In Episode 6 of the Content Conversations podcast, Lucy Mowatt speaks to PR expert Amanda Bunn about public relations and content marketing. They discuss how the two disciplines work together, how to maximise your impact and how to get started with influencer marketing.
Lucy Mowatt: Hi, Amanda. How are you?
Amanda Bunn: Hi, Lucy. How are you?
LM: I’m really well, thank you. It’s nearly weekend, and I’m looking forward to it.
AB: Indeed. Yeah, really, really nice. Can’t wait.
LM: So, before we get straight into it, could you just give the listeners an idea of who you are and what it is you do?
AB: Yeah. So, my name’s Amanda Bunn. I work in PR. On the 24th Feb, so in a couple of weeks’ time, I’ll be starting my new venture as a senior tech PR for a company in Norwich and London called Luminous PR.
LM: Great. Well, that means you’re moving into a tech specialism?
AB: Yeah, yes. It’s a completely new platform for me. I’ve dabbled in tech PR in the past, so done a bit of telematics and done a bit of AI, but not really sort of, I would say, cast myself as a specialist. So, this is a whole new challenge for me, a whole new chapter in the career of–
I was working out, with the questions you sent me beforehand, but my career has 15 years, which makes me sound really old. I’m like, Oh my God, I’m too old now.
LM: It’s better not to count the years, I’ve been finding that recently. Don’t count.
AB: Okay. Very true. Yeah, that’s very true. So, yeah, really, really excited to start the new challenge, but obviously just doing countdown until that day comes along.
LM: Cool. Great. And moving into the sort of more technical stuff, what are the benefits of a business engaging in PR activity?
AB: So, I was having to think about this. I mean, there’s loads and loads of benefits.
The obvious ones for me are that you can influence. So, audiences are likely to trust a more credible source. We all subscribe to newsletters, whether they’re a media outlet or an influencer, updates on their blogs and Instagram Stories and stuff. So, if you trust them, and they’re talking about a brand, it’s gonna make that brand more authentic; it’s going to make that brand more credible. And so I think there’s that element of trust; you’re able to influence the consumer a bit better.
Obviously, reach is another one. So, a good news story can land in multiple publications and on multiple social channels as well. So, you’re exposing key business messages on an array of platforms; you’re reaching a huge number of audiences. I’ve touched on it there, about the variety of channels.
When I look back 10 years ago, social media was a growing thing. It was still very much something that people will learn about. And now, we’ve got so many experts about and stuff. But PR was predominantly looking at gaining newspaper coverage, I still remember the joys of getting a front page of the travel section in The Telegraph. It was just amazing.
“I still remember the joys of getting a front page of the travel section in The Telegraph“Amanda Bunn
And obviously, I still get that buzz now, but there are so many ways to get that coverage these days. So, the variety of coverage is absolutely huge for brands and businesses.
SEO, I guess we’ll touch on that when we talk more about the content marketing side of things. But PR goes hand in hand with SEO. And actually one of the new things that– or not new things, but one of the things I will develop in at Luminous is kind of that relationship between SEO and PR to be able to sort of grace that much better in that role.
Read more: Episode 5: Intranets & Internal Communications
A couple of other things were cost-effectiveness. So, my background is agency; nine times out of 10 brands or businesses, they’ll pay me a monthly retainer, and I use that monthly retainer to execute PR activity, whether that’s– it’s a variety of things. And so it can be a really cost-effective way of getting your messages and your news stories out there.
There’s an element of control as well with PR. So, it’s a way of, when you’re executing a press release or story, pitching a press release or executing out on social media, there’s an element where you can control what you’re saying to your consumers, which is really, really good.
LM: So, it’s more proactive?
AB: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, definitely.
LM: You did just touch a bit there about cost-effectiveness. But do you have any tips on measuring ROI? I know that is a question that I have heard many, many times. Do you have any tips for businesses looking to do that?
AB: ROI can be a difficult one with PR because one thing that was literally hammered into me from a very early stage of my career is that PR can absolutely never be guaranteed.
So, for example, if you’re launching the first of something and then, touch wood with this doesn’t happen, but a member of the royal family suddenly passes or there’s a huge development in cancer research or whatever, the likelihood is that that news is absolutely going to replace what we thought was groundbreaking.
It’s really, really difficult because you can never guarantee it. And if I had a pound for every time a business has gone, “How many pieces of coverage do you think you’ll get this month?” I’d be quite rich, I think. Sadly, the answer is I can’t guarantee it, but I will absolutely do my best. And with experience, you do gain a good understanding of when the right time is, and obviously you gain relationships with so many journalists along the way. And I’ll continue to do that throughout my career. And so you just have a good understanding.
And you can actually just pick up the phone to them and say, “Look, I’ve got this, what do you think?” And they will give you feedback, that’s what the relationships are there for.
But in terms of measuring impact in our life, it really is dependent on the client. So, for example, if one of my clients has an objective of digital PR, so that’s more about looking at links, what I will obviously focus on more […] in the monthly report is obviously how many links my PR coverage has achieved them.
Obviously, there’s the no follow-follow, but predominantly, what we’ll look at is a scoring system. So, there’ll be a score out of three, for tone, there’ll be a rating for key messages featured in the article, whether the tone is positive, neutral, negative, and it will be like a point system. And at the end of the month, there’ll be this collated point score, which basically tallies up whether it’s a good month or a bad month, if that makes sense? And nine times out of 10 it’s a pretty good month. So, that’s good.
LM: Great. That’s a really interesting way of looking at recording progress and how you’re performing.
AB: Yeah. I mean, when I first started out and I used to do press clippings, I had to sit there with a ruler, and literally measure column inches. Then the publication would say column inch is worth £17.64, and I would literally times that.
I’m a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, and actually AVE is frowned upon. Sorry, that’s Advertising Value Equivalent. And that’s really frowned upon in terms of reporting. So, yeah, it’s having to kind of, I guess, tailor reporting to what the client is looking for really.
LM: And their objectives for that PR, I guess.
AB: Yeah, absolutely.
LM: Okay. And you see, coming back to what you just said about backlinks and digital PR, is that clearly where you see the overlap with content marketing? How do you think they stick together?
AB: I think the line is really, really thin. But I think PR and content marketing together really can amplify messages.
In my head […] they’re the ones reaching the people and we’re the ones sort of managing the reputation. Content marketing is the one about getting the attention. So, content marketing is developing the story. And then PR is about executing it and getting the message out there.
Content marketing is part of my role as PR person for sure. I’m writing SEO-optimised blog posts these days. And I didn’t do that probably three, four years ago. I was learning but I definitely wasn’t doing it. But I know it’s definitely part of PR strategies for clients these days.
I think they go hand-in-hand, and I think content marketing and PR, they’re a great way of ensuring that your brand messages are consistent. So, we’ve got a client, who will be launching, like a new side product on what it currently offers later this year. And so part of that process, in terms of launching that, is getting the social media team together, getting the content writers together, getting the PR team together, and actually just making sure that we’re all in tune, making sure it’s a real integrated approach because there’s no point social media saying one thing, and then the blog post is saying something completely different. It’s just a waste of effort and time. Make it as good as it can be really.
LM: Do you find that taking a campaign approach… so if you know you’ve got these key dates or these product launches or events coming up, having a meeting together and saying: ‘PR launches on these days, the supporting content launches on these days, and this is how we’re going to handle it?’
AB: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I love to work in a campaign approach, really, because[…] there’s always got to be activity running in the background.
But I like this campaign approach because I just feel that you get much more bang for your buck. I don’t know if that’s the right terminology, but I just feel that you get the peaks and troughs and some of the businesses I work for… I’ve got one client and we absolutely know key times for them, and they’re a stainer remover brand and so we know back-to-school is absolutely huge. We know that Christmas is absolutely huge. We know Easter because obviously, the kids are off for two weeks, is absolutely huge. Now our target audience is moms, so we know the key times for ensuring that everything is on. All activity is around those times. But that doesn’t mean that we have to stop it completely when those key times aren’t happening. But you know, during those times we can just concentrate simply on getting competitions in magazines and influencers doing reviews for us and stuff.
So, you’ve always got to be on.
LM: No, no, I know what you mean.
LM: It’s like a more active, proactive approach, maybe a push.
AB: Yes, absolutely. Yes. So, yeah.
LM: Okay. Because I’ve certainly found that there is so much overlap between content and generating backlinks or competitions or putting things on social and PR and getting stuff into the press. And sometimes it’s quite hard to distinguish maybe who is responsible for what, especially if you work with multiple agencies. ‘Is your PR agency going to handle this?’ ‘Well, how does that work with a content marketing agency with a social media provider’ and that kind of thing?
AB: Yeah, I’ve recently worked with one brand recently. They are an automatic chicken coop door opener called Chicken Guard. They’re absolutely brilliant. And earlier this month, myself, the social media guys, we’re all different agencies, the email marketers and the SEO guys, we all met and we all created a 2020 plan to ensure that we were all in sync. And this 2020 plan was shared via Trello board and we populate it month by month, but it’s just knowing when the key times are for the brand.
LM: Yeah, and keeping everybody in the loop and communicating those activities.
AB: Absolutely. Yeah. Yes.
LM: One thing we haven’t mentioned so far and something I know you have dabbled in is influencer marketing, which is a hot topic.
AB: Yes. Yes.
LM: And how do you tend to decide that you’re going to take an influencer marketing approach? Are there other particular brands that you think ‘God, this is brilliant’? Or do you think all brands could use it?
AB: I’m not sure that all brands could use influencer marketing at this stage. However, I think the landscape is hugely competitive.
And I think there is still room for more, but I think there’s room for more specialised influencers.
So, people that have an exact interest in something, because I think that what we run the risk of–
I love influencer marketing, in fact, it’s probably one of my favourite things. And I’m really lucky to establish some really good relationships with them. But I fear we run the risk of there just being too many. And we also run the risk of upsetting a few because we simply have missed them on the search while we’re looking for people.
But yeah, I do. I absolutely love influencer marketing, it’s really, really good. And I think, I’d recommend if you are a brand that’s looking at influencer marketing, I definitely would say that have a look– If you’re a home interiors company, for example, there’s thousands of influencers out there who are talking about interiors, about renovating the homes, that kind of thing. There’s actually thousands, so definitely have a look.
Going back to your question, I’m not sure influencer marketing is right for every business. But I definitely think for those where it could be definitely go for it.
LM: Do you tend to build it into a strategy, so you have a separate strategy for influencer marketing?
AB: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s another tactic, I think, to add to the PR plan.
So, for example, if you’re launching something, if you’re a restaurant, then great, do a launch event because these influencers will come and they’ll do wonders for creating a buzz. And what I love the most about influencer marketing is that it’s instantaneous. From the moment those doors are– or actually, even before the doors are open — because influences are great, letting people know that this is what’s happening, and you know, they’re showing pictures of them getting ready and on their way and stuff. So, it’s a real buzz.
I was lucky enough to launch The Ivy, because you, thankfully came along. And the buzz I got for that event was incredible and it’s all down to influencers and obviously, the support of the local media for creating that.
LM: Do you have any tips on how to find the right influencers?
AB: I definitely think research. Look at the content that influencers are doing and just check that it’s right for your brand.
You know, if you are, I don’t know, a car garage, for example, it’s pretty pointless you wanting a beauty blogger to come and review your service. So, I think relevance is absolutely key.
You know, if you’re a brand that’s looking to target, I don’t know 17 to 24-year-olds, then don’t go for the 35-year-old woman that’s living a lovely life because that’s not going to target the audience that you’re looking to target, if that makes sense.
LM: Yeah. Okay.
AB: So, yeah, I think it’s definitely researching the content that the influencers are doing just to make sure that it’s in sync with your brand, really.
LM: Yeah. And that generating some engagement as well. I think that’s important a lot of the time… or they might have a huge audience, but they might not be garnering engagement.
AB: Yeah, there’s always that risk as well, isn’t there? If the rumours of fake followers and stuff… [but I hope] it’s a thing of the past, to be honest. Because I would happily look at someone with several hundred followers if the engagement on their blog posts or their social posts is high. If people generally get engaged with that content, then great.
LM: Yeah, it’s just a really unchartered territory. I feel and there’s still so much discussion around it because there’s no set way of doing things.
AB: No, there isn’t. […] The ASA, was it last year or maybe the year before, when they wanted influencers to put out if it was an ad or not? We’re still getting celebrities being pulled up for it that they’re not doing it and stuff. So, yeah, I think there’s a lot of rules to come into place I suspect in the future, but we’ll see. For now, it’s all good.
LM: So, if a business is looking to start some PR activity, do you have any recommendations about where they would start?
AB: Yeah, I think if you’re a business and you’re generally certain that you want to create some brand awareness for your brand, and you want to gain and enhance your reputation, then I think PR is definitely a good avenue to explore.
I will be totally honest, there are some brands where PR just isn’t right for them at this point in time. I’ve sat down with various people and PR people are very good about being realistic. They do know. If you’ve been in the industry a while, you do know what works and what doesn’t. And sometimes you do have to say to someone, ‘Look, I don’t think it’s right for you right now, purely because I don’t think you’ve got everything in place’.
I think if a business was looking to get started in PR, then I think the best thing for them to be is realistic about what they’re trying to achieve.
So, I’ve sat down with various businesses and they’ve been like: ‘I want to be in The FT or I want to be in on the BBC and stuff. And that’s great. And, touch wood, I have achieved those types of pieces of coverage. But at the same time, they’re really difficult to get.
So, it’s about do want coverage on the BBC? Then be aware of what the BBC is featuring. Don’t just expect that a PR person is going to get you on there. Because I’ve got really good connections with BBC Look East and they will tell you they receive hundreds of emails a day from PRs, and that’s emails! They’re also being contacted by the community every day via social with their news.
So, actually, it’s a real competitive landscape, and you’ve really got to have something so unique to talk about, or you’re going to have to have really bold opinions on Brexit or local budget or something like that, which is really going to sort of ruffle a few feathers, I think.
Also for businesses getting started with PR, I’d say be prepared to spend some money. PR professionals do need to get paid at the end of the day, and what you’re paying for is their time and their expertise. So, don’t expect that you can just pay them per item of coverage because there’s a lot of effort that goes into achieving coverage these days. So, just be expected to prepare to pay some money.
And I think the ultimate goal for me, for businesses is that there is a patience game with PR. It is about building momentum. You’re not just going to start working with a PR professional or agency and tomorrow you’re going to be in The Daily Mail. Well, it might happen, but it’s not guaranteed, unfortunately.
LM: Yeah, it takes time. And actually, I guess, getting on journalist radars… So, if they’ve never heard of you before, they might not necessarily read the first [press release], but they might read the second press release or the fourth.
AB: Exactly, yeah, exactly.
And it’s also about, you know, we have to have some time to kind of establish our understanding of your brand and where you want to go.
And that’s why PR strategy, or having a strategy in place, is so important because you can keep coming back to those key messages, that audience that we said we’d try and reach in January and it’s now May.
Are we doing that? Is the PR activity in line with what we said we were going to achieve?
And it’s about setting your KPIs and these objectives, because otherwise, how do we know that we’re doing what we said we were going to do?
I think also, another good thing to just point out, is that just be aware of what your competitors are doing. If you have visions of doing exactly what your competitors are doing, but your competitor is five times the size of your brand, then you know, it’s going to be quite difficult to achieve exactly what they’re doing as well.
The BBC, and I don’t know if you’re aware, but recently they’ve launched a 50/50 campaign, which basically means that for all spokespeople, they don’t want to interview the same spokesperson for the same brand. So, what they’re trying to do is ensure that if they came to your business this year for a comment on camera, they’d use one person, and then when they came to you again, they’d want another person and preferably to be female and a male. So, there’s that 50/50 split. So, it’s worth keeping that in mind.
LM: I wasn’t aware of that.
AB: There you go, a little tip.
LM: It’s great to see a bit more diversity and things like that, which could cut in a lot of business’s favour.
AB: Absolutely. Because I think obviously, you think of Virgin, you think of Richard Branson, don’t you? It’s just a natural association. And there’s other brands, of course, that you associate a person with.
But I think the BBC’s objective is that they want to show a much more diverse range of spokespeople, and they don’t want it to just be just– this sounds so stereotypical, but they don’t want it to just be men in suits talking about the same business issues. They want some women in there and they want some diversity in there. So, yeah, it’s a really positive campaign they’re doing.
LM: It’s great that they’re leading as well because they are obviously such an established name in the UK.
Are there any mistakes that you typically see with businesses who are engaging in PR or areas where it may have backfired?
AB: I did a bit of research before we start the question. And there were three things that immediately came to my mind.
So, the first one was having no strategy. Having a strategy is absolutely key. And it’s a great way of sort of checking back in to make sure that you’re doing what you said you were going to do. So, I would highly recommend that you have a strategy.
I think another mistake that a lot of businesses do is that they don’t understand the media. So, as I said to you earlier, we get these businesses they’re like, please put us on the BBC, we’ve got this great story. And it’s like, oh, no, the BBC or The Times are just not going to look at you because it’s not quite right. However, we could look at the leading trade title. If you are working in facilities management, let’s say and we could maybe make a huge splash about it in Facilities Management Trade. So, I think just having an understanding of the media really, really helps you.
And my third tip is to always look on Twitter. The last survey that I read the results for, 97% of journalists said they always source their stories from Twitter, that’s huge. So, if you have a target publication, or various nationals, for example, then make sure you follow those journalists that are writing those stories, and just try to understand because they are very vocal on Twitter, and they’re very vocal about what works and they’re very vocal about what frustrates them in terms of getting an email that says, “Oh, my God. How dare they email this to me.” They’re very vocal about it. So, I think it’s just having an understanding of the landscape that you’re trying to approach.
LM: Yeah, Twitter is actually something, when I was an editor, that I would regularly go to, to see what was trending in that particular subject area. And I have been that person complaining about the random generic press release.
AB: There you go.
LM: I’m that grumpy journalist.
AB: There you go. So, I think it’s a great way though. Twitter is great. Twitter is great for a PR person. It’s a bit like stalking.
LM: Yeah. And you can see exactly what’s trending right there right in that moment.
AB: Exactly. Exactly. And it’s a great way to react to timely news. It’s a great way. So, if you do have a press office facility that’s just running in the background, you know, Twitter is fantastic for keeping abreast of what’s happening right now.
LM: Alongside Twitter, do you have any recommendations on any tools that people can use to facilitate their PR or measure it or anything like that?
AB: Yeah, so I’m just continuing to the Twitter thing, there’s a hashtag, #journorequests. So, I would highly recommend to any business that they just follow that hashtag because honestly, every minute there must be about 10 journalist requests literally coming up.
Some are asking for some bizarre things, like a lady who lost her leg who, I don’t know, had a cat stolen or whatever, they’re quite specific. But then some are really generic and could be suitable for your business. So, definitely have a look on that.
Google Alerts is another platform that I would recommend businesses use. So, Google Alerts is a great way of obviously monitoring coverage that you’ve achieved, but also it’s a great way to monitor what your competitors are doing as well. …
Networks, I thought… I pride myself on being quite networked within my region, but that takes effort. So, I think a tip that I would give is just to go out there and meet people, meet the media, go meet influencers, go meet your peers because it’s a great way of learning what they’re doing, and be a member of a PR network. That’s probably not so specific for businesses looking to work with a PR professional. But if you are a PR professional, definitely be a member of a PR network.
So, I said earlier that I’m a member of the CIPR. I’ve been a member of them for nearly 10 years. And I do think it’s great to have a community that really supports you within your local area. I think that’s really good.
If you are a business that’s going to look at doing PR on your own, then definitely subscribe to a media database, so that will help you collate your media lists and things like that. And also press cutting services as well. That just ensures that you get your press coverage that you’ve been achieving, that it’s all clipped and ready for you.
LM: Great. And if people want to find out more about you, where can they do that?
AB: So, I’m on LinkedIn under Amanda Bunn, and I’m on Twitter and AmandaBunnPR, and I’m also on Instagram, although there’s a few personal– I say personal choice, it’s going to sound really dodgy now, isn’t it? But you know, a lot of my friends are on there, so feel free. But it’s under NorfolkPRGal.
LM: Great. Thank you for coming on the show.
AB: Oh, thank you.
LM: Thanks, Amanda. Bye.