Tag Archives: PR pros


It’s bloody hard work selling stories to journalists.

People do it because journalists exude the all-important ‘third party validation’ that you can’t get through self-publishing or advertising.

You might not have done this before. Perhaps you usually get your PR agency to do it, or it just isn’t in your sphere of experience. But really, you should give it a go some time.

Here’s an idea:

They should put ‘pitching stories to journalists’ onto MBA courses.

It will teach our future captains of industry that success in this realm is only partly related to one’s charm, timing, relationships and salesmanship. Mostly – and you may need to sit down for this next bit – it’s to do with whether the story is any good.

Like I say – selling stories to journalists is bloody hard work. But it’s a damn sight easier when you actually have a story.

Here are 6 PR whimsies that should never be exposed to the scrutiny of a self-respecting journalist. Make them into blog posts (or else dispose of them entirely) so that no one need incur the counterproductive wrath of an important influencer whose time you wasted:


1) We’re moving offices

If you ever read an independently written article about a company that has moved offices, then it will most likely be because an armed gang is holding the journalist’s family to ransom. Or it’s a publication that nobody reads. Or isn’t a publication at all.

The moving offices story is a classic case of something mattering a great deal to an organisation but not to anyone else. It is the equivalent of being a bit worried about constipation for a few days, defecating prodigiously and then using this as an excuse to update your Facebook status.


2) Us and another company are doing something together that doesn’t involve a contract

Lots of customer win stories are pitched; only a few of them ever get covered. A massive deal, an industry-first or peculiar customers are all good ingredients. Stories can also result off the back of ‘channel deals’ where a manufacturer strikes an agreement to push its stock via a distributor or major retailer.

But this is none of these things. This is the so-called story that emerges when two companies find something broadly in common and decide not to be complete strangers anymore. This is ‘corporate strategic alignment’, ‘technological interoperability’ and ‘synergistic initiatives’. This is NOT a story.


3) Something we announced previously is now available to buy

A favourite of US-based companies, this is the classic GA (General Availability) press release. In other words, the communiqué marking the general availability of a product that has already been pre-announced, showcased, certified, awarded best in show at some obscure event in Kentucky, and officially released.

This is the kind of story that some salespeople insist upon in the deluded belief that it represents a ‘PR victory’ over a competitor who’s suffering the same problems getting their product ready for market too.

It says much about how powerful the sales department is in an organisation, and how much influence it has over the marketing function.


4) We’re going to be 20 years old next year

Sure, everything can have a birthday. Pets, cars, buildings, corporations… It’s the staunchly held right of the self-obsessed.

Actually, that isn’t fair. Preparing for a year of celebrations and themed events, giving each of your staff a special keepsake, releasing a special logo commemorating your ability to not go bust in two decades; all of these are bona fide marketing communications tactics. But it isn’t a story.

If you want to make a story out of your company’s special birthday then mark it with something more worthwhile like a ritual sacrifice, or by donating your annual profits to charity.


5) Our CEO will be speaking at Burpcon 2016

You may think that cooking this up as a PR story is a vanity exercise by the CEO, but most of the time it’s a well-meaning colleague performing a vanity exercise on their behalf.

I’ve been present on at least two occasions where the CEO has tried to block anyone bothering to make a story out of something like this, only to be talked round by a marketing/PR sycophant who believes it might ingratiate them a few inches further towards a promotion.

People present at conferences all the time. Sometimes 90 or 100 speakers will pack a multi-track, three-day show. This is not news. And in any case, the website of the event has got all this stuff listed on it already.


6) We’ve won an award at the Blah-Blah Industry Awards Night

Some industry awards are worth entering because there is real value in showing customers and prospects that your business or technology has been judged better than its peers.

But almost all industry awards are directly correlated with a specific publication.   Why does this matter? Well, imagine you are the person whose job it is to pitch this story. Who do you pitch it to? Well, you can’t pitch it to the publication that gave you the award, because they already know and are planning to write about it. And you can’t pitch it to any other publication because who the hell wants to write about the glittering awards ceremony hosted by a competitor?

The simple truth is that there is nobody to pitch this story to.


If you’re still wondering why The Sun never covers The Daily Mirror Pride of Britain awards, then I suggest you enrol onto the best MBA you can find and hope they’ve got a module on pitching stories to the press.

Oh, and wear a crash helmet when your turn comes.


I’m looking for someone. He’ll be mid to late 40s by now, balding and slightly overweight. Smells faintly of booze, enjoys letting his gaze linger on the bottoms of passing females, and has at least entertained the possibility of owning a Ford Probe. He’s faced a lifetime of rejection, interspersed by occasional glimmers of acceptance that have converted into financial reward; subsequently exchanged for ill-fitting suits and a casual drug habit. Probably. While he certainly isn’t representative of IT salespeople today, he was all too common back then. We need to find him to stop him doing himself any more harm.

Selling – as easy as ABC…

It was the year 2000 and my first big Christmas networking function as a wet-behind-the-ears PR exec. Anxious to introduce myself to journalists (in the vain hope of establishing enough of a rapport that they’d publish my stories/talk to my clients) I stumbled across this sales guy and his colleague. Their names have been changed.

Me:                   “Hi, I’m David”

Sales Guy:      “Hi. Alistair; this is the lovely Sandra…”

Me:                    “Hi there, wow it’s busy in here!”

Sales Guy:       “Yeah it is. And…?”

Me:                    “So, er… are you a journalist?”

Sales Guy:       “I cannot f—king believe this! Hey Sandra, this  kid  has come up to talk to me and hasn’t even got his business card out for me yet!”

He plainly wasn’t a journalist – I learn later that he sells kit for an IT equipment company and Sandra is the account manager at the PR agency his firm uses. Alistair clearly though I was trying to sell to him, when in fact nothing could have been further from my mind. In any case, I’d clocked him as a monumental arse. It isn’t his fault. He’d clearly been brutalised by a sales environment so macho that he felt it necessary to impose himself like a urinating skunk. Eager to spar, he’d all but demanded my business card but, despite the conspicuously enormous stack of newly printed ones in my pocket, I wasn’t about to actually apologise (in true British style) and present him with it. So we continued our awkward tête-à-tête:

Me:                     “Oh well… er… how are you guys doing for a drink?”

Sales Guy:       “Seriously – are you not going to give me your business card? He’s not giving me a f__king business card Sandra!”

Me:                     “Well, I…”

Sales Guy:       “This is f__king classic – too late mate, I’m not interested. Bye!”

Sandra:           “Aww Alistair, c’mon he’s only being friendly…”

Me:                  “Look guys, I hope you have a nice party and everything… I’m going now…”

As I moved to withdraw, Alistair took my arm and leant in to impart a brotherly, conspiratorial piece of advice: “ABC, mate – yeah? ABC…? First rule of sales: Always. Be. Closing.”

So I feigned politeness before retiring to the toilets to scour every trace of Alistair off my skin, from my ears and out the back of my retinas.

‘Alistair’ represents the abundant lack of sophistication that lurks in the darkest recesses of the worst salespeople. It isn’t just that he’s rude and boorish. It’s that he can’t possibly hope to win with any buyer that he can’t successfully bully, or who isn’t at least as ignorant as him. Despite apparent confidence and expertise in the matter, he shows how people like this understand nothing about how the process of selling works. In case you’re wondering, a full-on sales hammering on a cold prospect is a sure-fire way to fail.

To me, organisations must recognise two universal principles:

  • People do not like being sold to
  • Customer requirements, preferences and decisions need time to arrive at

Do you like being sold to?

Another, less abrasive attribute that marks ‘Alistair’ out as a particular breed of salesperson is his professed delight at being sold to. I’ve encountered this many times in my career, and it would be dangerously unfair to characterise all people with this view as being knuckle-scrapers like Alistair. I assume/hope that the reason for this state-of-mind is wariness. By being totally cognisant that you are the target of a cold sales pitch, you can guard against it, or even study it from a position of safety. Ergo, they enjoy being sold to in much the same way as some people enjoy goading the animals at the zoo, from a secure vantage point behind three inches of toughened perspex.

For everyone else, here are several reasons why ‘enjoying being sold to’ (i.e. in a ‘cold’ or unsolicited scenario) is either a lie, or symptomatic of some kind of underlying personality disorder:

Being sold to makes the buyer feel stupid

The process of being sold to is essentially a reasoning framework. The salesperson learns about your situation (or has intelligence about it already) and then applies reasoning to why buying their product or service promises a positive resolution. The entire premise for being sold to is therefore: you can’t adequately reason for yourself.

Being sold to is like being tricked

You’ve spotted that you’re being sold to, and sirens are blaring in your head that say: “This person wants my money.” But watch the very best salespeople at work and you can’t tell they are ‘selling’. This explains their success: if people could better experience the sensation of being sold to then they would buy less. Therefore, being sold to is unpleasant.

Being sold to invites faster decisions than you need to make right now

As Alistair points out, the real skill of salespeople is often around ‘closing’. They might be given a ‘sales lead’ that is highly qualified and engaged, and their job is to engage with that lead and provide whatever support necessary to make it into revenue. In this instance, all of the ‘selling’ is around timing, and the timing is very transparently chosen to benefit the seller. As a buyer, if you want to take your time, then you should.

If I wanted this, I’d be calling you (not the other way around)

Consumer rights programmes like Watchdog are full of stories about vulnerable pensioners who suddenly find themselves burdened with a £20k conservatory/loft extension/insurance product that they didn’t actually want or need. If they weren’t vulnerable to succumbing to sales pitches (I’m not talking about unscrupulous criminals here; just everyday salespeople) then they wouldn’t have these problems. We live in a day and age where all the information you need about everything that’s available to procure is just a click away. You can lead a successful life and career without ever ‘missing out’ on the opportunities presented to you by someone contacting you and trying to sell you something.

No – being sold to is not nice. But plenty of organisations do a fantastic job of engaging existing and prospective customers in their products, their philosophy and their value. They can’t achieve this by going after their leads like a bull in a china shop.

Nurturing pays dividends

Great salespeople are valuable assets to their organisations, and each of them already knows all of this. The conclusion I’m driving at is a patient and purposeful approach to marketing. Not quite slow marketing perhaps, but certainly a methodology that accepts the distaste that buyers feel for the sales process, and the importance of positioning content and insight of genuine value as part of a ‘nurturing’ process.

Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about what this actually means. I’ve made sure I’ve got plenty of business cards lying around just in case, though I’m reserving one of them for a special someone…


It’s election season in the UK, and the climaxing cavalcade of ‘Election Debates’ has given us the last opportunity to watch various grasping bastards simultaneously begging for our favour. I’m sorry but watching politicians trying to get their message across is particularly sickening for communications professionals, because the cynicism is even easier for us to detect. It’s a bit like marketing people and their ability not to fall for brands. Brands are for people who DON’T completely appreciate what’s really, insidiously, going on to take your money in exchange for guff.

But anyway – back to the politics. Before I go any further, I am not advocating any political party. I just wanted to point out the PR machinations surrounding one political leader, Nick Clegg. Let me also state that I did not vote Liberal Democrat in the last Election and see no reason to change this time around.

Clegg’s biggest communications mistake was not to contradict his previously ardent position on tuition fees by being part of a government who trebled them when he promised to abolish them. His mistake was to misjudge the press and public’s wilful ignorance of how a coalition government is supposed to work.

A poll in today’s Independent shows that 50% of undergraduate students will never vote LibDem because of Clegg’s infamous U-Turn. Only 6% intend to support Clegg’s party next month, compared to 23% who said they would before 2010’s General Election. The collapse in support is being egged on by the National Union of Students, which represents 7 million students, and recently unveiled a billboard campaign branding the LibDems ‘liars’ and ‘pledge breakers’.

Even the laziest student of political history would agree that coalition governments are very unusual in the UK, with the last few being necessary for the purposes of our total war against national annihilation. Following the 2010 Election, with neither Labour nor Conservatives willing to proceed with a weak minority government, the LibDems entered into a Coalition Agreement with the objective of assailing the nation’s imminent bankruptcy.

Coalitions are far more common in other democratic countries, where a broad spectrum of opinion and vested interests inevitably ends up being more or less fairly represented by a governing executive. It goes a bit like this: no one party gets to implement 100% of its manifesto commitments. Indeed, if a small party like Plaid Cymru (likely to return three or perhaps four MPs in the Election; 0.5% of the House of Commons) were to join a coalition government this year, they’d count themselves fortunate to have a single unique policy implemented.

It’s easy to forget just how much the public warmed to Nick Clegg during the 2010 Election. An honest, business-like antidote to Cameron’s “Little Lord Fauntleroy” and Brown’s awkward cheesiness, the big catchphrase was “I agree with Nick”. Indeed, if the LibDems had made “I agree with Nick” their campaign slogan, they might have returned more than 57 seats.

With the Conservatives represented by 47% of the House, and the Liberal Democrats by a little under 9%, the gruesome twosome could rely on a majority to implement an agreed policy programme.

Imagine you had voted Liberal Democrat in that General Election. In the vast majority of cases, your vote would have been unlikely to make a difference in your local constituency because of jealously guarded constituency boundaries and our arcane ‘first-past-the-post’ system. Despite the LibDems’ 6.8m votes putting them in third place behind Labour’s 8.6m votes, Labour won nearly five times as many seats.

And yet you could say that your horse won (sort of). Even if your vote had carried a local LibDem to Westminister, without the Coalition Government in place your voice would have been entirely incidental to change. Frankly, that number of MPs may as well have stood outside protesting in the rain for all the good their measly voting block would have done them.

A revised estimate for the yellow-coloured (i.e. LibDem) proportion of the Coalition Agreement put into action between 2010-2015 is 40%. In other words, despite making up less than 9% of the House, 16% of the Coalition Government, and 23% of the popular vote, the Liberal Democrats ended up managing to control around 40% of the government’s actions. By any standards, anyone voting Liberal Democrat in 2010 enjoyed an outrageous return on their support.

Having achieved an unprecedented political coup, Nick Clegg is likely to preside over a complete obliteration of his party’s fortunes in next month’s Election. Despite his obvious communications skills, and his clever PR spins in recent weeks about “Salmond, Farage or me” and the threat of “Blukip”, Clegg’s problem continues to be an inability to get his message across.

No newspaper or TV network supports the Liberal Democrats. Aside from the few impartial ones, each strongly favours Labour, the Conservatives or (in the case of the Daily Express) UKIP. This isn’t helping Clegg’s message succeed.

I don’t like the idea of £9,000 a year tuition fees, and neither do students. But the biggest pity of all this is that the brightest young minds of our generation can’t seem to understand the simple truth behind coalitions. The message is coming through far too faintly, and – regardless – they just aren’t listening.


I can’t abide airy-fairy marketing nonsense, but I do love a rhyming ditty. Hence I have come up with this:

“A brand should take a stand.”

I’m not giving advice about buying tradeshow booths here. Nor am I pumping any more molten excrement into the already steaming and heavily laden bandwagon of brand philosophy.

No. What I’m talking about is resistance; resistance against the pace that marketing is played at. I’m advocating thoughtfulness and purpose, but also unhurriedness and inevitability. Don’t mistake this as a charter for just chugging along or a manifesto for the festering. Damn it people, we need a strategy for slowness.

Slow food, slow travel, slow parenting – the whole slow movement is a fascinating concept, founded on the simple calculation that rushing around trying to get it done fast makes the end product markedly crapper than if you took your time. So why not slow marketing?

I interviewed an experienced PR Account Manager for a job once, and can still remember being completely taken aback when he introduced the notion of a three-year PR plan.

Having worked in an agency environment for so long, working exclusively in the very fast-moving technology sector, I scoffed at the idea and probably pontificated at him about ‘the quick and the dead’ and the realities of needing immediate results for extremely demanding clients.

Since then, things have only gotten faster and busier. New social media platforms, 24-hour TV news cycles, computers in everyone’s pockets, an explosion in rich media content… everything points to instant gratification both for the fee-paying corporate client of PR and communications services, and for their buyer audiences.

I thought that interviewee was talking garbage, but in fact it was me with his head in a bin. How far can you genuinely succeed with a six-month strategy, a two-month plan or a three-week campaign? You can measure progress and you can evaluate results, but if it’s the brand we’re talking about then you’re not giving yourself enough time to convince real human beings to impart trust and display curiosity. You can barely get them to click a link, and when they do we tell ourselves it really matters.

If you Google ‘Slow Marketing’, you could soon end up encountering the kind of (very nice) people who may or may not have done far too much acid in the 90s, have never had venture capitalists breathing down their necks, and whose idea of ‘putting food on the table’ is a split decision between having blueberry or cranberry jus to accompany the venison course.  Some cool ideas though…

But, to my mind, slow marketing doesn’t have to be a socks-and-sandals revolution. You can add the following slow principles into your marketing and communications thinking and benefit… er… pretty much immediately…

  • Remove the imperative from calls to action. Instead of ‘Buy Now’ and ‘Register Today’, treat your audience like sentient beings by encouraging them to think about the proposition. Go the whole hog and create a button labelled ‘Sleep On It’ and make sure nothing but zzzzzzzz happens when anyone clicks.  Seriously!
  • Stop changing straplines. If you spent enough time getting it right, stick with it. For ages…
  • Broadcast less, engage more. Use social feeds to ask what’s going on, what people want. Talk with your community, not to it…
  • Put your experts in the front line. No one gets to speak to anyone integral to the product in a dirt cheap supermarket or fast-food joint, but they do at a premium priced farmer’s market stall or upmarket restaurant.
  • Plan longer.  Build for the long term and your structure will last.


Being tired, emotional and at the end of your tether is a bad time to start writing. But when writer’s block strikes, the best way to overcome it is to splurge complete and unmitigated truth onto the page, marvel at its inappropriateness and then edit it into shape.

The following is a made-up example, albeit perilously reminiscent of something I needed to write many years ago under immense time pressure from a client who couldn’t be convinced otherwise. Having got it out of my system and whipped it into shape, the resulting edit made it into several top trade IT publications.



“It would make a good press release, yeah?” claims person promoted into a marketing position on the strength of their sales performance

DATELINE:   A jumped-up reseller of IT boxes purporting to be something to do with ‘managed services’ has sold a small quantity of said equipment to a construction company that the reseller claims has a loose connection with a really big building project on the other side of the world which its technology has, in fact, got nothing to do with.

“We’ve got something broadly the same as we used to have which let’s us do what we did before at a marginally improved cost,” said Bob Bloke, Head Curator of Technology Gubbins at Big Building Co. “If I could find it in my heart to say anything else of any consequence then I sincerely would.”

The reseller, who sells some technology you’ve heard of (but a good deal more of technology you haven’t), already has a number of customers of even less interest including a UK borough council you didn’t even know existed, and western Europe’s third largest exporter of grommet valves for civil and marine applications.

“The managed services paradigm is embracing new synergies as we transition toward a cataclysmic revolution in virtualised user-centric models for IT adoption, transformation and agility,” said the oiled and over moist Sales Manager. “I must dash, as I’ve left my Ford Probe at the Travelodge and it’s got all my cocaine in it.”


If you have daughters of a certain age then you too may have come across a stinking corruption of literature known as the Rainbow Magic Fairy Books.

Each lazily contrived volume is an attempt to come up with a new angle for the pretty standard fare of your common-or-garden fairy character, and it feels like meagre exaggeration to suppose that – positioned end to end – the entire compendium would stretch to hell and back. Having been begged by an excited 6 year old to pollute their absorbent mind by reading out loud one such example of this rotting crap, your heart and soul should be sufficiently burnt out to avoid exposing them to another. But you love your kid right? So that’s why I read another.

The unsurprising realisation that Kate the Royal Wedding Fairy’s story was as depressingly formulaic as Adele the Singing Coach Fairy caused me to wonder who on earth had written this nonsense. There are no authors credited on the spine, yet endless supplies of fairy mini-series pour forth; Sporty Fairies, Ocean Fairies and (I shit you not) Pet Keeper Fairies being just the tip of the iceberg. There was only one conclusion to my mind: they are written by robots.

Robot writers are becoming increasingly popular, as I read with interest in this chilling Guardian article by Yves Eudes this week. By 2025 about 90% of the news we read will be generated by computers, claims one of the foremost peddlers of automated writing technology. Well I hope to goodness I’ll be spending 100% of my reading time on the other 10%.

PR practitioners have grown used to the strange world of news aggregation websites that regurgitate enormous amounts of announcements from PR-land, despite being entirely bereft of human journalists. It used to be that these places just cut and pasted newswires to create a win-win situation for all involved: a win for the PR sender and their client because it’s an extra piece of exposure on the Internet for no cost or effort, and a win for the site owner whose traffic and corresponding advertising revenues would marginally increase. All of this was before Google changed the rules on its algorithm and now prefers ‘original’ content instead. Thankfully, the new Google regime supports the ideal of employing a human writer to interpret the more worthwhile PR blurb, apply their own news values to it and then publish the resulting original content as something someone might value reading. That content wouldn’t have existed if the press release hadn’t provided the impetus for the story.

I know a colleague who had a bit of a run-in with one of these automaton sites recently; let’s just call them storagegubbins.org. Rather than cut and paste, and rather than spend money on a writer, it looks as though they employ a rudimentary auto-thesaurus rule in a bid to fashion something different out of a bog standard press release; different enough to fool Google anyway. My colleague had put out their release about ‘ABC Components’, which read a bit like this:

“ABC Components, a major manufacturer of next generation chipsets, has announced a strategic partnership with BigBang Computers to extend their dominance of the European cloud IT market….”

Within minutes the website had published something more like:

“ABC Components, a chief industrialist of next generation chipsets, has proclaimed a deliberate syndicate with BigBang Computers to prolong their supremacy of the European cloud IT bazaar….”

I found this website doing something that looks alarmingly similar.

Back to the Guardian article, it’s hard to argue with the intelligent claims of experts but I can’t be the only one who thinks the idea of so much machine-driven writing is very sad indeed. Reading good writing is a joy, because you’re sharing the human experience. I also believe great writing is a performance in itself, where the words on the page conjure images in your imagination and generate some kind of emotional response.

I don’t know how machines can respect their readership. I just hope that it’s the sheer volume of data increasing to such as extent that only machines can supply the gaps in ‘news content’ that we don’t really care about anyway.


Globalisation was supposed to make it absolutely imperative for me to have a ‘modern language’ GCSE, and look how that turned out. Putting up with Mrs Flanagan for two years equipped me with little more than the ability to get an occasional giggle (or patient correction when I said ‘really, it’s kidney’ when I meant ‘really, it’s nothing’) from the French people I have since worked with.

In my school at 13, French was still the big one. By 15, I found out six months too late that it should have been German. At 18, everyone thought Spanish was paramount, amidst confident claims that no American president after the year 2000 would ever get elected unless he/she spoke it fluently. By the turn of the century, with the inevitable rise of the Chinese superpower, the smart money was supposed to be on learning some Mandarin.

All that fretting seems a bit silly now.  We’d clearly seen the evidence for Britain’s post-Imperial decay as a global power and just assumed her language (yes, yes, yes – and America’s etc.) would be going the same way.

I’m not some ignorant linguaphobe who wanders around like a safari-suited Denham Elliot going “Hello! Does anyone speak English?!” refusing to bend to cultural differences. Indeed, being Welsh and married to a Welsh speaker I am equally committed to the preservation of what is, in the cold light of day, a redundant language. But with English utterly dominant as the international language of business in 2014, I believe native English speakers have an exceptional opportunity to exploit their advantage in a global economy for knowledge skills. If you’re a native English speaking communications professional, then you’d better be pretty exceptional in how you use it. There is absolutely no room for you to be complacent.

Whether it’s junior PR pros, trade IT journalists straight out of college or everyday business people going about their work, I’ve seen the average standard of English fall through the floor over the years. At the same time, the skill with English I’ve seen from the likes of German, French, Dutch, Indian and – dare I say it – Australian clients and colleagues has been extraordinary, and getting better all the time.  We need to sharpen our pencils!

I gave a talk at Cohesive recently, called “The Chinese Are Coming – so what do they need you for?” which covered some of this in depth. We started off in party atmosphere with a big bowl of prawn crackers and a fairly knockabout exploration of the issues. We ended up soberly confronting the truth that an increasingly international economy is not going to require more diverse language and communications skills; it’s going to need better English ones. I’ll update this blog with a link to the presentation once I figure out how to get a sanitised version of it onto Slideshare.

It’s not just about the Chinese of course, but the Chinese example is especially pertinent to the technology industry with Lenovo, Huawei and ZTE just the tip of the iceberg. The Chinese government’s goal is to transform the country into a world technological power, and when the Chinese government stands up and says it’s going to do something, it invariably (albeit chillingly) gets it done.

Researching my presentation I found – where figures are available – that only Honduras, Ethiopia, Guadeloupe and the Dominican Republic have a lower proportion of population than China able to speak English (less than 1%). The Chinese government apparently doesn’t believe changing that is a top priority, and why would it?