Is our relationship with ‘competitors’ changing?

At the start of my career, I felt an acute sense of rivalry, particularly within the PR industry. As I sought to establish myself and help my agency be ‘the best in the business’, I felt like I was in direct competition with the other Executives at the agency and definitely with those competing with me for coverage in our clients’ target titles.

Over the past couple of years though, I’ve felt – and observed – a real shift…

In the sector

A good example of this came as recently as last week. I was at a conference where my company had partnered with the organiser (who is, technically, a competitor) to create a wellbeing summit and secure a number of speakers, as well as deliver the official video content. In a conversation with them about how this partnership had worked, one phrase stood out:

[Working with external partners] brings a wide breadth of expertise that we wouldn’t otherwise have… it adds massive value.

The lack of ego in this statement really surprised me, in the best possible way. Why wouldn’t we all seek to fill our own ‘gaps’ by bringing in external experts, regardless of where they come from, after all?

In our own teams

The same feels true within my department now. Rather than comparing ourselves to one another and feeling threatened by the skills and experience that someone has and we don’t, in my current team, our various and differing skills make us much stronger as a whole. Thanks to the humble and honest leadership of our director, we’re upfront about what we bring to the table and where we need support.

Indeed, when I was looking to recruit an Executive last year, I wasn’t hoping to find someone exactly like me. I was looking for someone who would complement the personalities and skill sets already there, but also deliver a new and inspiring approach.

In the wider world

One of my favourite recent examples of competitors addressing one another publicly comes from BMW. With the CEO of Mercedes retiring, BMW not only saw an opportunity to make a video that could go viral, they took the time and effort to say this:

Thank you, Dieter Zetsche, for so many years of inspiring competition.

I think there’s a lot we can all learn from these interactions and I hope this sense of ‘competitive cooperation’ is a trend we see continue to grow.


Do we need to ‘chill out’ about measuring the impact of PR?

The challenge of effectively measuring the impact of PR activity is never far from the mind of any PR pro. In fact, the constant pressure to quantify success using AVEs, analytics and press cuttings could be enough to discourage the keenest young professional.

It was therefore unsurprising that a recent event focused entirely on PR metrics had the overriding message that we have, as a profession, become overly focused on measurement, with the CMO of British Land declaring ‘we’ need to “chill out”.

These free learning and networking events by PRmoment are always worth attending as they offer insight and debate on hugely relevant topics. The title of this one, What does the C-suite want from their PR metrics? chimed particularly well with my current focus.

Perhaps the most useful advice from the evening was this:

  1. Measure outcomes rather than outputs

Measuring column inches or online mentions may be a valid measure of impact for you, but it’s unlikely to impress the CEO, CFO or any other business leaders.

Instead, PR teams should report to this level on the value ­– and outcomes – of their crisis management work, horizon scanning (what could affect the business and its competitors next) and the impact of your message (what is resonating and with who). These are the areas where PR can differentiate itself from marketing and showcase true value.

  1. Don’t be afraid of including qualitative data

While ‘proving’ worth with hard and fast facts seems like the obvious choice, it’s not that surprising that many business leaders would rather receive commentary on the issues affecting their sector than how many people saw an article or social media post.

Don’t be afraid to move away from just delivering facts and figures and offer insight to help them review and improve strategies, instead.

  1. Complexity can take away from credibility

PR professionals tend to like getting stuck into the detail so remembering that less is more when it comes to a presentation of results is vitally important. Again, a mix of quantitative and qualitative data, presented in a way that makes sense to that audience (i.e. short, graphics-led, digital), is best.

All in all, remember that your PR metrics should be:

  • Useful
  • Supplemented with insightful commentary
  • Aligned with overall business objectives

Would you add anything to this list? Let me know in the comments below…

How to be an effective and authentic leader, whatever your gender

This time last week, I was sitting down for the first session of the Women in Communications Conference 2019. The agenda looked promising, with senior comms directors and strategists lined-up to speak about the role of women in the communications sector and the skills needed for success.

Without a doubt, it was one of the best conferences I have attended. I left feeling truly inspired and wanting to continue the debate with friends, family and colleagues.

There are so many things I will take away from this day – and many pieces of advice that I have already taken to heart and acted upon – but here are my top 10:

1. “Diversity and inclusion are good for people and good for business”

– Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development

Research has shown time and time again that organisations with diverse workforces are more profitable and more effective. For example, a recent study by the Boston Consulting Group found that diverse companies produce 19% more revenue.

2. “You cannot be what you cannot see”

– Abbie Sampson , Director of External Affairs, Energy UK

Having visible female leaders in aspirational positions is hugely important if we want to inspire the next generation. Sometimes it is easier to imagine a path if we see someone else paving a similar way.

3. “Don’t be put off by different leadership styles”

– Poli Stuart-Lacey, Director of Communications, HMRC

Work on, develop and stick to a style that reflects you. Don’t try to imitate someone else, it’s impossible and exhausting. Authentic leaders make the best leaders.

4. “To position yourself as a leader, bring your cynics in”

– Sally Otter, Head of Internal Communications, Oxfam

This one is easy to say and very, very hard to do. But, if you can find out why a colleague feels more like a nemesis or what it is about your work that they just don’t rate, you could turn things around and they might become your best advocate. I particularly love the idea of ‘disagreeing productively’. There is power in being brave and in being curious.

5. “It is easier to be courageous if you really care about what you’re doing”

– Emma Reynolds, Head of Communications, National Crime Agency

Do you have an emotionally compelling story about why your work/project is important? Is it something you, personally, believe in? If you do, you’re much more likely to take risks and push hard to get the outcome you want.

6. “Don’t step away from the challenges”

– Poli Stuart-Lacey, Director of Communications, HMRC

When things get challenging, that’s good. Being pushed out of your comfort zone is when you are most likely to see the greatest change and development.

7. “Comms people are very keen to go into the detail. Sometimes we need to take a step back”

– Sarah Pinch, Managing Director, Pinch Point Communications

Invest time in understanding what motivates your senior leaders. Which are the targets they are really focused on? What cannot be ‘dropped’ in their mind? Take a step away from the detail of your project and try to see how your work impacts the organisation at large.

8. “No-one cares about your development like you do”

– Sneha Patel, Senior Advisor for External and International Affairs, Mayor of London’s office

The thought of adding yet another thing to your to-do list might feel impossible but it’s true that no-one is going to develop your career for you. Make time to work out what it is that matters to you and how you’re going to achieve it. Get a mentor, a coach and/or a sponsor (you can have more than one), but be clear about what you need and whether they are the right person to give it to you.

9. “Work is what we do – not where we are”

– Ebony Gayle, Independent Consultant & Founder, Ebony Gayle Communications

There was lots of discussion around the pros and cons of flexible working but, for me, it all boils down to this: You should be judged and recognised for your outputs, not where (or even when) you get your work done.

10. The gender pay gap in the western world is not estimated to close until 2078!

– World Economic Forum

Probably the most shocking thing I learnt so a good one to finish on. We have to keep pushing for gender equality and being inspiring leaders ourselves seems like a great place to start.

What do you think about the advice and information shared above? As always, if you have anything to add or you’d like to continue the conversation, please use the comments.

The rise of ‘considerate marketing’ – is being nice good for business?

I was impressed to receive a marketing email from flower delivery company Bloom & Wild offering me the chance to opt-out of receiving their Mother’s Day marketing emails. Acknowledging that this can be a ‘sensitive time for some of us’ struck me as not only a kind move but a smart one, too.

And it seems I’m not the only one…

Bloom & Wild’s Mother’s Day opt-out has been picked up by national media ranging from The Independent to Grazia and Good Housekeeping, all of whom have praised the company for its thoughtfulness and encouraged others to follow suit. In fact, I’ve already seen at least one other high street store now doing the very same thing in the past few days.

As you’d expect, the opt-out invitation has also resulted in a ground-surge of appreciation from customers on social media.

Screenshot 2019-03-12 09.58.57

It’s heartening to see that a company doing something that feels intrinsically ‘good’ is being recognised and held up as an example for others. I hope to see even more examples of ‘considerate marketing’ like this in the near future.

Have you seen any other companies putting their customers’ feelings at the forefront? Please share them in the comments below.

How to find work experience in the Marketing and PR sector

Last week, I travelled back to my university to support a ‘Career Conversations’ event for current students. I loved my three years at the University of Essex and was glad to have an opportunity to give back.

The event was really well organised, with small groups of students sitting down with alumni to ask questions and make connections. It was fun to share my career story and talk about how I got to where I am now with such an engaged and enthusiastic group.

I was in the Business, Marketing and Technology set, talking to students studying for degrees as wide-ranging as English, History, Law and Languages.

There was one question that I was consistently asked throughout the evening:

How can I get work experience with Marketing or PR companies?

By doing work experience with a PR agency and keeping in touch with them during the final year of my degree, I secured my first job as an Account Executive when I graduated.

What was interesting, though, was that these students were only thinking about formal work experience schemes and internships which I largely steered clear of. For me, it made far more sense to avoid the battle with hundreds of others for just a few places and instead target companies I wanted to work for and make a direct approach. When I told the students this, they admitted it wasn’t something they had considered but definitely would now.

The other point I was keen to make was the importance of keeping in contact. There’s little use doing work experience with a great team then disappearing completely afterwards. It may get you some bullet points on your CV, but you’re likely to be quickly forgotten by that company.

By following up a few times when you’re back at university (“How did that campaign go?”, “What’s the latest with that client?”, “Did XX have her baby yet?”), the rapport you’ve built during your work experience could well translate into an actual job or, at the very least, a more personal and persuasive reference when you need one.

If you have any other questions on this topic, feel free to ask them in the comments section below.

What’s the best training course for PR professionals?

I have a confession: I love CPD. If I know I have a training course coming up, I genuinely look forward to it. No matter how much other work I have on, I almost always see the value in taking the time to develop new skills.

I may feel this way because I’ve attended some genuinely great courses during my career. It may also be that I’ve somehow managed to avoid the worst. Either way, continuing my education in any way possible has always felt important to me.

A few years after I graduated, I really started to miss learning. Studying for my Literature degree was hard work but it was also inspiring and I wanted to feel that again. So, I enrolled in the CIPR Professional PR Diploma course. On reflection, this may have been a bit extreme as it meant I had to juggle a full-time job with face-to-face tuition, 10+ hours of self-study each week and writing four assessment papers. It also took a full year.

I’m proud to hold a post-graduate qualification but I can’t see myself signing up for anything that intensive again. Instead, I’m always on the lookout for after-work seminars and free webinars. I also take full advantage of the training budget available to me each review cycle.

For me, the best courses I’ve attended in recent years have been:

  1. How to be an inspiring storyteller – Berkeley Story Academy
  2. Effective people management – Chartered Institute of Public Relations

The first really refreshed my copywriting and helped me re-connect with my first boss (he runs the course); the second helped me develop my own leadership style and taught me a lot about how I like to be managed, too.

What are the best courses you’ve attended lately? And, if you’re feeling brave, what are the worst? Let me know in the comments!

My top five takeaways from ContentEd 2018

Last week, I attended “Europe’s only content strategy conference for the education sector”. Perfect for this Communications Manager and Copywriter working for a global schools group.

Overall, I found ContentEd really worthwhile and quite inspiring, with lots of real-world experience being shared. My highlights from a packed two-day programme were talks by Mike Petroff, Director of Content Strategy at Harvard University and Alex Ayling, Head of Digital Studios for BBC Worldwide.

I took pages and pages of notes over the two days but the top five lessons I’m taking away from ContentEd are:

  1. Happiness at work isn’t about major projects, it’s about small wins and making progress – Mike Petroff, Director of Content Strategy at Harvard University
  2. Great content can inform, educate or entertain. It doesn’t have to do all three at once – Alex Ayling, Head of Digital Studios for BBC Worldwide
  3. Influencers can be categorised into the following four groups – Robert Perry, Head of Research, Pickle Jar Communications
    • Activists (really interested in a topic but not necessarily in a professional sense)
    • Academics/experts (passionate about a topic and it is their job)
    • Bloggers (content creators embedded in a topic with their own channels of conversation)
    • Broadcasters (don’t tend to engage, one-way communication, but can be hugely influential)
  4. Create change through experimentation. ‘Pilot’ new things rather than ‘launching’ them – keep testing and changing – Mike Petroff, Director of Content Strategy at Harvard University
  5. Work hard and be nice to people – Octavia Reeve, Head of Content Strategy, Royal College of Art

If you attended ContentEd 2018 and you’d like to connect, please follow me on Twitter (@beccajhills) or send me an invitation on LinkedIn