, the strategy had delivered:

  • Over 180 pieces of positive media coverage.
  • Widespread recognition of Bullhorn in the UK recruitment community, with a number of people already referring to Bullhorn as the market leader.
  • Bullhorn’s first 2,000 users.

And then…

…the competition woke up and Bullhorn needed to use its first-mover advantage to drive further growth.

Our ongoing strategy

So, we intensified our market-domination strategy with:

  • More news announcements and opinion pieces focussing on the key benefits of Bullhorn’s CRM.
  • A thought-leadership campaign to position Bullhorn as the only recruitment CRM provider with the ability to help recruiters work smarter and build better relationships with candidates and clients
  • An ongoing campaign to build Bullhorn’s credibility as a leading tech company
  • An awards program to highlight Bullhorn’s credentials as an employer

The results

This change in strategy paid off. Within five years, Bullhorn had:

  • Firmly cemented its position as the market leading recruitment CRM tool
  • Seen its UK user base pass the 15,000 mark
  • Dominated the UK media v its competitors with a 75% share of voice
  • Secured 360 pieces of positive media coverage, with growing interest from the national tech and business media.
  • Received 4 award nominations (including the National Business Awards) and 2 wins
  • Featured in the Sunday Times Best Companies to work for two years running
  • Built 62 followed links back to the website (a key SEO metric)
  • Hosted the biggest recruitment conference in Europe
  • Successfully launched in Australia, Singapore and the Netherlands

 “Four factors contributed to the unqualified success of Bullhorn’s launch into the UK market. They were a great product, a clear and intelligent sales strategy, economic conditions forcing recruiters to become more efficient and the work of TopLine Comms. Within six months we were broadly recognised in the recruitment sector and there is no question now that the perception in the UK recruitment community is that Bullhorn is a market leader.” Peter Linas, International Managing Director, Bullhorn

Find out more about why we’re one of PR Week’s leading tech PR agencies.

Three simple things PR can do to improve its reputation

We’ve heard that when some people think of PR, they conjure up images of Mad Men in smoke-filled rooms, spin doctors in the dark arts of strategic communication, or shadowy manipulators pulling the strings of public opinion. And as it turns out, they’re not alone. Back in 2015, a survey found that 70% of the British public said they don’t trust PR practitioners. This image problem has been compounded by recent and well-publicised scandals such as Bell Pottinger, which rightly called into question the ethics of the profession.

I was recently in a room full of PR agency leaders when the question of ethics was raised. The majority said they believed their companies behaved ethically. The conversation moved on to how ethical behaviour is defined by workplace policies, and by the clients you choose to take. It was agreed in the end that it was a question of reputation, rather than ethics, that the industry sometimes suffers from.

At TopLine, we’re doing our part to prove that ‘PR’ doesn’t deserve a bad rap. Here are some ideas for how the industry as a whole can turn perceptions around.

Clarify our relationship with the media

The media is fundamental to PR. And so naturally, as journalism has faced a number of challenges in moving online – the rise of clickbait, fake news, and the demise of traditional funding models – PR has become entangled in this messy transformation.

People in PR need to make two things clear. First is that the principles of journalism are fundamental to upholding freedom of speech and freedom of information. The second is that public relations, defined as “the way organisations communicate with the public, promote themselves, and build a positive reputation and public image,” is perfectly compatible with journalism. PR has a role to fulfil in providing information that can allow media to author the stories that they believe are important.

As a B2B PR agency, we’re big believers in the importance of a great story. We believe in putting out factual information and insightful opinions that journalists actually want to cover. Sometimes this means pushing back on clients – journalists want “man bites dog,” not “dog bites man” – because we’re always looking out for their best interest. Relationships are key, but no journalist will print something on the basis of who you know – and we never ask them to.

Rewrite the connotations of ‘PR talk’

Aside from the more sinister accusations levelled at PR, there is the valid criticism that the industry tends toward jargon, fluff, and ‘PR speak’. If you’re writing that your product “boasts innovatively leveraged solutions,” you need to stop and think about what you’re really trying to say. The public wants specific, straightforward, and informative language, that actually means something and treats them like adults.

When you’re writing for a client, you need to ride a fine line between factual and promotional, ensuring that the copy is neither too dry nor sickly-sweet. This means that you’re going to have to ‘murder your darlings’: a specific phrase, framing, or term that you love might not be the best way to the point across, and you might need to let it go. Following the style guide is an excellent way to ensure that your writing stays on target – your proof-reader will thank you.

Pitching is the art of reducing a story until all that is left are its most crucial points, and it’s a critical part of what we do as PR professionals. As our media relations team can tell you, an overly wordy pitch goes unread. Our best piece of advice is to describe the story to the journalist the same way you would to a friend in the pub. All of us in the PR industry should try to make all of our writing to look a little more like a good pitch: straightforward, accurate, and to the point.

Prove that good PR can be measured

PR often gets a bad rep for being ‘intangible’. The PR member associations PRCA and CIPR have done excellent work in this area recently – including denouncing the previously widely used ‘advertising value equivalent’. The industry needs to continue to look at new ways to quantify success, such as the Barcelona Principles.

At TopLine, we take quantifiability seriously – one of our three guiding values is a Galileo quote: “Measure what is measurable and make measurable what is not so”. We match business objectives to outcomes, and constantly find new ways to measure impact – check out our list of 30 examples. Fortunately for the industry, the increasing prevalence of digital PR has produced a rich variety of metrics to use to determine exactly how effective your communications are.

Cleaning up our reputation

It’s ironic that the industry which works with companies to improve their public perception has such an image problem itself. The overwhelming majority of PR firms are doing excellent, creative, ethical work, and it’s our responsibility to prove that to the public. We can do that by following the principles of journalism and putting out genuinely newsworthy stories, keeping our language precise and avoiding fluffy ‘PR speak’, and working toward accountability by quantifying our successes. With those three simple steps, the industry should be back on its way into the public’s good graces.

If you’re convinced that PR doesn’t deserve its bad reputation and want to find out what we can do for your business, contact us today.

Written by: Katy Bloomfield – Head of Client Relations