Digital PR

CommsCon 2018: Aira's Highlights

6 years ago

If you’ve read any of our blog posts before, you’ll know here at Aira we’re fortunate enough to attend and speak at some of the best digital marketing and PR events around the world.

At the beginning of this month, two of our digital PR executives, Aliyah and Abi, headed to Hawker House (primarily used as a street food mega-market and bar) in London, for Cision’s CommsCon 2018.

CommsCon, which debuted this year, is a communications congress that aims to address the shift in the communications landscape, with a day full of speeches, panel events and debates on the full 360 PR workflow, insights from journalists and best practice PR case studies to inspire 2019 strategy.

Here are Abi’s highlights:

Having only been a digital PR executive for two weeks when I attended CommsCon 2018, and with no previous background in PR, one of the most interesting talks for me was the ‘What do journalists want?’ panel discussion. The panel, which was moderated by former BBC business reporter Richard Griffiths, was made up of an impressive bunch of journalists: Nada Farhoud, consumer features and environmental editor at the Daily Mirror; Josh Newis-Smith, celebrity and entertainment editor for Glamour; head of content for PinkNews, Ellen Stewart; and Financial News’ deputy editor, Paul Hodkinson.

With the rise of digital and social publishing platforms, there have never been more opportunities for PR and comms professionals to work with publishers to promote their clients’ content. However, a dwindling number of journalists meaning they are busier than ever - so what is the best way to go about pitching your piece to them?

Despite the journalists working in such a wide variety of sectors, their answers to this question were all pretty similar. Here are the key points I took from this panel discussion:

PR relationships

When journalists are trawling through their inboxes, they’re looking for emails from PRs that they have a relationship with and trust. To build a proper relationship with a journalist - whether on the phone or by email, or even meeting them for a coffee - it’s crucial to get to know them and understand what works for them. With all of the panel describing how they still had relationships with PRs that they made when they were both in junior positions, it was advised not to underestimate a junior reporter.

Stand-out subject lines

The Daily Mirror’s consumer features and environment editor Nada described how, on the day of the conference, she had a staggering 92.000 unread emails in her inbox. She stressed, therefore, that irrelevant emails and immediate follow-up calls were one of her biggest bugbears, and that eye-catching, snappy headlines are imperative to catch attention.

Do your research

Finally, the panel described the importance of understanding exactly what a title or influencer’s audience is interested in, and how this goes a long way in helping a pitch. Misunderstandings about a publication can potentially result in missed opportunities to broadcast your story to a wider audience, and therefore it’s imperative to tailor your pitches.

A particularly interesting insight was that all of the journalists agreed that they had better, and more relationships with internal PRs. As agency PRs, this isn’t particularly reassuring, as it feels like we’re starting on the back-foot. However, this just means that as agency PRs we need to put extra effort into knowing each individual client (and campaign) that we’re pitching, as well the demographics, climate and data surrounding these.

Another personal favourite talk of the day was delivered by Peter Heneghan, head of comms at LadBible. Having followed LadBible on social media throughout my teens to this day, I already had an appreciation of the campaigns run by the social media and entertainment company long before my new-found career in PR and content creation. However, Peter’s talk on ‘How to Avoid Zombified Content in a Viral Landscape’ made me appreciate even more the originality and global reach of LadBible’s campaigns. There were a few stand-out points from this talk that I took away with me…

Optimising your content

The topic of accessible content was discussed in a number of talks,  and in the age of 24-hour rolling news and content that is consumed on multiple platforms and devices, it is so important to consider when thinking of content campaign ideas. In Peter’s talk specifically, he discussed how pitching content in an unedited form, and leaving brands to edit and mould it themselves, may be a more effective way to pitch content to big brands (such as LadBible) in the future. As ever, making sure that we are optimising our content pieces for devices such as desktop and mobile is just as important as capturing a ‘passion point’ of our audiences.

The future of content

The emerging role of video in our digital landscape was emphasised throughout the day, including in Peter’s talk. Peter described how communications were lagging in this area of content, most likely because the skills for dealing with video are not there. In addition, he discussed how technology such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality will also become a major part of our digital marketing, PR and content strategies in the future, as price points come down for these media. At the moment only brands with large budgets are able to invest and experiment with these technologies; for example in a recent campaign called ‘Extinct’, LadBible produced a short-form augmented reality documentary experience, using the popular Snapchat Lens function. This campaign allowed audiences to immerse themselves in the experience of being an elephant as its tusks begin to disappear, and the consequences of the species becoming extinct are exposed. This was a reminder that as a marketer, PR or content creator working in the digital era, we need to stay ahead of the game and  keep up with the new technologies continually being developed.

The pub test

Finally, in explaining what makes a really great piece of content, that isn’t ‘zombified’, Peter introduces us to the ‘pub test’t. The ‘pub test’ is a pretty simple concept: if you couldn’t go to the pub and chat excitedly to your friends about your campaign, then how can you expect publications to want to cover it? This talk really inspired me to harness my creativity when thinking of content campaigns and whilst I’m going to try and resist spending my next pub trip talking about our clients’ upcoming campaigns, the ‘pub test’ will definitely be stuck in my head for when I’m thinking about a new campaign.

Here are Aliyah’s highlights:

I’m going to keep my top tips and learnings from the day short and sweet. CommsCon 2018 confirmed to me why I love this industry so much and how it is constantly developing as years, and even months, go by.

I’m going to compile some of the most memorable statistics, quotes and tips that I caught from key journalists throughout the day.

Sources are everything

It’s said that only 39 per cent of PRs believe they target the right journalists for the correct campaigns, which is a little shocking because we should all feel confident when outreaching to the media.

With that said, there are a variety of tools you can use to make sure you’re contacting the right journalists, which include software such as Vuelio, Gorkana and PR Newswire. However, once media lists and prospecting have been collated, you need to add the human touch to your work. Try taking a look through news sites and actually seeing what specific journalists have recently covered: is it similar to your campaign? If so, they may well be interested in featuring it - no software can work out the finer details and angles that journalists may require in stories.

Chris Lynch - CMO of Cision - says, before you start to search for your media contacts, identify your target audience - who do you want to read your content? In other words, work your way backwards and then target your influencer or journalist. At the end of the day, they are the ones you want to connect with.

Coverage for the bold and the brave

We had the pleasure of listening to Gabriella Lungu from Wings Creative Leadership Lab, who works with agencies to sky-rocket their creativeness.

She taught us that in order to create classic stories that people will be talking about in the pub - as my colleague Abi discussed earlier - you need to be bold and brave. She discussed the concept of risk aversion and how we must not lower standards, even if there is a sense of uncertainty. We can often find ourselves reducing the risk in our campaigns and at the same time we lower the expected payoff. In other words we stick on the safe side and don’t get as much coverage as we would like to.

One example that Gabriella shared that had the whole crowd crying with laughter was a campaign called Bihour, not Dior, which aimed to reclaim Romanian folk style - take a look at how the campaign pushed boundaries and used bold discourse to gain coverage!

What the hell do I do in a crisis?

This was my personal favourite from the day and I think it’s because I remember seeing the iconic poster plastered all over social media and on the front of national newspapers and thinking to myself: “God, imagine being the person who came up with that response?” - genius!!

Well, Jenny Packwood, head of brand awareness at KFC was amongst it all and was well and truly involved with the response to the chicken crisis when the - wait for it - chicken shop, ran out of chicken…

She gave a few tips on how to respond if you ever find yourself in a crisis management situation:

  • Don't go with the commercial approach - your lawyers may push this, but in a time of crisis, it’s key to approach it with the human touch
  • Don’t try to shift the blame - if you’re in the wrong, be sure to accept the consequences and take the negative coverage - it’ll soon be over
  • If you’re a brand, be proactive - for example, why not do a KFC ‘FCK’ bucket

So there you have it, our top takeaways from CommsCon 2018 - we look forward to the next one!

Image source: Cision

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