Fleet Street’s finest talks tactics

Wriglesworth’s Ben Marquand interviews Neil Mackwood, Director at Wriglesworth.

BM: So what’s your background?

NM: I started out life as an indentured reporter on the Yorkshire Post writing about pit accidents, the results of the Great Yorkshire Show and the odd grizzly domestic murder – which was very enlightening for a callow lad from down south.

BM: What then?

NM: I was offered a job on the Daily Mail by what was then Fleet Street’s most glamorous journalist – Nigel Dempster. It was an extraordinary life for a young man meeting and talking to everyone from Dukes to Mrs Thatcher, Princess Diana, leading authors, show biz celebs like Sammy Davis Junior, mad rockers (Keith Moon) even the odd astronaut and Archbishop.  Twenty years later I had worked as a BBC reporter, a Mail on Sunday feature writer and as a signed columnist on the Sunday Times.

BM: An indulgent life?

NM: Certainly long lunches, parties in the evening. But you had the pressure of filling those blank pages ever day.

BM: So why PR?

NM: A long story!  But Fleet Street was beginning to contract and I felt a change was needed. My certain inside knowledge of the workings of Fleet Street gave me a terrific advantage in advising clients how to best get their message across to a sometimes sceptical audience.

BM: So what should a good PR have?

NM: Diplomatic skills, an insight and thorough understanding of his client’s business and the ability to sell in good stories on their behalf to the media. Plus creativity, an unquenchable curiosity and love of the media. The ability to dispense really valuable advice to a client.

BM: What do you enjoy about PR?

NM: The fact that you can act as an advocate for clients when they otherwise may not get a fair hearing. PRs are a conduit between client and consumer via the press.

BM: Outside the office?

NM: Keeping two teenage boys in the custom they believe they deserve, walking the dogs and thinking up the plot of my forthcoming best selling novel.

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Going for gold

If there was a gold medal for positive PR then Team GB would have received 30 golds and not 29. Coverage of the London Olympics dominated all newspapers, broadcast, and online media for the duration of the games and are now continuing to have a positive impact after the flame has been extinguished. So what are the main lessons we can learn from the Games from a PR perspective?

The first thing is to know how high to set the bar: The groundwork for the good Olympic PR began long before the athletes arrived in London. Under-promising and over delivering could be a phrase that was used for the performance of the athletes, or the smooth running of the stadia and the events. But just as it would be ridiculous to start an Olympic high jump final at an easy 1cm – or an unobtainable 3m, it was important to set a target that was commendable yet attainable. By claiming the transport system would easily cope they were leaving themselves open to criticism if it didn’t. And if they’d gone the other way and said it wouldn’t work then people would have asked what they’d been doing for the last four years. By highlighting the expected pressure on public transport the public’s expectations were managed. And by warning people that it was likely to be busier, in the event the infrastructure more than coped and people were pleasantly surprised. Even when there were queues and delays people were expecting much worse.

Preparation pays off: Team GB’s branding was smart and slick as you would expect from Stella McCartney designed kit. But even more impressive than their physical performances was how the athletes dealt with the media as well. Often interviewed seconds after the biggest moment of their lives it was clear that all the Team GB athletes had been well briefed, were articulate and on message for press appearances. They all hit the right notes with the wider messaging, with the two main points being that: ‘funding was crucial’ and ‘the crowds were outstanding’. Compared to other nations GB sportspeople were a breath of fresh air, and can provide a model example for those intending to speak to the press – be clear, know your story, and emphasise your main points.

Positive Mental Attitude: If you share your success stories it reinforces the understanding that the brand is doing very well. This really can’t be done enough. Just as our athletes inspired one other with their successes on Super Saturday, positive reinforcement also inspired the nation. The country became enthralled by the medal tables, ferociously refreshing Olympic live feeds for any updates of ‘more medals’!  The lesson here is if you have positive stories to tell then don’t be shy about it. Motivational stories help construct the image of a successful brand and build momentum. Success breeds success.

Reaching a global audience: Not only is social media a great way to reinforce messages, it provides accessibility and interactivity with brands, and people, and brings together people with common interests. Athletes saw huge increases in activity on their social media profiles following Olympic appearances and wins. Underdog Chad Le Clos saw his fan base grow by over 300% following his victory over the greatest Olympian of all time Michael Phelps, while Bradley Wiggins’ gold won him nearly 400,000 new twitter followers in 24 hours. The athletes were great keeping their followers up to date with everything that was going on and interacting with people who wanted to become more involved.

Companies who don’t currently look to use social media as part of an integrated communications platform should take heed. Just as free social media sites proved hugely successful PR tools for the Olympics, so did creative but cost effective PR campaigns. Although the main advertisers have all done well from the Olympics, the Post-Office’s Olympian stamps gained great coverage alongside the novelty of the golden post boxes. Innovative and original ideas don’t need to always be expensive. A bit of lateral thinking can reap huge dividends.

And finally, if you can’t beat them, then you might as well join them. Unused to not being at the top of the news agenda politicians and celebrities flocked to bask in the golden glow of the Olympics. While there were some eyebrows raised at how many events some had managed to get tickets to, it proved the time-honoured belief of association with success being as beneficial as success itself still holds true. Those willing to be photographed and comment knowledgably fared best. Almost inevitably, the standout success was Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who saw a boost in approval and popularity following his involvement in the Olympics. The message here is if a copiously covered story relates to your area of expertise get involved!

Chemistry – not just for the science lab

Chemistry wasn’t my strong suit at school. No matter how hard I tried or how much Mr Bond shouted, screamed and slammed his head into his desk in despair, I just couldn’t tell my Fe from my Na, my Bunsen burner from my bell jar. But I understood its importance. I understood that life is built on a smorgasbord of nuclei, atoms and protons and that the correct fusion of particles can lead to some pretty amazing things. And the same is true in PR.

Good chemistry between agency and client is essential for good results. Take any successful and creative PR campaign, look behind the coverage and you can guarantee there is an agency and a client who have good rapport and have built trust in one another’s ideas and abilities.

Of course, trust doesn’t simply appear overnight. It would be wonderful if building a strong client/agency relationship was as simple as blending chemicals in a test-tube and watching the effervescence fizz, but the reality is different. Good business chemistry takes time. Getting to know your client or agency and understanding their nuances, tone of voice and capacity for creativity allows each side to apply the right pressure or accept limitations when necessary. This process creates a solid foundation upon which the best ideas can be formed.

The pitch is where this process begins, but this is really just a glimpse through the window. Ensuring there is plenty of contact in the opening weeks of a relationship is wise. Meetings between all the relevant parties from both the agency and client allow for a fuller understanding of how each side likes to work, what is the best approach to take in generating ideas and presenting them to the media and, perhaps most importantly, how far you can push an idea.

It is staggering how many businesses and agencies rush through the “getting to know you” process, and their results – or lack of them – speak for themselves. Investing time at the start of a relationship will benefit all sides in the long run and prevent a business from having the lengthy and costly procedure of chopping and changing agencies every six months.

Good chemistry in a PR relationship might not be as complex and groundbreaking as identifying the human genome, but I’m sure that even Mr Bond would appreciate its importance. So should those who hope to maximise their coverage.

JEFF RANDALL TAKES SKY NEWS BACK TO HIS ESSEX ROOTS

Sky News presenter Jeff Randall took a trip down memory lane when he revisited his first property purchase in Brentwood earlier this month with the help of local estate agent Beresfords.

Randall, 57, who still lives in Essex, returned to film a one-off TV special at the two bedroom house on Weald Road. Bought for just £21,000 in 1984 he was keen to learn if first time buyers were just as eager and able to get on the ladder as he was nearly thirty years ago.

Carl Gable, Brentwood Branch Manager at Beresfords, said:

“Brentwood is as popular as ever with first time buyers in Essex, many of whom are looking to lay down roots. With the town benefitting from excellent transport connections into London, a well stocked high street with a variety of shops, bars and restaurants and good local schools, a lot of first timers, like Jeff was, opt to stay in the area long term.

“Property prices have been on the rise since the Randall’s bought their first home but there are a number of affordable options for first time buyers in Brentwood and the aspiration is certainly still there. We have seen the number of first time buyers registering with us increase by a third in just 12 months.”

The programme Born Bankrupt will first air on Friday 24th August at 7.30pm on Sky News.

Beresfords is selling a selection of one and two bedroom apartments at Crest Nicholson’s Base development in Brentwood which are available to buy using the housebuilder’s EasyBuy scheme for first time buyers. The shared equity scheme works by Crest Nicholson loaning up to 20% of the purchase price of a property with buyers requiring just a 5% deposit. A one bedroom apartment is available to buy for just £129,375 using the scheme. Contact Beresfords, 01277 888624, www.beresfordsgroup.co.uk.

Leeds Building Society joins IMLA

IMLA, the trade association for UK lenders involved in the generation of mortgage business through professional financial intermediaries, has announced Leeds Building Society will become its latest member.

The inclusion of Leeds Building Society, the UK’s 5th largest mutual by asset size, increases the size of IMLA’s membership to 22.

In addition, IMLA can also confirm that following its recent acquisition by The Co-operative Bank plc, Platform will continue to be a member of IMLA in its own right. As an originator of over £16.36bn of mortgage business to date, Platform is a valued member of IMLA and its continued participation is welcomed.

Peter Williams, Executive Director of IMLA, said the announcements demonstrate the importance of the intermediary sector to ensuring a healthy UK mortgage market:

“We are delighted to have Leeds Building Society on board. The Society is an important lender with a growing mortgage book. It is ranked 14th in the gross lending league table and has a first-rate reputation. I have no doubt it has much to contribute to the association.

“Despite ongoing difficulties in the market IMLA continues to maintain and expand its membership. Given the economic climate and the growing uncertainty surrounding the industry, the addition of another new member is encouraging. There is no doubt these are testing times but it demonstrates that UK lenders recognise the value of the intermediary market and IMLA will continue to work hard for the benefit of the industry.”

Martin Richardson, General Manager – Business Development at Leeds Building Society, said: “Intermediaries play a very important role in the UK mortgage market and joining IMLA is an opportunity to work with a proactive trade body and other lenders to shape the mortgage industry in these challenging times.”

Wriglesworth Vlog: Paper Summary for 20th August 2012

The key macro-economic, personal finance, recruitment and property stories from today’s papers, read by Executive Chairman John Wriglesworth.

News Headlines for 18th August 2012

Economics

Libor report recommends tough stance – The city watchdog has been urged to impose higher fines on firms that fail to co-operate with regulators and make manipulation of interbank lending rates a crime.  The report by the treasury select committee criticises everyone – but specifically Bob Diamond and Barclays

Recruitment

Many workers are finding it hard to get a job so the Times speaks to three who have decided to set up their own businesses. Great Double page spread looking at the Work the Princes Trust undertakes.

Property

Houses close to the grounds of Premier League Football Clubs have more than doubled in value says Halifax.   Interesting editorial in The Times which says crisis averted for housebuilders so now its time to help buyers.

Personal Finance

Join the Fee refugees – and save £25K. Thousands of 18-year olds are planning to study abroad suggests the Guardian.  It looks at the costs of studing in a variety of European countries.