It is interesting that some clients really do ‘get it’ and some really don’t! Some think in PR terms whilst others, perhaps surprisingly having hired you, can’t get their heads around PR and media relations – communication – at all. After so many years working in the field of communications, I am still shocked at how ineffective some businesses and individuals are at communicating.
Then there are those horror story folk who think they know best. Spare me! I know Managing Directors who reckon they’re pretty skilled at marketing and PR too when they’re clearly mistaken, graphic and website designers who pay very little attention to detail (you end up doing most of the work picking up all the errors) and copywriters who can’t string two words together effectively. NO! STOP! PLEASE! Let’s all recognise our strengths and our weaknesses and get on with what we’re good at. Leave the rest to others.
I want to address the basic misconception that continues to exist amongst many (thanks to the all-too numerous unskilled and unprofessional operators out there) that PR is just a load of empty-headed fluff and puff. I am also aggrieved at the basic lack of understanding and appreciation of the immense effort, creativity and general wherewithall that goes into securing quality media coverage these days. And then there’s those people who think that ‘if you do PR then that’s all you’re capable of’!
Yes, I’m embarrassed to reveal that it has been said to me, and not that long ago, by the MD of a client who is soon to be no longer in my portfolio for various reasons. Key to the decision for us finally agreeing to have a parting of the retained ways (he still wants me on tap for my writing skill) is that he doesn’t have a clue how to utilise me and my array of talents as a PR operator whilst at the same time thinking that his business has outgrown me. Others know the truth.
How many times have those of us who actually know what we’re doing when it comes to Public Relations (as opposed to Press/Media Relations) , bleated that it’s not just about getting the column inches (never has been in my book), but it IS about perception, and knowing and trusting the right journalists to deliver the type of editorial befitting the client, event or product you’re promoting. Success on this front and at a certain level of public and media relations often boils down to your relationships, often fostered over many years, combined with the experience and ability to create and sell in a cracking good idea.
It makes all the difference if you have (or can create) a terrific story and know how to talk the talk that will actually enthuse a journalist – and thence – his or her editor and subsequently the readers. I always make sure that when speaking to a national newspaper journalist that I slip into the conversation…as if by chance… the fact that I used to work on Fleet Street – no not selling newspapers, but at the Daily Telegraph. Depending on the age of the journalist, the conversation usually turns ‘to the good old days’ and then rocks along nicely. Even if the writer is a youngster, they will be impressed, amused or just interested that you are a former Fleet Street journo. It does help to break the ice.
Currently my most exclusive client, the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS), who hosted the Westward Cup Regatta this Summer got it…eventually, but not without a lot of stress and effort on my part. The RYS is so exclusive that they hardly ever do any PR. When they do need PR, they always call me because they trust me and know quality when they see it.
I was the Westward Cup Regatta’s Press Officer back in July. This was an event over two years in the making and hosted by three of the world’s most prestigious yacht clubs; The Royal Yacht Squadron, the Yacht Club de Monaco and the New York Yacht Club. Also on board were Boat International Media and Rolex as partners.
The Westward Cup Regatta was conceived as a wholly private event for a small and select group of Big Class yacht owners from around the world and it resulted in a small but perfectly formed line up of four of these exquisite yachts racing in the Solent for a week.
I was brought on board to look after the PR in February 2010 (once entry fees had been paid!) with very strict guidelines to select (apart from Boat International’s writer and photographer) my choice of a small, hand-picked group of writers – representing the cream of yachting reportage.
At our first round table meeting at the Royal Thames YC when the great and good flew in for the meeting, there was no talk of budget being made available for a press boat, neither was there to be an official photographer and there was no discussion about hosting media or accommodating them in any way other than maybe inviting them to the opening reception on a Monday evening and to maybe get on board one of the yachts during practice racing the preceding week!
Hell’s teeth. How on earth was I going to persuade any of my best contacts to give up a couple of days to come down to Cowes to cover this event with no social events, no press boat, no media centre per se, no accommodation, no meeting the owners and captains, no hob-nobbing with the rich and famous?
Well, by utilising various skills, experience, excellent contacts and a lot of hard and detailed work I eventually turned it around and I’m extremely proud of my achievement.
I persuaded the RYS to find and secure me an office that I could work from outside of the RYS as they didn’t want any media setting foot in the RYS and there were strict instructions that no photographs were to be taken within the grounds. I needed a base from which to liaise with people on site and to write my daily round-up reports for the RYS website and send out to the world’s press.
And so, it was agreed that I would be based for the week at my former client Cowes Week’s office at Regatta House in Cowes. (Big thanks to StuQ!). I also sought and gained agreement to utilising a committee vessel to double as a press boat for one or two of my select few media representatives. This turned out to be a truly inspired decision and we got ourselves a fabulous Windy 40 driven by its equally fabulous owner, Martin Stanley, whom everyone adored and admired especially for his charm but also his great skill at the wheel and because he is a member of the RYS he could tell other boats to get out of his way – great for the photographers on board.
By April time, I had started to formulate a plan of action that everyone could just about live with! We got onto the owners and/or captains of each boat and asked them what they would & could agree to in terms of hosting press on board their yachts. I was helped in this task by a generous member of the RYS (an international businessman with some spare time on his hands) who knows many of these guys and helped pull some strings for me with them and act as a liaison between myself and with the ‘powers that be’ at the RYS. There was much to do.
I organised a very detailed and logistically challenging schedule whereby each of ‘my’ journalists and a couple of carefully screened photographers, could sail on at least one if not two or three of the yachts over a four-day period. Bear in mind reader that these yachts are private and the owners were all hosting guests on board at the same time. The owners don’t take kindly to intrusion of any sort but equally they wanted some nice picturesque coverage in our best yachting titles (and maybe even a national newspaper or two!)
It was a blissful and highly successful week as it turned out. The nationals weren’t interested as usual – amazing considering the visual impact and huge level of interest from the public, but true nonetheless.
My hostess and good friend, Gavia Wilkinson-Cox, invited me to stay in her delightful cottage just up the hill from the RYS, my office was perfect (and air-conditioned!) and everyone behaved themselves. The journalists appeared, one or two from overseas. The owners were all delightful, as were the Captains and everyone had a brilliant time. So much so that the owners are coming back to do it again in 2012 and are hoping to attract a couple or three more Big Class yachts to the fleet. Can’t wait!
Without fail, the chosen band of merry male and female writers who covered the Regatta has delivered some truly superb feature coverage and/or exquisite imagery, bar one who tells me it is in the pipeline for October.
These titles and writers are some of the best of the best and each title carries in it (or will very shortly) a fabulously written and illustrated multi-page feature article. Given the constraints put upon me, I’m thrilled with the outcome.
September issue of Boat International (my thanks to Ollie Dewar and Den Phillips)
September issue of Yachting World (my thanks to David Glenn and Elaine Bunting)
October issue of Yachts & Yachting (my thanks to Bob Fisher)
18th August issue of Yacht Magazine (thanks to Jochen for introducing me to Lasse Johannsen and letting him come over to Cowes and be a part of this amazing event)
…and my thanks to Gerhard Standop (beautiful illustrated feature written in German and already translated into English & now looking for placement).
Additionally we had access to images to post on the Royal Yacht Squadron website from top photographers in the form of the brilliant KOS and Chris Boynton whilst other such as Hamo Thorneycroft, Rick Tomlinson and Mark Lloyd were also ‘out there’ every day getting the shots.
Also my thanks to Isabelle at Monaco Yacht Club who also helped us secure some favourable coverage en France. Merci beaucoup.
Au revoir…(and forgive any spelling mishtakes along the way…someone else even more eagle-eyed is bound to pick them up). I’ve got to upload this otherwise it’ll never happen!