Your tactics are keeping me awake

At 5.30am this morning I was thinking about an email I received the other day. It contained a PR action plan that went something like this:

–          Write media release

–          Develop profile document

–          Set-up interviews

I didn’t know what the company was trying to communicate, whether there was a theme or platform it was using to engage the media, or if it was part of wider marketing activity.

Besides the fact it presupposed that media relations was the only answer, at no point was there any reference to strategy or campaign development.

For me, this is like driving around Australia without a map. You’re going to get lost.

Before you consider sending out a media release or writing a blog post or running a competition, consider this. Why?

Why are you doing it? Is it to drive traffic to your website to increase sales, or is it to establish your company as an authority in order to break into a new market?

Understanding this is key to developing your strategy and helps to define your objectives. This in turn provides the guardrails for all your PR activity and means you can measure whether you’ve been successful or not.

For example, you’re an online furniture store that has just launched and you need to generate website traffic in order to make sales. You know that women aged 25-45 are your core market and that they rely on respected authorities for advice and inspiration on what to buy.

A strategy could involve encouraging word of mouth recommendation of your website by introducing your brand to influential people in interior design.

Once this is in place you can develop a campaign. The campaign provides a theme that makes all the activity hang together.

For our online furniture store, we could create a campaign around the realities of interior design, tying into the plethora of reality TV shows about home renovation.

A campaign tactic we could use is blogger outreach and would involve contacting bloggers who write about interior design. You could challenge the bloggers to choose the pieces from your store that they would use if they were taking part in Channel 9’s The Block, and encouraging them to write a series of blogs including how-to hints and tips.

This profiles your furniture and provides them with content. You’ll be able to track traffic to your website from their blogs which means you’re able to measure whether it worked.

This is obviously a condensed version of how you develop a strategy and a basic example. There is much more involved but the underlying message is simple. Just ask why.


Ps – if you do need help understanding the difference between strategy and tactics, it’s worth reading Sandra Oliver’s book Public Relations Strategy.

So, you’re in business now

I received my Australian Business Number (ABN) in the post yesterday.  It was one of those moments that made me realise that I was no longer an employee. Me? The boss? Well I never.

But here we are, one week into this new adventure.

In addition to starting working on new clients (YAY), I’ve spent a lot of time on the ATO website and downloaded a tonne of guides for start-up businesses.  I’ve registered for a course at the Small Business Development Corporation and found templates galore for cashflow forecasts.

My inner Excel geek is living the dream.

And, speaking of which, I’ve started timesheets. Thanks to a recommendation from my old boss, I now use an online system called Harvest that tracks my time and produces invoices. So far, so good.

Amongst all of this I have come to appreciate how much a start-up business has to contend with in the early days.  I can totally understand why defining the newly hatched organisation’s brand doesn’t necessarily come at the top of the never-ending to-do list.

This hit home when I ran into an old client the other day. I updated her on my plans and she said, so tell me why I would hire you? What makes you different?

I’ve spent my career answering those questions for other people but, believe it or not, I get really uncomfortable when I have to promote myself.

But they are two really important questions and are at the heart of helping to define and communicate your brand. And I’m not talking about a logo.

Seth Godin neatly defined a brand as “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, defined his brand by saying “In the factory we make cosmetics, in the store we sell hope.”

This is the promise Revlon makes to its customers and they aim to deliver it in everything they do – the product itself, the packaging, the marketing, the customer service.

So ask yourself, what do you want your customers to say, feel, believe about your brand?  Now, how are you going to deliver it?



If you’re thinking about starting a business, here’s some resources I’ve used so far:

Australian Tax Office –

ANZ’s Small Business Hub –

Small Business Development Corporation –

Business Victoria –

Build a business from your kitchen table –

Going solo

Exactly four weeks ago today I left my role as the Strategic PR Advisor at Linc Integrated. It was something I had thought about for a while. Not because I didn’t like the job or the team, indeed I have enormous respect for them, but because I was questioning what I wanted to do.

So, I left Linc without another job. It was scary but also immensely freeing.

Immediately I had friends, Linc team mates and former colleagues urging me to start-up on my own. I rejected the idea, purely on the basis that I’m not a fan of business development and I hate timesheets. Honestly, they are evil.

But rather than worrying about job-hunting, I travelled to my spiritual home of 10 years – London.

It was here that I had dinner with a former client who I’d kept in touch with. She asked me what I liked to do. Easy, I said. Writing, getting under the skin of an organisation, building connections, and helping people solve problems.   

What do you know? She offered me a job, right there over a bottle of Jamie Oliver’s finest Prosecco. It wasn’t a full-time role, it was a project that I could work on from home and it was in a sector that I enjoy working in.  

I said yes and the rest, as they say, is history. Other opportunities have sprung up since that day and it makes me truly believe that good things will happen if you’re open to new experiences.

So here I am typing the first post for my new blog – Free Agent – in my hastily configured home office. I don’t know where this road will take me but it’s certainly worth finding out. 

PR doesn’t stand for Press Release

An article in a UK newspaper last year claimed more public relations professionals (aka PRs) and fewer journalists threatens democracy.

As much as I’d love to wield that amount of power, I don’t think our profession can bring down a form of government that has been in existence for thousands of years.

The article was written by Roy Greenslade, a professor of journalism and former editor of the Daily Mirror. In it he focuses on the role of the PR to produce ‘’oven-ready’’ copy and states the 24 hour news cycle, demand for multimedia content, and fewer journalists will result in more PR driven stories.

Yet, media relations is just one aspect of PR and Greenslade’s article reveals a misunderstanding shared by many –believing the job of a PR is purely to put a spin on a story, either keeping bad news out of the media or putting a positive slant on it.

I won’t deny there is a certain truth to this, the number of ex-journalists employed by PR agencies shows there is some proof in the pudding, yet the role of a PR is much broader.

Our job is about enhancing the reputation of our employer or client to help deliver business success. This could take many forms, from sponsorship to develop community relations through to an internal communications program to motivate and engage staff.

We provide counsel to senior business leaders, encourage direct interaction with customers and, in many cases, are the driving force behind transparent communications.

For WA companies looking to hire a PR consultant, either in-house or via an agency, I urge you to consider these four things:

1. Be clear about what you want to achieve.

  • Determine your business objectives and be realistic about how PR will help achieve these.

2. Understand who you want to communicate to and what you want to say.

  • Clearly identify your target audience – general public is too broad – and have an understanding of what you would like to say to them.

3. Don’t just rely on the media to communicate with your target audience.

  • Is the media the most effective channel or could you communicate directly instead?

4. How will you measure your PR efforts?

  • A bunch of articles left in reception does not mean you were successful. Setting SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely – objectives at the outset will help determine this.

Next time you speak to your in-house PR or agency, just remember: PR doesn’t stand for Press Release.

This article was originally written by Rebecca Johnston for The West Australian.


Online PR – is it really about getting back to basics?

Retweets and fans, user generated content, citizen journalists – either music to your ears or a cacophony that makes no sense.

But, it can and must make sense.  The impact of social networking on the way we communicate and engage with our target audience is undeniable. It’s not future forecasting, it’s happening now.

Australians spend  more time visiting social networks and blogs  than any other developed nation in the world.  In one month alone, more than 10 million Aussies used Facebook, about 9.9 million visited YouTube, and around 1.6 million were on Twitter. (source).

Why does it matter? Aren’t people simply talking about their lunch or watching funny animal videos?

No. We’re going online and asking fellow internet users for opinions and information about products, services and brands.  We’re reading reviews, posting comments, liking brands or products.

This means the power has shifted to the consumer and the network of communities online who can influence the reputation of a brand and have a direct impact on sales.

For PR professionals it means forgetting the broadcast model of old and getting back to basics. Understanding your target audience, tailoring your message, listening to what your audience are saying and responding appropriately.

And your target audience want to participate. They want to know what is going on with new products or services. They’re demanding your openness and honesty. They may criticize you but they’ll also praise you publically.

If all this sounds too much, don’t panic. Here’s some hints and tips to get you started:

1. Gather intelligence. Get online and listen to what your customers, clients, employees, and suppliers are saying about your brand, or your product / service.

2. Determine if and how you will respond and build this into your communications strategy.

  • Don’t jump on board just because everybody else is doing it.
  • Choose the right platform. Facebook isn’t for everyone.
  • Define roles and provide guidelines for company involvement.
  • Make sure you have the resource to maintain momentum.

3. As part of your strategy, identify and prioritize content.  Look inside your business for information or advice that your target audience will value and share, for example:

  • Advice from an in-house specialist on product use that might make a great video.
  • A podcast to support that latest industry report.
  • A presentation explaining new technology that could be uploaded to Slideshare/

4. Don’t ignore traditional media and their own online efforts:

  • Find our which journalists or media outlets are using networks like Twitter. Follow them – listen, learn, look for opportunities.
  • Research the blogs or forums used by trad-media online that you could target.
  • Package your stories for online media with video and graphics content.

5. Update your issues and crisis communications strategies to include social media monitoring. And, if you have a social media presence, don’t forget to use this channel during a crisis.

6. Think about your customer service and how it might be improved via social media.

7. Optimize everything you do online.

Remember, just like Apple claims we’ll never stop doing the things we love, technology just allows us to do things differently.

This post was originally written for Linc Integrated