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WEFF Executive event 2019: ‘Public relations has to start with business objectives’

  • 12/02/2019
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The second Women’s Executive Finance Forum (WEFF) brought together many of the most influential women within the property and mortgage sector to find out how public relations can work for businesses and support journalists.


Introducing the panel, Mortgage Solutions group editor Victoria Hartley told the audience what journalists want from PRs and how to create a working relationship to build both profile and brand.

Journalists want a story as well as a respectful communication, she said, which means that PRs should tell journalists when things are going to happen and when they are going to change, preferably in advance.

“A top line for a story is something interesting that no one has done before,” she added.

Hartley highlighted that journalists want access to people who are able to answer their questions and who know the most about the subject.

“The best PRs can speak on behalf of their clients or manage their clients well enough to make them available when needed,” she added.

However, Hartley said that the average time from first phone call to response has got longer in the last 15 years, with two to four hours now an average time to get a response.

She warned PRs to not hide themselves behind emails but to keep communications open.

“Reactivity is very important. The best PRs tell you how long you might have to wait for a comment.

“Also, it is nice to have prepared responses ready to follow up the press release because journalists want to know the story better,” she concluded.


Plan messages before meetings

Speakers joining the second session of the panel were Alex Hammond, managing director of Also Communications, Lee Blackwell, director of public relations and public affairs at Key Retirement Group, and keynote speaker Sinead Meckin, account director of Hanover Communications.

They all provided the audience with a range of key insights to improve relationships between businesses and media.

Blackwell highlighted the importance of providing a full package anticipating what journalists need, such as photos or additional comments, as well as helping with the firm’s media profile.

Blackwell also suggested media training for people before being interviewed by journalists.

“People working in the industry have to figure out what they are about to tell journalists during a meeting,” she added.

Hammond pointed out that the purpose of PR was to identify stories and the best way to tell them.

He said: “As such, PR has to start with business objectives, that is what you are trying to achieve. In order to communicate these key messages, you can provide press releases, blogs or more in depth articles.”


External PR agencies

However, Hammond highlighted that businesses did not always know what they want to see.

“It is good to have external PR’s counsel because it gives you a view from outside to avoid being too internally focused,” he said.

“It always depends on what you want to achieve, but if you want to add value in terms of content, I would suggest to go for an external agency.

“Sometimes having an external agency is more effective than relying on your internal team.”

Meckin agreed saying that for new businesses without a large communication function, this can be the right time to bring an agency in.

She added: “These agencies can help to make a connection and build the knowledge and the experience with the in-house team, working pretty much together.”


Lay the ground work

Lee Blackwell highlighted that people need to understand that PR cannot give immediate responses.

“It is hard, especially in this market, to get immediate responses. However, we lay the ground work,” she added.

And Hammond clarified that with digital marketing people expect a direct response, getting immediate feedback from online campaigns.

He added: “PR is a channel of content to get your message out and marketing should be part of the team to support it.

“It is essential to explain to clients what activity is going to be placed. Then, in six months’ time for instance, you can check the results and see whether the line is up or down.

“If you want to measure the effectiveness you must put in the ground work first, do the things and measure afterwards,” he concluded.


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