I was recently interviewed by Antonette Oloo for her podcast channel “She Owns Success” in which I spoke about my PR business journey and the lessons that I have learnt along the way. The interview was a great opportunity for me to take stock and also to share some of the very real challenges and breakthroughs I have had a long the way. PR is a fascinating industry to be part of and quite often it is misunderstood, so this was a great chance to set the record straight and also enlighten listeners.
Here were some of my nuggets:
There are certain places where unless you can grow a really thick skin and build a support network, it can be tough!
The world will tell you that you are not good enough, especially as a woman in business. We see that with the gender pay gap and the ethnic pay gap as well.
Know that who you are is important and know that you can have a fantastic business and career being who you are authentically
Find beauty, even when it can be dark and even when you are going to be tired.
This was such a fun interview to take part in and I hope I left listeners with some insightful messages. Listen to the episode here:
With the growing popularity of influencer marketing and influencer engagement amongst brands the spotlight has well and truly been fixed on influencer culture and the impact it is having on consumerism. In the UK alone “one in four Brits has bought a product as a direct result of social influencer recommendations – but 42% called for content creators and influencers to curb the fake news and offensive opinions” according to research from Golin (2018). Transparency from influencers and brands is crucial as more and more advertising regulations are being put into place to ensure that all paid for content should be made clear by influencers across all social media platforms. In 2017 the Committees of Advertising Practice and the Advertising Standard Authority shared this useful blog article: “Hidden” advertising on social media is taking up more and more of our time. In particular, marketing by influencers is an increasing challenge and one that doesn’t fit so neatly into our standard categories.” The influencer industry is changing rapidly and brands as well as regulators have to keep up with those changes.
The advantage of using influencers in campaigns is the proximity that influencers have to a brand’s target audience. Fans/followers place their trust in influencers in a way that would take years for larger and small scale brands to establish themselves. There is no denying that at its core influencer engagement is about tapping into the relationships that influencers have with their follower base which is why PR and Marketing departments are so keen to work with social media influencers across a variety of platforms. Social media IS part of the media mix and using traditional media alone is not enough. At the same time standard advertising has started to incorporate the social media space with adverts becoming more “shareable”.
You can see where the lines start to converge when it comes to the influencer space, once upon a time you could read a review or an editorial and you knew (for the most post part) that it was earned coverage whilst with an advert you knew it was a paid for and you could make up your own mind whether you wanted to buy something or not. But now you see your favourite Youtuber/Instagram/Blogger/Tweeter talking about a product or service and you might be more inclined to check out that product because of the virtual relationship you have with that individual. It is not a faceless corporation telling you to buy from them, it is that “pocket friend” who makes you smile with their lovely pictures and funny jokes who is nudging your perception and potentially changing your spending habits. Many of your favourite online personalities, particularly on YouTube and Instagram and blogs, have invested time and money (hopefully not by buying followers) into building their online reputations, follower base and online clout. They are brands in their own right and they have the right to be paid for their time, effort and of course their influence. There have been a number of instances that have given influencers a bad reputation recently or which have led to people undermining the effort and impact of influencers which leads to the question of whether society actually likes influencers?
Sondoss Al-Qattan, a Kuwaiti Make-up artist and blogger went viral globally in July 2018 after she shared a video of herself criticizing new provisions to protect Filipino domestic workers across the Middle East. Al-Qattan, currently has 2.4 million followers on Instagram and although her awful comments sparked an international outrage and some brand withdrew their endorsement she still has a sold fanbase. This video gives a great overview of the story:
Interesting to note that she did not apologise and her online platform is still doing well so whilst she has lost some deals she may have been able to sustain her lifestyle directly through her fanbase. This is a good example of why some people do not like the power and clout that influencers have particularly when it comes to sharing harmful rhetorics, there comes a stage where they seem to be untouchable and unfortunately if they have fans who share their values even if brands distance themselves their online visibility continues to thrive. From a PR perspective brands have to be mindful of who they align themselves with, too often brands become obsessed with numbers and do not take the time to assess the character of the individuals that they are working with.
This moves onto the moral foundations of some influencers, is it all about the money or they actually care about the brands that they are representing? A great example of this was when the Road Safety Authority of Ireland had to withdraw an influencer campaign about safe driving and seat belts when the influencers involved were seen not using their seat belts correctly. From an ethical stand point it says a lot that individuals would accept money for a cause that they might not care about and their subsequent content could lead to harmful behaviour from their followers.
On the subject of money, people seem to have a complete misunderstanding of how much money influencers earn and so have become resentful of how influencers not only make their money but also do not see their work as even being worthy of payment. There was the interesting story of #VisaBae in April 2018 when a fashion blogger, Rutendo Tichiwangani who had been living in the UK since she was 10 feared deportation to Zimbabwe from the UK. It came as a surprise to some when she launched a crowdfunding campaign to fund her visa application. Her online activities including YouTubing, blogging and instragramming had enabled her to sustain a certain level of lifestyle, or at least enabled her to present a certain lifestyle to her followers.
She managed to raise twice the amount that she was asking for and is still in the UK by the looks of her instagram page. Her story raised the serious issue of perception and how followers perceive their online favourites but it also shows yet again that even with the backlash there were still many loyal fans willing to help and support her.
Perception is something that many people bring up when talking about social media influencers, most of us know by now that people only show what they want to show online, and of course due to the power of brand identity many show a highly filtered perspective. More often than not this is what brands want to align themselves with, real people who still look unreal. The online conversation surrounding instagram influencer Scarlett London was the inspiration behind this piece. The backlash to me was overwhelming and for the most part unnecessary. Her post in partnership with Listerine was criticised by some people who felt like she was representing a false ideal – which begs the question so those same critics complain about fantastical commercial adverts in the same way? The level of negativity directed to her was excessive in light of the context of the content. We have to each take responsibility for how much we are allowing ourselves to be influenced, anyone who sees this post and runs out to buy helium balloons to decorate their headboard with should probably spend less time on social media and more time becoming their own person.
Yes certain influencers can be described as ambassadors of aspirational living but it is up to brands to do the work when it comes to understanding the influencers that they work with. We have to understand that there are real people (bots notwithstanding) following these influencers and whilst I would never advocate for harmful rhetorics to be shared by them, their followers are their “bottomline”. Without fanbase support they would not exist, thrive or survive and without due diligence from brands they can be swept up in the idea that they are untouchable. They should be held accountable for their all of their actions but not reproached for simply existing.
Another interesting point that media outlets won’t always admit to is the way in which influencers are taking up space in the media realm – when PRs conduct media relations campaigns they are not just inviting journalists they are inviting influencers too. Inevitably the usual benefits and perks of the job that were traditionally only for journalists are now being spread out and causes tensions. With that tension comes the possibility that journalists may amplify negative stories about influencers in order to shift perception as Bola Awoniyi, Founder of The Fluid Concept mentions here:
Plus many journos look at bloggers as part of the wave that is eating their lunch & devaluing media companies, so they pass their feelings onto their readers
Now is the time to understand and pay attention to the complexities of the influencer industry, learn from them rather than criticise all of them, after all they are not going anywhere anytime soon and do we want them to? Influencers serve a purpose in the media space, just take the time to understand what their purpose is and take it from there.
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Understanding different types of media – The various layers and types of media.
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Telling Your Business Story – How to write a great press release with a winning headline.
Media Training – Tips on preparing for media exposure
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I send and receive lots of emails every week, working in public relations means that it is a daily activity, in fact most professional service based work means that emails are central to communication. Whether you are working in an office as a career professional or you are building your own business, emails are important and email etiquette is crucial. Social media is great but emails are the most conventional way of maintaining a standard flow of prompt communication outside of telephone calls. I, for one, am not a fan of social media direct messages which should be emails unless the messages are via LinkedIn. Having to send emails frequently and obviously understanding the value of building strong relationships, has taught me the value of email etiquette. We have all been caught out at least once, either sending an email which has been misconstrued/reflects our tense reaction or receiving an email that is abrupt or curt. I understand that we can have tough days, I also understand that things aren’t always rosy behind the screen. I tend not to match poor manners with a bad response as I choose to uphold a professional (and honest) response but that does not negate the fact that it can be very annoying.
Here are a few of my own basic email etiquette to use even when you’re busy!
Think about the tone of your message – in a digital age, tone matters. I have seen social media misunderstandings being exacerbated into full on online disagreements because of what could be deemed as a misunderstanding based on tone. We are all wired differently so you really have to take the time to consider how your message will be received based on the intention that you are sending it. Just spend a few moments to read the email you’re about to send back to yourself. Would you be happy with the tone of it if it were being sent to you? If yes send it. If the answer is no just take a moment to fix it. Are you intentionally using the email to express your emotions? If so really take the time to think about why? I.e. Do you want an apology? Do you feel disrespected? If that is the case your feelings might be valid but remember that not everyone has the same attitude as you do and you should think about whether your email will actually lead to a resolution or if it will cause even more problems. Remember that emails are very different from telephone calls or face to face meetings, this should be common sense but I really need people to understand. With vocal or physical communication we can sense tone through certain obvious cues such as voice pattern changes and body language, but when we read things in print our minds might react differently to words because we have no other cues but our own preconceptions. So take the time to consider this when sending an email or a response that could lead to a misunderstanding.
Greetings matter – How you address people really matters in emails. Know when it is the right context to use “Hi”, “Hello” and “Dear” – most times the latter 2 greetings are absolutely fine in a professional setting (most prefer “Dear” in very formal settings. Use “Hi” only if the person you are sending the message to is a good contact and you email each other frequently. Know and understand your boundaries whenever you send an email to anyone. You should also ensure that you do everything in your power to make sure you get the spelling of a person’s name right. Once in a while the keyboard critters can mess up your flow and cause a typo or an auto-correct mistake but even if that is the case make sure you apologise as soon as you spot it (if you do). But just make an effort to greet people with respect and courtesy in an email. That is the very least that you can do when it comes to email etiquette.
Don’t fan the flames – If you’re reading this it is very likely that you’re human unless the robots have taken over the planet. Being human means that you have your own set of emotions and you are going through things, you might be busy, stressed, tired, unwell or any of the things can put pressure on us. If you receive an email that annoys you or if you’re having a bad day just do your very best not to fan the flames and cause you more unnecessary stress. Emails leave a digital footprint so if things escalate in the inbox there will always be a paper trail. Think about how you want to resolve an issue and most importantly stay focused on the intention of your response. At the end of the day your email is being sent with a purpose, so really take the time to focus on the purpose and don’t get caught up in pettiness. If you need to take the time before responding to an email which you perceive as being rude/impolite, take a few moments to breath and even ask someone to read the email before you really need to send a response. At the end of the day try your best not to take things personally, if you need to clarify anything just pick up the phone but don’t allow negativity to override your progress.
I hope this piece helps you and please share your own email etiquette tips and experiences below.
Having been in PR for so long, I have had more potential clients than I can count. In fact if all of the people who approached me to undertake their PR actually became my clients I would be a millionaire by now! It is exciting to receive interest in my work but there does come a point when becomes frustrating. Why? Because all too often prospects are simply not prepared when they approach PR agency or want to hire a publicist with regards to knowing what it is they really want.
If you are a small business owner or entrepreneur here are just a few questions that you should be asking before you approach anyone to undertake your PR.
Do you actually know what Public Relations is? I know this might sound simple but it still surprises me that so few people have a basic understanding of what public relations is. I have written pieces and even made videos about public relations so I won’t explain it here again but I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to gain an understanding of PR. Once you understand what it is then you will be clear about how it can make an impact in your business or even on your own personal brand on a strategic level.
Do you have a budget? Publicists and PR agencies are not free to hire, they charge money, you might wonder why I have written this but you would be surprised how many requests to undertake free work I have received in the past. So before you approach a publicist please set aside some funds ready to assign their services, this means that you will need to do some research and compare and contrast. Be respectful of time and capacity, if you really want to work with an agency but they are out of your budget you will need to be mindful of how you choose to negotiate with them, think about how you would want someone to negotiate with you with regards to pricing. Also do not judge an agency on price alone, you really need to dig deep and check to see if the publicist you want to pay will be the best value for you. That means different things to different people and it does not just boil down to cost alone, it can be reflected in your overall experience of working with them and how they engage with you, what further value do they add to your business? Above all else be ready to invest in a quality service so have a budget ready.
Have you done your background research? I have a very good business website and yet people will still contact me with questions that could easily be answered if they just took 10-15 minutes to browse through my business website and even business social media pages. It saves so much time and prevents awkward moments if you do as much background research on the PR agency or publicist that you are looking to engage with as possible. This also means reading testimonials and paying attention to how they work which will enable you to see if they might work well with you. After you have done your research then of course send that email, make that call and if you need to; request a meeting. This also works even if a PR agency or publicist approaches you or pitches to you for your business, make sure you undertake the necessary research to see if they will be a good fit for you before you proceed.
Can you do the PR yourself? This might seem strange but realistically you might not have the money to pay a retainer (or even a one off fee) to hire a publicist. That does not mean that you should take PR less seriously, in fact if that is the case then you need to learn how to do your own PR and take it just as seriously as if you were hiring an external party. If you have a team then you should try to include the team in the strategic PR plans of the business. Attend seminars, business books, eGuides or book affordable consultation sessions which will empower you to do your own PR.
Is your business ready to incorporate PR? I believe that all businesses should have PR as part of their business plans, from pre-launch to the every day management of the business. Have an internal and external communications plans, understand media relations, have a crisis communications strategy in place before a crisis happens and more – if you really want to make an impact with PR. However there are a few factors that businesses much keep in mind when it comes to readiness to incorporate public relations. A very good example is the media relations aspect of PR which many small businesses and start-ups use to enhance credibility and increase brand awareness. If a business is not ready internally with solid logistics and infrastructure when they receive major media coverage they might not be prepared for any sudden spikes in orders. This could have a negative impact on a brand, particularly in the social media age in which customers and clients can amplify mistakes leading to a PR disaster. So really take the time to think about whether your business is ready.
I understand that hiring any service provider can be a big investment and so it really is important to take the time to prepare yourself before you consider hiring a publicist so that you don’t waste your time and theirs. Hopefully these questions will help you make the right choices so that your business and brand continue to thrive.