Journo intel: Kim Thomas, freelance national journalist

Kim specialises in health and education and writes often for The Guardian and other national and business publications. We spoke to Kim while working at home recently, to find out more about her background, and how the pandemic has impacted on journalism.

How did you first get into journalism?

In 1995, I was working as a technical writer for Ernst & Young. I’d always wanted to be a journalist but didn’t have the confidence. In the end, I just took the plunge, leaving my job and taking a three-month journalism course at the London College of Printing. After that, I spent about three years doing freelance technical writing, which paid the mortgage, while building a portfolio as a journalist. In 1998, I took a job as a staff writer at the newly launched IT Week and worked there for a year before going on maternity leave. I’ve been freelancing ever since.

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

The best thing about journalism is that you’re always learning. It is a great job for anyone who is intellectually curious or has an interest in people. You can be  commissioned to write about a subject you know nothing about, and then persuade experts to spend 20 minutes of their time explaining it to you. In the early days, I used to get quite a kick out of seeing my name in print – though that doesn’t deliver the thrill it used to!

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

I’m afraid that compared to many journalists, my daily routine is very dull – no travelling to war zones or meeting celebs at the Groucho. I’m usually at my desk at about 8am, and work till 5pm, doing phone interviews, sending emails, and writing, not to mention wasting time on Facebook. As a freelancer, I do take time out to do things like attend a yoga class or go to the gym, so that’s definitely a bonus of being my own boss.

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

At present, things are really difficult. For the first 10 years of my freelance career (1999 to 2009), I was a technology journalist, and there was always plenty of work. I made a reasonable living despite having to combine work and parenting. The crash of 2008/9 changed all that, and many publications I wrote for either folded or stopped using freelancers. I managed to move into writing about areas such as education and health care, which has mostly worked well, but the pandemic has affected the industry severely. Many publications are now closing, and The Guardian, which I’ve written for a lot, is closing sections and laying off staff. The amount of free content on the internet has hit print publications very hard, and online publications are struggling to make money – about 70% of advertising spend goes to Google and Facebook. It’s actually difficult to see how publishers can find a business model that works.

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

This is a tough one because when I was a technology journalist, there were particular PR agencies with whom I used to have an excellent relationship. The best ones were always those who knew the publications I was writing for and could send me a pitch closely aligned to what a particular publication was likely to be interested in. These days most of the work I do comes from editors asking me to write on specific topics, so I tend to be less interested in approaches from PRs. Having said that, I did have a pleasing experience in the past couple of years that I’d like to share. I was writing a piece about Tredegar, Nye Bevan’s birthplace, to celebrate the NHS’s 70th anniversary. I contacted the press officer of a think tank to talk to one of their policy officers about the NHS, and she happened to mention that her partner’s mother grew  up in Tredegar. She put us in touch, and the interviewee turned out to have particularly rich memories of the town in the 1960s that gave the piece some extra colour. It was a good example of going above and beyond.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a journalist?

In a way, I’m already doing it. Because I have a particular interest in mental health, birth and parenting, a few years ago I started volunteering for a small charity called the Birth Trauma Association, which supports women with postnatal PTSD. I now work as their CEO, though I’m only paid one day a week. The work is significant to me because it feels I’m doing something worthwhile – so many women with mental health problems after birth tell us they didn’t feel heard until they came to us. The second edition of my book on birth trauma is coming out this September, and I’m also writing a book on postnatal PTSD aimed at health professionals. It’s been good to use my skills as a journalist to support a cause I believe in so strongly.

What advice would you give to a journalist just starting in the industry? 

My advice to any journalist starting out is to always meet your deadlines, always check your facts, and always write to word count. And don’t be intimidated by editors – they’re only human.

 

If you’re interested in learning more about how we do media relations at TopLine Comms, get in touch today!

 

You might also like:

Looking to attract investor attention? Tech PR just might have the answer

The UK is a global technology hub, and even the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t been able to slow its incredible pace – investors poured $5.3 billion into British tech companies during the first half of 2020. And amid stiff competition for this cash, technology companies turn to PR specialists to stand out from the crowd.

Whatever stage of growth your company is at, PR is a great way to build brand awareness and instil investor confidence. At our Tech PR agency, we’ve helped countless companies to achieve their growth and financial milestones. For example, back in 2016, we worked with the up-and-coming fintech start-up Sonovate, to launch their brand – and get in front of new funds.

Perception is everything when you’re trying to convince investors, and proper tech PR preparation can give your company a competitive edge. Here’s how.

What does it take to get an investor’s cash?

According to a scale-up investment report by Innovate UK, when looking for a promising business, investors prioritise:

  • A strong management team (96%)
  • Market demand (67%)
  • Strategy and vision (62%)

Our experience matches well with this data, and we’ve found great success promoting these three areas when we have provided B2B PR strategy and PR to a range of scale-ups – including those who already have investment. But how do you reach investors with these messages?

Investors often keep a keen eye on the media, so our strategy starts there with two main approaches. The first is earning regular coverage in the relevant trade press, which shows investors that your team of thought leaders and innovators knows its stuff and leads in its field. The other element of our approach is to place ‘hero pieces’, usually profile and comment articles in top-tier business and national outlets, to earn prestige and investor confidence.

What does a tech business get from a PR agency?

1. Fine-tune the message

Every business is trying to convey information about itself and its value, but it can be tough to be heard in a competitive environment. Working with a PR team can help a tech business to refine its message. Often, businesses concoct overly complex or technical messaging in-house, which can be a turn-off to journalists and investors. A tech PR company will help ground the message by asking the most fundamental question – ‘why?’ – and then build that answer into an engaging, current campaign.

2. Connect you with the media

Journalists are inundated with requests for coverage, and getting your pitch noticed is a challenge all its own. An experienced PR team takes this challenge – along with many others – off of the business’s plate so that they can stay focused on the work they’re doing. Better yet, good PR professionals have a strong working relationship with journalists at a range of outlets, so they are more likely to get noticed when they’re sending your pitches around.

3. Perfect your people’s profiles

Businesses often overlook some of their most valuable assets: their subject matter experts. For investors, these experts offer invaluable insights into the strength of the team behind the products or services and the company culture. A time-tested PR tactic is identifying strong voices within the business and building their profiles in the media.

Many PR novices neglect people and go full force on the product, but investors are people too, and there are few things as powerful as offering a personal insight into the minds behind the business. Similarly, ensuring that experts have an approachable presence on social media increases investor confidence and invites them to interact and informally ask questions.

4. Show that there’s money to be made

Ultimately, investors want to make money on a great idea – but journalists wish to present an impartial picture of newsworthy developments. Threading this needle is a challenge, but sufficient PR savvy makes it easier. When executed properly, demonstrations and case studies, for instance, can convey both newsworthy and valuable information.

Want to find out how a tech PR agency could help your business achieve its next stage of growth? Get in touch with our head of client relations, Katy.

 

You might also like:

 

Written by: Katy Bloomfield, Head of Client Relations at TopLine Comms

 

Publications behind a paywall could be critical for B2B PR success

A successful PR programme depends on much more than creating a great story. Your story needs to be seen by the right people – such as potential customers or other key stakeholders. That makes selecting your target media a critical success factor. But that is not always easy, especially when working in some engineering sectors such as rail, utilities or renewables, where there can be an almost bewildering choice. It is tempting to strike paywall publications from your list. But there is a risk of missing out on media that could deliver the best results for your business.

There are two main reasons for not wanting to contribute articles or interviews to media with a paywall in place. First, when the coverage appears it doesn’t contribute to SEO. Second, you cannot link directly to the coverage from your own website.

However, that does not mean that these media outlets lack value. Far from it. They are offering a premium product. One that readers are willing to pay for through a subscription. That makes them more committed and more likely to be interested in your story. And because their readers are paying for the privilege, editors usually set a high bar on the quality of article they will accept – your story benefits far more from third-party editorial endorsement than in other publications.

As a case in point. Before entering the world of PR, I was a material scientist working in fatigue research. I am proud to be a member of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) and still look forward to receiving my copy of Materials World. But to access the really interesting articles you have to be a subscriber. So as a PR professional, if you want to target readers with an active interest in materials, then this publication is a really powerful way of doing that – paywall or not.

Perhaps the best way of deciding if a paywall is a deal-breaker for you is simply to ask your customers (and other stakeholders) what they read. If they value a publication enough to subscribe, then you can be sure that it is one you need to work with.

Achieving customer recognition and becoming established as a thought leader can be crucial to the success of your B2B PR programme. That means using the media that is best for your message, not just best for SEO. Don’t fear the paywall!

If you would like to know more about how PR can help your business, contact us today.

 

Written by: Andrew Bartlett, Science and Engineering Director

How should B2B brands behave when the world has turned upside down?

The year 2020 used to sound futuristic, and exciting. Few could have predicted what this year had in store. Both our social and work lives have been turned upside down and as a result, companies have either adapted and survived, or failed and closed.

In the early 20th century, all a company needed to do to succeed was make a quality product at the right price. But, as FMCG and mass manufacturing took off through the 50s and 60s, the idea of market competitors became increasingly prominent, and competing on price and quality alone was no longer enough. According to marketing thought leader Marc de Swaan Arons, to earn customer loyalty, brands realised they needed to stand apart as something distinct. With that ushered in the Mad Men era of advertising and power suits, and the brands that succeeded in winning the loyalty of their customers were the ones creating an aspirational but relatable identity.

Despite the advent of the internet, the fundamental concept of branding remained largely the same. But the collision of a global pandemic together with social movements in 2020 has posed a unique challenge. The world simultaneously came to a standstill while dealing with important social justice issues.

As a B2B PR agency, this prompted us to ask essential questions around brands and their communication strategies. Opinion has divided on how brands should handle their marketing. Some want to see empathy, while others want business as usual. So, what do we want from brands after 2020?

Be a human

Covid-19 has created space for many brands to rethink their marketing approach in favour of something more human. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust in 2020, 80 percent of people feel it is important for brands to help solve society’s problems. In addition, 44 percent said they recently used a new brand because of the innovative or compassionate way they responded to the outbreak. And according to global eCommerce company PFS, in the UK, 52 percent of all consumers agree that they feel greater loyalty towards brands that effectively communicate with them and are showing how they are helping people during this time.

The data shows that people want to see brands contribute in a meaningful way to help people during this pandemic, with emphasis on the ‘meaningful’ aspect. Performative activism will be called out.

Be a brand

Meanwhile, some believe brands are brands and shouldn’t try to mimic emotions like empathy. A recent study by Kantar found that 92 percent of people think that businesses should continue to advertise during the COVID-19 outbreak. Similar research from Twitter found 64 percent said brands should continue promoting products as usual, and 52 percent agreed that seeing or hearing ads gave them a sense of normality.

There’s also a point to be made about convenience being the main driver behind purchasing choices from now onwards. McKinsey Global research shows that over 60 percent of consumers have changed their shopping behaviour during the pandemic in favour of value and convenience, and plan to stick to their new choices.

Ok, so where does brand responsibility lie?

For every consumer that wants the brands they interact with to hold their hand, there is another who would prefer that they don’t. Neither approach is right or wrong – instead, it is a case of fully understanding and responding to what your customer wants.

Whichever stance you take, the key to getting it right is remembering that brand starts, but doesn’t end, with your comms – a brand that behaves responsibly is one that follows through on its promises and ensures it lives up to its values, not just for the sake of headlines.

As a B2B PR agency, at TopLine Comms, we often talk to our clients about the importance of being a brand that is greater than the sum of its parts. That is to say, a brand that focuses on the benefit of its technology or service, rather than the product itself. Put simply – it’s what people prefer to read, and journalists would rather write about. Whether you’re tightening up your services or are donating in the name of social justice, your efforts must resonate across your company, from the way you treat staff internally to the messages you post on your social media. Ultimately, that is the key to getting the right brand message out there – consistency across the board.

 

Need help with your B2B PR strategy during 2020 and beyond? Get in touch with us today.

 

Written by: Katy Bloomfield, Head of Client Relations at TopLine Comms

 

You may also like: 

Building thought leadership through B2B PR

BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions needed to raise awareness of its asset finance, rental and leasing solutions among small business owners and channel partners in seven key sectors.

Strategy

Our strategy included:

  • Media relations to build awareness of BNP as a leader in asset finance and leasing.
  • Creative content to highlight the benefit of leasing to prospects and to drive traffic to the BNP website.
  • Inbound marketing to convert prospects into customers and support the sales team.

Results

This complex B2B PR strategy worked, delivering:

  • 96 positive tier one media hits in the first year, with 231 brand mentions and an interview on BBC News.
  • A solid content and inbound strategy, reaching thousands of prospects each month with timely and useful content.
  • 20 followed links – an important SEO metric.

“TopLine’s PR and content expertise has raised awareness of our leasing solutions with our target audience. They now recognise us as a leasing authority. We needed an agency that is proactive and easy to work with – and TopLine is exactly that!” Suhale Vorajee
Head of Marketing Communications, BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions

You might also like:

UK university ransomware FoI results

As a leading B2B PR agency we like to practice what we preach. As such we regularly run our own online PR campaigns related to tech PR subjects that interest us, like cyber security. This campaign involved us submitting Freedom of Information requests to 134 universities in July 2020 to establish how many had been subject to ransomware attacks. Of the 105 universities that responded, 35 admitted to being attacked (33%), 25 said they hadn’t been (24%) and 43 refused to answer (45%).

With most universities reporting isolated incidents, Sheffield Hallam University and City, University of London stood out, reporting 42 attacks since 2013, and seven attacks since 2014, respectively. The following table contains the results in full. Please contact us if you’d like the data in a spreadsheet for further analysis.

 

University/QuestionHas your university been subject to any ransomware attacks in the last ten years (definition of ransomware here)?If so, when
did they take place?
Have you paid a ransom/s in return for data stolen during aforementioned ransomware
attack/s?
If you’ve paid ransom/s, then what’s the total amount you’ve paid?
Queen
Margaret University
Non/an/an/a
University of Leicester refused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of EssexNon/an/an/a
Royal College of ArtDoes not
hold info
Does not hold infoDoes not hold infoDoes not hold info
Glyndŵr UniversityNon/an/an/a
Royal Academy of MusicNon/an/an/a
Manchester Metropolitan UniversityNoNoNoNo
De Montfort UniversityYes2019 & 2016No, restored all affected data via our enterprise backup
solution
n/a
University College LondonYes14th June 2017No ransom was paid.n/a
University of Bedfordshirenon/anon/a
Aberystwyth UniversityYesCant confirmnon/a
University of WolverhamptonNon/an/an/a
UALrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Oxford Brookes Universityrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of Brightonrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
The University of EdinburghNoNoNoNo
University of WinchesterYes2016Non/a
University of LondonYesJanuary 2016Non/a
University of BradfordNon/an/an/a
Barbican / Guildhall School of Music & DramaNon/an/an/a
London Business Schoolrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Queen’s University Belfastrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of Warwickrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Teesside UniversityNon/an/an/a
Cranfield UniversityYes2016 and 2017non/a
Queen Mary University of Londonrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
London South Bank UniversityNon/an/an/a
Heriot-Watt UniversityYesrefused – 35(2)(g) – FOISA sectionNon/a
Liverpool John Moores UniversityYes2017refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of NorthamptonYes2017Non/a
University of SussexNon/an/an/a
Leeds Beckett UniversityYesSeptember 2016
February 2017
June 2017
Non/a
University of Strathclyderefused –
section 30(c) – (FOISA)
refused – section 30(c) – (FOISA)refused – section 30(c) – (FOISA)refused – section 30(c) – (FOISA)
University of Leedsrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Coventry UniversityNon/an/an/a
Northumbria Universityrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of HuddersfieldYesJune 2018 and September 2018Non/a
Nottingham Trent UniversityYes2014Non/a
St George’s University of LondonNon/an/an/a
University of ManchesterYesNot recordedn/an/a
University of BathYesNot recordedNon/a
SOAS, University of LondonNon/an/an/a
University of CumbriaYesOctober 2015Non/a
Kingston Universityrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
York St John Universityrefused –
Section 43 (2) – FOIA
refused – Section 43 (2) – FOIArefused – Section 43 (2) – FOIArefused – Section 43 (2) – FOIA
Robert Gordon UniversityYes2015 & 2016Non/a
Buckinghamshire New Universityrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Sheffield Hallam UniversityYes42 attacks since 2013Non/a
University of ReadingYesrefused – 31.1.a – FOIANoNo
Harper Adams UniversityYes2016Non/a
The Royal Veterinary CollegeNon/an/an/a
University of East Angliarefused – 12 – FOIArefused – 12 – FOIArefused – 12 – FOIArefused – 12 – FOIA
Durham Universityrefused – 12 – FOIArefused – 12 – FOIArefused – 12 – FOIArefused – 12 – FOIA
Anglia Ruskin UniversityYes2014-15Non/a
Canterbury Christ Church UniversityNon/an/an/a
University of WorcesterNon/aNon/a
University of Hertfordshirerefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Edinburgh Napier Universityrefused – 35(1)(a) – FOISArefused – 35(1)(a) – FOISArefused – 35(1)(a) – FOISArefused – 35(1)(a) – FOISA
Bath Spa UniversityNon/aNon/a
University of Oxfordrefused – 31(3) – FOIArefused – 31(3) – FOIArefused – 31(3) – FOIArefused – 31(3) – FOIA
City, University of LondonYes14th April 2014
23rd June 2015
26th June 2015
19th Feb 2016
16th June 2016
1st February 2017
16th February 2017
Non/a
University of Plymouthrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Liverpool Hope UniversityYes2015Non/a
The University of SheffieldYes2015Non/a
Cardiff Universityrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Cardiff Metropolitan UniversityYesJuly 2016Non/a
Glasgow Caledonian UniversityNon/an/an/a
University of ChichesterYes2015Non/a
University of the West of Englandrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
King’s College Londonrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Royal College of MusicYesMarch 2015Non/a
Imperial College Londonrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of Cambridgerefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of West LondonYesOnce in early 2017 and twice in early 2020Non/a
Abertay UniversityNon/an/an/a
Aston Universityrefused –
section 43(2) – FOIA
refused – section 43(2) – FOIArefused – section 43(2) – FOIArefused – section 43(2) – FOIA
University of Glasgowrefused – 30 – FOISArefused – 30 – FOISArefused – 30 – FOISArefused – 30 – FOISA
Swansea Universityrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of Nottinghamrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Goldsmiths, University of Londonrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Brunel University LondonYes2015Non/a
University of GreenwichNon/an/an/a
Birmingham City UniversityYesn/aNon/a
University of Yorkrefused – 36 (2c) – FOIArefused – 36 (2c) – FOIArefused – 36 (2c) – FOIArefused – 36 (2c) – FOIA
University of St Andrewsrefused – 18 – FOISArefused – 18 – FOISArefused – 18 – FOISArefused – 18 – FOISA
Ulster Universityrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of Liverpoolrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of Exeterrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of SunderlandYes2017Non/a
Bournemouth Universityrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Newcastle Universityrefused –
31(3) – FOIA
refused – 31(3) – FOIArefused – 31(3) – FOIArefused – 31(3) – FOIA
University of South WalesNon/an/an/a
Royal Holloway, University of Londonrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
Lancaster UniversityYes2013, 2015Non/a
University of Surreyrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of DerbyYesFeb 2016Non/a
University of the West of ScotlandYes25th January 2016Non/a
University of Salfordrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of East Londonrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
University of PortsmouthNon/an/an/a
University of Stirlingrefused –
31.1.a – FOIA
refused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIArefused – 31.1.a – FOIA
The Open UniversityYesJanuary 9 2013 and January 1 2014Non/a
University of AberdeenInformation
not held
n/aNon/a
University of GloucestershireYes2015/16Non/a



Empathy, authenticity, and communication: the core of modern crisis management

As 2020 progresses, it’s become clear that consumers are holding businesses and corporations accountable for their actions. Companies’ handling of covid-19 and reaction to movements such as Black Lives Matter have (rightly) brought corporate communications under greater scrutiny. And while we’re all learning how to navigate this new territory, there remains a lot at stake and plenty of pitfalls to avoid when it comes to communicating.

I attended PR Week’s Crisis Communications Conference to discuss how the industry is responding to these changing expectations. We considered how to strike the right tone when you have to hold your hands up and apologise, and examples where actions speak louder than words. Here’s an overview of what we discussed.

Showing empathy

Once upon a time, a brief holding statement was often sufficient in a crisis – but that’s not going to cut it anymore. The consensus across the conference was that any response to covid-19, diversity or other cultural issues needs to be open, transparent and, most importantly, empathetic.

Both internal and external comms (particularly as employees are likely to share internal memos with the press and on social media) need to have an authentic, human tone. If anything, you say comes across as inauthentic, you can expect to be called out. Avoid corporate jargon and take an honest, hard look at your company. Don’t try to hide any issues – use clear language and where necessary, apologise. While previously an apology could be seen as an omission of guilt, the overall feedback across the various sessions was that an apology doesn’t render you liable, and in many cases, is what’s required to help deescalate a situation.

Clear communication (both internally and externally)

Having a clear approval process and straightforward chain of command will save precious time and avoid miscommunication as a crisis is unfolding. Alexander Davies, Senior Director, Hanover Communications, reiterated the golden rules for crisis management in his session, some of which include:

  • Create a concise list of stakeholders involved in the process, usually around three people. They all need to be in a position to sign activity off within a two-hour window.
  • Make sure you have all stakeholders’ contact details on file and have a list of back up spokespeople in case anyone is on annual leave or uncontactable.
  • Assess whether you need to brief any additional experts on the ground who are potentially closer to the issue at hand.
  • Communicate internally where necessary and have a dedicated member of the team leading on internal comms, whether in writing, in person or via video (find out about our internal communications video production services).

Create a crisis management bible

Alexander reiterated the need for a comprehensive crisis comms bible. Removing the need to organise logistical details on the day means you can focus solely on the crisis at play. Some highlights include:

  • Identify any potential issues that could happen (e.g. a product malfunctioning, an employee leaking confidential information). No detail is too small, and nothing should be left out.
  • Identify roles for everyone, including who will liaise with who, who’s doing social monitoring and who’s setting the ‘war room’, among others.
  • Include general company messaging. While these will need to be tweaked depending on the situation, they provide a good starting point and means that all involved will be aware of core company messaging.
  • Include all relevant spokespeople’s contact details.
  • Make sure that all people in the crisis comms team know where it’s saved and have access to it. Set yourself a recurring task to update it regularly.

Actions speak louder than words

Effective and clear communication is not a get out of jail free card. There have been lots of examples recently where employees have called out companies for making disingenuous comments. If any allegations are true, then legitimate action needs to be taken to address the issues head-on. These issues and strategies then need to be incorporated into your longer-term PR strategy.

A successful resolution to a crisis relies on being well prepared and practised. Having a clear plan in place and a chain of communication ensures nothing gets missed. Once a crisis is over, you must take the time to reflect on what went well and what could have been improved. Keeping an ear to the ground will be vital in knowing how your messaging has been received.

Need help with crisis comms? Contact us today.

 

Written by: Katie Shuff, Comms Consultant at TopLine Comms

Bringing experts together to talk about child safety in the lockdown

One of a school’s most vital responsibilities is student safeguarding – the responsibility that schools have to track concerns about students so that they can get help. Teachers are the first line of defence against abuse, mental health issues, radicalisation, and a host of other issues, but as the lockdown began, systems weren’t in place to fulfil their safeguarding duties remotely. While schools remained open for at-risk students, attendance numbers were around five percent, and in some parts of England child protection referrals dropped by half.

Leading EdTech company Impero wanted to raise awareness of its free, online safeguarding software, to help teachers effectively safeguard the children in their care while schools were closed, and to prepare for schools reopening.

Impero was giving something away that could potentially play a role in protecting children from harm, so we put all of our creative energy and expertise as a B2B PR agency into getting the message out.

Impero needed to:

  • Highlight the challenges of safeguarding during the pandemic
  • Be positioned as an authority on the issue of safeguarding children

Our Strategy:

To make Impero the software provider synonymous with safeguarding, we:

  • Commissioned research with teachers to understand how Covid-19 had impacted on their safeguarding policies.
  • Compiled a panel of influencers and experts, including a Chief Constable, to join a virtual roundtable, and share their insights.
  • Invited a selection of top tier education journalists to listen to the panel and pose their questions.
  • Produced a video recording of the panel, promoted via an e-shot and social media.

Results:

  • Eight top tier journalists attended, including reporters from The Times, The Telegraph, Mail Online and TES Magazine.
  • Resulting coverage in TES and further opportunities with The Telegraph.
  • 50 new leads at the time of writing
  • Shorter video clips used across social channels, where one post had 1,717 impressions with 163 total engagements on Twitter and 687 impressions on LinkedIn, with 180 total engagements.

Impero’s pledge to keep the software free forever means that schools will be able to continue to track student wellbeing as schools return, and we’re proud to have played a role in getting the word out.

To learn more about how we can help you increase awareness of your business, contact us today.

Journo intel: City A.M. editor Christian May on Covid and podcasting

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown journalism into chaos, and whilst online readership might be going up, ad revenue has plummeted, leaving countless journalists furloughed. In this tough environment, we were fortunate to gain some insight on a webinar with Christian May, editor at City A.M., to find out more.

How has the coronavirus affected the paper?

At City A.M., we quickly pivoted to deal with the crisis. We have just over 30 editorial staff including production, a night team, design team, and more. Unfortunately, now that we can’t work in the office we have had to furlough two-thirds of the staff. That left us with a core staff of 10 journalists, all working remotely, while Joe Curtis and Andy Silvester remotely maintain the editorial presence.

On the upside, two or three million people a week are visiting the site, which is fantastic, and it goes to show the popularity of the organisation. All of those years we have invested in building trust with the people of England are truly paying off.

The money online isn’t quite what it is for print advertising money, however, I reckon that we will be ok once things get back on track. In the meantime, the ad market will wait in high anticipation of the return!

How are you managing?

I escaped London before the lockdown with my pregnant wife and 3-year-old to a small flat in Devon. My wife works full time too, so we divide the day, and only really have time to catch up when we pass on the stairs and at the end of the day.

I come online at 10 AM and sign off 12 hours later. We have an editorial call in the morning, usually around 11 AM, where people talk about what they’re working on. After that, the team stay in close contact on WhatsApp to make sure we’re juggling everything. Putting an entire newspaper together remotely like this is certainly possible, but I wouldn’t want to do it forever!

What have you been working on?

I recently launched the daily City AM podcast. After thinking about it for two years, I finally have the time to do it, and it’s always great to chat with someone interesting. So far, it’s doing very well with huge demand. If you’re interested in listening, it’s available through all major podcast apps.

This month is already all booked up, but we’re looking for future guests. We have a high standard for the podcast, and we look for confident, senior, and experienced guests with strong opinions that they’re ready to back up. I expect to continue the podcast beyond the crisis, so we’ll need new people to talk with.

What stories are getting traction?

The biggest stories coming through are about the way people work, both now and as we reopen. Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan have said they won’t be going back to the way things were, for instance. Similarly, one law firm CEO was paying hundreds of thousands to rent office space, but now that everybody is working remotely, he has determined he doesn’t need to anymore: Why spend millions a year on property he doesn’t need? I expect to see a massive impact on the commercial property market.

We have reporters on shift from 7 AM until and some work as late as 11 PM. Our reporter in the lobby in Westminster has been extremely busy, and our markets and economics reporter has never been busier! There is a significant interest in tech, media, marketing, and banking. On a positive note, we’re always keen to hear about businesses that are doing alright and finding success in these turbulent times. Anything about how companies are responding and adapting to the crisis is popular. However, there is no shortage of news, and unfortunately, the team doesn’t have the resources to notice absolutely everything that is interesting.

How do you like to be pitched?

I’m pleased to report that I haven’t noticed a deterioration of comms and media relations! Everything has been good, and if anything, it has reminded us that effective communications are particularly important in times of uncertainty and change.

Submitting news stories with lead time is always welcome. Two or three days in advance is really excellent, and we appreciate it. We respect embargoes at City A.M. Please don’t be disheartened if you get a fairly abrupt ‘no,’ there was a time when I could talk to 20 people to hear pitches, but it’s just not possible now.

If you’re up early and ready to pitch on a time-sensitive story, Joe Curtis is the earliest on shift, so reach out to him. From the beginning of the month, people from the comments and features desk will return, and this will give Andy – who has been single-handedly manning those responsibilities – some much-needed breathing space!

That’s it from Christian for now. His second child is due in five or six weeks, and we wish him and his wife all the best.

We’re always happy to talk digital PR strategies and advise on how you can overcome communications challenges during the crisis and beyond. Find out what we can do for your business by contacting us today – and keep an eye out for our future interviews with more leading journalists.

 

Written by: Ben Beckles, Media Relations Consultant at TopLine Comms