PR Interview with Alastair Turner, MD of Aspectus PR
What industry sectors does the agency specialise in?
We focus on five key markets: financial services, B2B technology, energy, engineering and event marketing. We know these sectors and the media supporting them inside out, all over the world.
What is special about the agency’s approach to PR?
We make it our business to find out the issues that really matter to our clients’ prospects and then work on ways of pressing those buttons and creating a dialogue.
Our success hinges on two factors: the quality of the storyline ideas and content that we produce, alongside our ability to use the internet and social media to maximise the impact of the coverage we achieve for our clients in the mainstream media.
Clients come to us because of our niche market knowledge. As we have grown, both in terms of geography and head count, our knowledge has become broader and deeper and our new sectors reflect the expertise within the agency. We have a long track record in engineering PR and are seeing a steady increase in the number of companies wanting to work with us, drawing on the fantastic international knowledge base within the practice. At the same time, we have put in place a ‘no brainer’ proposition for the events industry. Tried and tested on some of the biggest players within the sector, we have developed an event marketing methodology that harnesses both traditional and social media to boost the profile of a client’s event dramatically, drives up exhibitor numbers and significantly increases attendance.
How do you ensure your clients get the right coverage in the press?
Our job is to get in the face of our clients’ target audiences. We don’t just want our clients to be noticed – we actually want to change the whole relationship between them and the people they are trying to reach.
In a crowded media market, quality content is key. Using our own writers, we develop what we call storyline packages – copy, research, facts and stats, third party contacts; in fact, everything that a senior journalist would need to develop their own versions of our story.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing PR today?
There is undoubtedly an art to producing ideas and material that will really appeal to our clients’ customers. If you’ve got a great idea then you need to get it out there through every channel and in every form available to you. If it works as an article, then repackage it as an e-newsletter, make it the key theme in a customer testimonial or case study. Driving it through social media channels is the difference between it being seen by a handful of people and being picked up and passed on by tens of thousands.
Can you list some of your most well-known, or respected clients?
Within their niche sectors we are lucky to work with a group of clients who, if not always well-known, are well-respected. Outside their particular sectors our clients are generally less well known but they do include brands like Fidessa, Elster, Pennwell, UBM and Baringa Partners (the UK’s best place to work).
Tell us about a client you recently worked with. What was the company’s brief, your approach and the result?
Our financial services practice is particularly pleased with an ongoing campaign for Asset Control.
Asset Control wanted to move away from being seen as a “pipes and plumbing” data management infrastructure provider. Only six months into the campaign, Asset Control is now associated with major industry trends, continually demonstrating its understanding of the challenges facing clients and markets. How did we get there?
It started with an initial project to build and refine messaging, tagline and product positioning, all tested against key influencers in Asset Control's market. Intensive media training, specifically around the new messaging, followed quickly to ensure that all press opportunities were capitalised on and really delivered for Asset Control. Good job, since these press opportunities started coming thick and fast once we kicked off the PR campaign. Built upon storylines we devised to complement the messaging, these core ideas drove by-lined articles, press releases, interviews and even award entries all closely tied to Asset Control's key messages. All this ran through social media channels in a co-ordinated way, with the content tailored for each platform, to engage the audience and supercharge SEO. That was how we ensured the message made its mark.
How do you balance the use of social media and traditional PR in your work?
It’s completed integrated. We see social media and mainstream media as fundamentally connected; we use one to feed and add value to the other. And we know exactly how to do this; we understand what social media channels work best for every story, every client. But the key to unlocking the full value of PR in today’s connected media world is to produce quality content in the first place. That’s why we have a whole team of full-time writers. Great ideas and great stories are what really make the difference.
What has been your most memorable work for a client?
One recent campaign particularly stands out for me. Now widely regarded as the power industry’s must-attend event, POWER-GEN Europe comprises a dedicated trade show, multi-track conference and is also co-located with two other leading shows: Renewable Energy World and Nuclear Power Europe. 2011 was our second year promoting the show and it was another record-breaking year for POWER-GEN Europe with more than 14,900 visitors from 95 different countries. Naturally, we wouldn’t claim every visitor attended as a direct result of our campaign, but with 240 pieces of coverage in 21 countries, including 84 pieces of coverage generated from press releases, 57 by-lined articles published, ten show previews in top tier media and more than 50 journalists attending, there’s a good chance that the majority had heard or read something about POWER-GEN Europe prior to the event.
Social media proved pivotal in successfully raising the show’s profile, with a loyal community of event followers actively contributing to, and participating in, lively discussions around the event. By the end of the campaign the Twitter pages had more than 1000 followers, the blog had attracted more than 3000 visitors and the home page search engine rankings had witnessed a significant boost. Ultimately, the event was a huge success and will be repeated this year, again with Aspectus leading the PR.
Which media outlets or journalists do you find you work with the most often?
It’s mostly top-tier trades, specialist national correspondents and general business titles.
How do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?
A combination of market knowledge, great ideas, good content, reliability and decency.
You have worked as both a broadcast journalist and in PR. What made you decide to make the switch? Have your experiences as a journalist impacted your approach to PR?
Hopefully, it means that I understand the needs of a journalist as well as the pressures they operate under. We know how newsrooms work and try to think like journalists when creating a storyline or piece of content. We have tried to inject a newsroom-style buzz into the office here.
What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?
I wake up to the Today programme much to the annoyance of my wife who soon has Magic FM blaring out. I’ll also read the overnight handover email from my North American and Asian colleagues who will highlight any stories with legs likely to affect our day. Then it tends to be the Times, Telegraph and FT.
Are you involved in any other projects?
I would love to be but running a family and keeping everyone happy at Aspectus is pretty full-time. I do organise a social cricket side called the Southwell Ramblers. It’s our 40th anniversary this year and we are always looking for talent!
Name three guests you’d invite to a dinner party and why.
I’d like to reincarnate three people – Grace Kelly, who is probably the most beautiful woman who has ever lived. David Niven, a true star of Hollywood’s Golden Age whose autobiography, The Moon’s a Balloon, is a hilarious read. It says much about Niven's character and his seemingly easy ability to be affable and friendly with everyone that, when he died, one of the wreaths at his funeral was from the porters at Heathrow Airport. The card read: “To the finest gentleman who ever walked through these halls.” He made a porter feel like a king. And finally an older, father-figure friend of mine, Stan Smith, who was an amazing mentor and kept me on the track at a time when I could very easily have gone off the rails. I’d like to have spent more time with him and it would be fun seeing him try to be smoother than Niven and charm Grace Kelly.