Friday, 27 August 2010

PR is so much more than 'just writing' press releases!

I spend a lot of my time telling anyone that wants to listen that PR Agencies do a lot more, and are a great deal more skilled, than simply being a batch of people that spend their days writing press releases and then sending them off to a group of  friendly journalists who are so delighted to receive them that they immediately place them onto the front page of their own particular newspaper..... yes, I kid you not, that is what, I am afraid, the general perception is amongst non-PR/marketing people.

For an agency such as JWA, that works mainly for international companies, the job is even more skilled as  (a) we usually have to produce press releases in at least two languages (and Czech into English and vice versa is not easy!) and (b) there is still a feeling amongst foreign companies that if we have 'contacts', we can 'persuade' the journalists to publish whatever it is we produce (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).  Not so.

We pride ourselves on having really good writers, in both English and Czech, but sometimes that is a bit of a rod for my own back, as the writing and checking of the English is normally done by me (as a native English speaker and reasonable writer); my record, I think, is writing 26 press releases in one day.....  can anyone beat that!!   But sometimes having good writers doesn't really make much difference, as many of our clients will send us what they themselves have written and ask us just to translate it and then get it out there.  And that is what has kicked off this blog today; a completely insane press release that has been written by a non-native English speaker, in English, with nothing to even generate a flicker of the eyelid from a journalist, but that is expected to stay as it is, be translated and then get onto the front page.

Life in a PR agency can be very difficult when this happens!  So what do we tell clients if they want to write something themselves.. and what do I tell my staff when they are preparing releases for their clients:

*  Think of a press release as a news release; is it really 'newsy'?
*  Find the most interesting bit of the story and put it into the headline and the opening paragraph
*  Use a quote or two from someone local - not the boss the other side of the world that is, in most cases, meanningless to the media here
*  Attach some pictures and images, but only if the file stays small!
*  Don't forget to include your contact details (no, not a joke!)
*  Try and keep to one page if at all possible!

And then.. well.. it all becomes very easy.. or does it!  I might expand on that some other time!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


Yesterday I had to attend a networking event for the International Business Forum, an association that JWA is very involved in.   Of course I am biased, but nowadays the IBF events are about the only business events that I feel are worth turning out for in the evening, as they are always good fun, and the people are serious about business.  But the thing is, whilst many of us do a lot of business together, we talk about all sorts of other things; last night it was mostly tennis.  One of my favourite subjects!

The thing about Prague is that it is a small village.   And business people here regard networking as a very important part of their marketing.   The problem is, they don't always understand how to network successfully.

Years ago, JWA was asked to assist in training some of the staff of a major international company in business development or, more exactly, how to generate business by attending events.  One of the senior managers told me that he had had some training in the UK, but he didn't feel that it was working.  He was told:

(a)  Never spend more than 2 minutes talking to one person - move on
(b)  Always be sure to give and receive a business card
(c)  Always follow up

The thing is, and I am afraid that I am going to be harsh here; he had no real personal skills, and he took the training at its word.  So he would walk up to someone, barge in on whatever conversation they were having, thrust a card under the person's nose, say nothing much for two minutes, and then walk off mid sentence (he wont guess who he is as there are many people here that follow a similar strategy!).   

Networking is a great marketing tool if you know how to do it.  But it is not enough to just attend the event, or to hand out cards like sweets, or, worse, bore whoever you talk to to death - in fact, if you do this, you might drive all your potential business away!   I believe that most of us prefer to work with people that we like, and wooing a potential client or customer is similar to wooing a boyfriend or girlfriend.  My mother used to tell me when I was young and single 'when you go out with a boy, spend as much time asking about him as possible, listen and don't say too much, and he will go away thinking you are the most interesting person he has ever met.'   I think that is pretty much the same in networking and pitching - ask about the other person/company, listen, don't say too much, and they will go away thinking 'boy, I want to work with this person!'. 

More on this soon.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Its a funny old life

Just when everyone is saying that 'nothing much happens in the Czech Republic in July and August' we have been inundated with requests for proposals and meetings with potential clients.   Today, after five different proposals (yes, five) and two long meetings with what we thought would be a very nice company to work for, we heard that we had failed to get the job.  The only reason being that the chosen agency was 'cheaper'.  This was quite a strange reason as we hadn't really discussed fees.  Only given about a million different ideas as to how the company might promote itself, drafted a couple of PR plans for them and generally made them feel like part of the family.  

In order to make myself and the rest of my team feel better, I spent a good part of the morning telling all of them and myself how we probably wouldn't have wanted to work for that company anyway.  Hmmph.   I wonder if you ever get over this sort of rejection.  But, you know, even after such a long time in this business, I do question why we 'service companies' are expected to jump through fire to prove ourselves, meantime handing over for free the very thing that we are selling... I wonder what Czech Airlines would say if I called them and said "could I try you out for a few flights and then, if I like you, I might buy a ticket or two?"    At the end of the day, we choose them because they have a good reputation, they are going where we want to go and their price is as reasonable as the rest... why are we service companies so different?  It's a funny old life working in a PR agency!

What is even funnier, is that, having killed ourselves for one or two of these potential clients, also today, out of the blue, came an email from someone we worked for a hundred years ago, asking can we do 'x, y and z'. I said yes, and now we are starting work.  And being paid!   The whole process took about five minutes.

What is the morale of this story?  I am not quite sure... but I guess it will come to me soon..


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

PR Spin!

The biggest news of the day is that, after being nagged to death by some of my colleagues and friends, I have finally agreed to move JWA a bit further into the 21st Century and agree to the agency having a blog!

I suppose that I have always felt that we are well enough known in the Czech Republic to not have to market ourselves too hard - ten years ago, I remember being adamant that we would never have a website... but, you know, being "well known" is not enough any more, and when times are as difficult as they are now, I am up for doing whatever it takes, within reason, to raise our profile!

Are we the only PR agency out there that is battling to find new business? I know a couple of agencies here that will tell anyone and everyone that their business is booming, but I suspect that that is just their version of 'PR spin'. Certainly we are having to work hard even to open the door to companies that not that long ago were throwing money at advertising and PR as if there was no tomorrow. And then, once the door is open, it is taking forever (or longer, if there is such a thing) to get agreement to go ahead. The annoying thing is that we know that, if they would just take the risk and spend a little bit of money, we could help them to make so much more.. but try persuading them that... and, no, that is not just PR spin. Hey ho. We will see what tomorrow will bring...