PR Interview with Dee Gibbs, MD of Liberty Comms

About the agency

Liberty specialises in the technology industry. What is special about the agency’s approach to tech PR?

From the outset, Liberty’s ethos has always been about superior client service and delivering on our promise. This is a way of life for us – we call it the Liberty Way – and it runs right through the agency and the fabulous people who work with us. 

Just because we are experts in technology, it doesn’t mean we’re a team of tech-heads and geeks; we do understand technology, but moreover we understand what it takes to communicate effectively with our audiences about the real impact technology has on our everyday lives, making for a much more human story. 

The team at Liberty is also carefully hand-picked to represent every facet of the communications mix; so we hire agency specialists, in-house communication experts, technology industry gurus, journalists, analysts and researchers – plus marketing professionals and creative minds. This package is a heady mix, and enables us to deliver tailored, impactful campaigns that tie back to our clients’ business goals.

What are the challenges involved in promoting your clients in the Clean Tech sector specifically? How do you best get their messages across?

Everyone wants to feel better about the world we live in – it’s the age of corporate social responsibility (CSR) and we do have a responsibility to look after the planet for future generations. Liberty’s expertise in this area stems from our work with technology companies in the energy sector, specifically. So, it’s not just Clean Tech for Clean Tech's sake, it’s part of what many of our technology clients already do and the innovation in this area.

For instance, we were heavily involved in the launch of a new industry forum set up to look at wireless charging – doing away with wires and cables and enabling an innovative way to keep our communication devices connected. It’s a great way to talk about technology in a conservation-like way, and again, it adds the human element which makes it much more interesting to the media.

How do you ensure your clients get the right coverage in the press?

This is all about targeting. We work backwards from our clients’ business goals and objectives, to messaging and planning campaigns which involve all of the communications mix, and then delivering it to the right audiences when they need it. We pride ourselves on our media knowledge and relationships – they really are still relevant even in the digital age, and that way, we know when and where a particular message or issue will resonate with a particular member of the press; after all a crucial part of the job is to ensure that what we do has relevance.

What has been your biggest PR/communications challenge?

It’s becoming more difficult in some circumstances to persuade clients that doing something different isn’t risky.  At Liberty we are incredibly creative and we win business based on our innovative thinking and ideas; but more often than not we don’t get a chance to roll out some of the more creative campaigns, and I think companies could be missing opportunities to set themselves apart from their competition here.

About clients

Can you list some of your most well-known, or respected clients?

All of Liberty’s clients are respected, but some of the more recognisable brands in the technology sector are: Qualcomm, GSMA, Mobile Marketing Association and Websense.

What has been your most outlandish campaign?

Back in the spring, we media launched a new mobile phone app called ‘Science Stories’ which incorporated Augmented Reality. The media event itself took place at the home of British scientific innovation, the Science Museum in London, and featured none other than Top Gear’s very own gadget lover and technology buff, Mr James ‘Captain Slow’ May.

Attended by a variety of top tier press from Sky News, to BBC Click and Stuff magazine, the overall event highlighted the media interest in Augmented Reality, as well as innovation in this area. Using a well-known UK celebrity like James May and an iconic British institution like the Science Museum helped bring the technology to a more mainstream audience, and was certainly a fun campaign to be part of!

What are the main issues for your clients in the technology industry right now?

Measurement: it’s always been high on the client agenda, but now ROI seems to be a real requirement as budgets are more thoroughly scrutinised. The technology sector is somewhat protected from the global economic crisis, but clients still need to see where their budgets are being spent and what their investment will deliver – that’s just a fact of business and it should be that way. At Liberty we’ve always believed in delivering solid ROI and we’ve even gone so far as to develop our own measurement tool, the Liberty Index. Clients seem to really like it as it’s completely transparent.

About journalists

Which areas of the press do you communicate with the most and which media outlets or journalists do you find you work with the most often?

It’s a mix, right across the board. For technology, the trades are important to reach the industry they are selling to or partnering with, while the nationals are for the business perspective. More and more technology companies want to have their business story heard as it represents part of their wider corporate journey.

Liberty works across business and consumer technology clients so we have strong relationships with both trade and consumer press and their publications. The blogging community is also key and very active too.

We work across four specific spaces: enterprise tech, mobile and telecoms, marketing and consumer tech. From a trade perspective, we most frequently find ourselves in touch with V3, Tech Radar, Computing, Mobile Europe, 160 characters, Mobile Communications International, Marketing Week, The Marketer, New Media Age, Stuff, Recombu, T3 and Pocket-Lint respectively.

What can you offer to journalists seeking a story on one of your clients?

Liberty’s business is built around core expertise areas in tech. So, depending on what the media need, we can offer spokespeople who are knowledgeable in a variety of industry issues and trends in telecoms, media, enterprise software and hardware, mobile communications, clean tech, corporate and entrepreneurial, consumer and even lifestyle. 

We offer the press the opportunity to attend educational events, tradeshows, breakfast roundtable briefings and a whole variety of media get-togethers. We run reviews programmes for some of our consumer tech clients, we hold benchmarking and social activities, traditional media tours and things with a slight difference and twist of je ne sais quoi. Liberty is reactive and proactive and fully understands the needs of the press, so we’re geared up to offering the right solution at the right time, with the right spokesperson.

How do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?

Liberty has always placed media relationships at the core of its ethos. It’s just as important as it has always been and – despite what Ofcom might say – it’s good to talk. We regularly host the press and analyst community socially (lunches, drinks, etc.) to maintain regular contact, and ensure that what we provide to the media is on a par with their expectations and needs. 

We established the Liberty Liquid Lunch which started 14 years ago and takes place twice a year: the social event is for the media and Libertines (no clients) in a great venue and a relaxed atmosphere. It is now widely respected and renowned within the industry. But we go beyond that – many of the press we deal with are good friends who spend time with us personally, not just in the professional environment, and this really does make a difference.

How do you think the PR/journalist dynamic will change in the future?

PR consultancies are changing as you read this. Communicating will become even more integrated and the agency of tomorrow will look more like a comprehensive communications agency with many facets. That said, some things will never change, and content is still king, as is the tailored approach. Now that conversations are collaborative and communities are building in the digital sphere, it’s still important to have something to say which is relevant and timely. 

There are already less publications, most are now online and editorial teams are stretched. I’d say that the communication role will become even more important if consultancies embrace the changing toolkit and support the press and other audiences with compelling content and a more rounded view of what a message means. It’s not new, although it is evolving.

About you

What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?

I’m a BBC girl – it’s either BBC Radio 4 on the way to work, or BBC Click online at work. At the same time every month I’m also there waiting for the latest edition of Vogue to drop through the letterbox. I’m addicted, having collected every single edition since 1979!

Are you involved in any other projects?

Yes – I’m a founding member of a VIP networking group for the digital industry called Centurions. It started as a small soiree in London four years ago and now it’s global with get-togethers in New York, Munich and Istanbul, with plans for Asia coming soon. It’s a social peer-to-peer group with fascinating conversation and viewpoints. No presentations or name badges, just the chance to exchange conversation with the ‘great and the good ‘of the digital community.

Name three guests you’d invite to a dinner party and why.

My husband Michael. Without him I couldn’t do what I do. He’s my constant and my sounding board for all the ideas I have, and seems willing to listen – even at 2am in the morning. He’s also a jazz DJ so the music at our dinner parties is always pretty cool!

My father, but when he was in his twenties so that I could get to know him then. He shaped my business thinking and encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do. He also told me never to accept second best and to work hard to achieve my goals. He was right; nothing is given to you on a plate. He is also a fabulous chef and a retired butcher so the food at our dinner parties is always stunning!

Daniel Craig… he’d order up fabulous martinis – shaken, not stirred of course – and I’m sure the conversation would be great too!

If you could work anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?

I’m lucky enough to have visited many countries during my career and each one has its own special allure, but working from a beautiful beach view villa in Barbados might be hard to beat. It’s somewhere I can really relax, and for a workaholic, that’s certainly saying something.

What’s the first rule of good PR?

Always be honest.

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