PR Interview – Suzanne Noble, Director, Stunning PR
About Stunning PR
What industry sectors do you specialise in?
I specialise in all forms of consumer PR but with particular expertise in brand licensing, publishing, health and fitness and the children’s sector.
What is special about your approach to PR?
I’m very result-driven and I’m very straightforward. I think I’m quite traditional too in that I believe that what really counts is column inches. Although I’m a big advocate of using social media to drive awareness, I believe it’s a very small part of the whole story.
I won’t take on a client just for the sake of it and I will turn work down. I like to work very closely with my clients and think of myself as an extension of their marketing departments.
Aside from PR I’m always on the lookout for opportunities for my clients, whether PR-related or not.
Tell us about soon to be launched website SkintLondon, which you are creating with freelance journalist Janie Lawrence.
It’s an idea that I’ve had for a while but just never had the time to implement. When I shared it with Janie she thought it was a great way to help recession-hit Londoners.
We launched SkintLondon in March on Facebook and Twitter with plans to roll out a website in summer 2012. We want to highlight the fact that London may be one of the most expensive capital cities in the world but it’s the one with the greatest cultural choice. From theatre to the quirky there are far more opportunities than people imagine to have a good time for free and on a relatively low budget.
SkintLondon has gained over 3000 Twitter followers since launching just over a month ago and we are now seeking special offers for its users, such as competition prizes.
How do you ensure your clients get the right coverage in the press?
PR hasn’t changed since I first started working in it in 1993. It’s all about finding the ‘hook’. If there isn’t a hook, there isn’t a story and your press release will end up in the bin. Aside from that, it’s about building relationships with journalists and finding the right journalists for the right story. Although I do rely on a paid-for database, I do pick up the phone and call the key journalists. At the moment I’m setting up select face-to-face meetings with one of my clients and a handful of key media contacts just to introduce them.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing PR today?
Where to begin! I may not be popular for saying this, but I think it is now more difficult than ever to actually get to speak to anyone. There are just too many communication channels and it seems that nobody has any time for a proper chat. It’s always, ‘put it in an email’ that inevitably gets lost in a sea of other emails and then you have to ring again and start the whole process over; I find it infuriating. There was a time when journalists had time for a lunch where I might be able to sell in one or more stories. That just doesn’t happen anymore.
Can you list some of your most well-known, or respected clients?
I’ve been LazyTown’s PR and marketing director for six years now. It’s an exciting job that is constantly evolving. I work on an international level so I deal with my colleagues in the U.S. and Latin America. Aside from that I’m currently working for Harper Collins on a new imprint of erotica and erotic romance eBooks and for Hooplo, an independent UK social gaming company. I’m helping National Youth Week with bringing on board agencies and brands that want to reach 16-25 year olds. On a contra deal I work for Sian Toal, a European Fitness Model Champion and celebrity personal trainer. She works me out and I do her publicity. It’s a win-win deal!
Tell us about one of your clients you recently worked with. What was the company’s brief, your approach and the result?
Harper Collins approached me to generate publicity for their new range of eBooks called Mischief Books. They wanted to launch the range with national newspaper publicity and my initial idea was to drive the campaign by surveying adults about their eBook reading habits to see if we could determine the percentage reading ‘naughty books’, with a view to using the results as part of a bigger news story about the growth of erotica (there are currently over 70,000 titles available on Amazon!) Alongside that, I offered to set up third party promotions with companies whose audience might be receptive to erotica, namely sex toy companies such as Lovehoney and Durex.
The brief was approved and I went to work and then, two weeks prior to launch, the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ story dropped in the Sunday Times. As a Times subscriber, I recognised that this was probably the start of a bigger campaign, so I rang my client on Sunday and suggested that we pull the launch forward to capitalise on the story. Thankfully, they agreed and within a week a story about Mischief Books was appearing alongside ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ in the Wall Street Journal, BBC Online, The Sun, Forbes, the Guardian, the Daily Mail and more! The client saved money on the survey and everyone was delighted.
How do you balance the use of social media and traditional PR in your work?
At the moment I have just taken on running LazyTown’s official Facebook page and I try to balance that with the core work I do for them. I wake up at 6.30am to get started on SkintLondon and finish tweeting for the day by 9am. Janie takes over and does the afternoon shift! I have my own twitter feed but I run everything on HootSuite so it’s not difficult to run all the feeds side-by-side to see what’s happening. I always try and ring journalists before noon and then I have later in the afternoon, copy deadline time, to do a bit more social media work.
What has been your most memorable work for a client?
Definitely getting Sportacus (the lead character of LazyTown) along to a photo opportunity with Michelle Obama in Washington within the space of two weeks! She was launching the ‘Let’s Move’ campaign and I spotted an opportunity to involve LazyTown. I tracked down a journalist for CNN who had written up an article about it. It turned out that he worked for a Washington-based PR agency and that his colleague was involved in helping the White House with the campaign. He opened the door to a meeting there the following week and before I knew it Sportacus was running around a small football pitch with Michelle Obama on behalf of the US Soccer Foundation and the picture went around the world. It was an amazing result.
What advice would you give to recent business start-ups on their PR strategy?
Be realistic and don’t try and do it all yourself! It’s often more cost-effective to have someone in-house doing PR (and marketing) or hiring a freelancer with a specialisation in the sector in which you work.
Which areas of the press do you communicate with the most?
All areas of the media. I do less trade PR than I used to since Turner Entertainment absorbed LazyTown so at the moment it’s mainly national on both sides of the Atlantic, online, some radio and TV.
Which media outlets or journalists do you find you work with the most often?
It varies week to week. This week I’m focusing on technology journalists in the UK for Hooplo but I’m also trying to get a regular column off the ground for Magnus Scheving in Mexico. I’m dealing with a journalist on one of the main nationals in Mexico City that I’ve worked with in the past. Just recently I worked on a motoring gadget so I went to all the automotive magazines and motoring columnists. I like working on a diverse range of accounts – it keeps me on my toes.
What can you offer to journalists seeking a story on one of your clients?
If we take Mischief as an example, I can offer interviews with a number of the authors (mostly nice, middle-aged women), review copies and a spokesperson in the shape of the commissioning editor whom has worked with this genre for many years. And I’m keen to explore further third party partnerships too.
How do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?
Lots of emails and phone calls and, occasionally, I try and arrange face-to-face meetings.
How do you think the PR/journalist dynamic will change in the future?
Hopefully it will improve. Journalists have so much responsibility now beyond just writing features and columns. They tweet, they appear at conferences, they often have five stories or more to write a week. At the same time there are so many freelancers that are also scrabbling around. And then there’s all the bloggers. I think that the best any of us can do is just focus on the topline and let the rest take care of itself.
What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?
I’m a Times subscriber so I tend to glance over the news and features there over my morning coffee. I’m a big fan of internet radio so sometimes I listen to NPR in the U.S. but mostly I have on 1.fm Adore Jazz Vocals on throughout the day. And my colleague Janie fills me in on celebrity gossip (she’s a celebrity journalist) and reality TV, otherwise I wouldn’t have a clue there.
Name three guests you’d invite to a dinner party and why.
Deborah Ross, because I think she’d be very funny, Jeremy Paxman, for a bit of gravitas and insight, and Damian Lewis for Homeland & White House gossip!
If you could work anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
I’m formerly from New York and I’d love to do a three month stint there. It’s one of the most fabulous cities in the world and I’ve done a bit of PR there before so I know most of the media outlets and have some good contacts. I think it would be great fun and I just have a feeling my style of PR would go down well there.
What’s the first rule of good PR?
Get your story straight and believe in what you’re selling in.