PR Interview with John Starr, founder and MD of Clareville Communications
Our PR figure for this week, John Starr, was formerly involved in the magazine industry, having become publisher of the second largest women’s monthly at the age of 26. Here, he discusses the highlights of running Clareville Communications, from social media to Mobyville.
About the agency
What areas of PR does the agency specialise in?
Consumer and B2B media relations, digital and social media. We have extensive experience in the parenting, gift voucher/card, destination, children’s and toy markets in our consumer division. Our B2B expertise includes clients in marketing services, exhibitions, promotional merchandise, employee benefits, motivation, sales promotion and franchising.
What is special about your agency’s approach to PR?
That we have targets as well as objectives, strategy and a plan for every client. So both know what is to be achieved and can measure it afterwards. Having set these milestones we aim to beat them and exceed client’s expectations. This covers every activity. Equally important is building and maintaining the trust of journalists, editors and gatekeepers so that they know Clareville delivers what they want, what they need and on time.
Clareville reached its 21st birthday this year. What have been the highlights?
Working with talented people and great clients, and personally helping our b2b clients become opinion leaders in their industries and consumer brands become market leaders.
One agency highlight was the launch of the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar for the Royal Navy, with the First Sea Lord pictured on TV and in the nationals standing in front of Nelson’s Column.
Another highlight was a piece we placed in the Daily Mail for a health supplement brand that produced an avalanche of demand and got them listed in Boots and Superdrug within 48 hours, with the client having to fly in supplies. The coverage appeared a few days after the new marketing director had ended our contract as he said he couldn’t see the value of PR. Not surprisingly he reappointed us!
The real buzz for me is seeing that the activity we undertake produces results and when the client recognises the contribution we make to their business.
How do you ensure clients get the right coverage in the press?
By taking the right story to the right media at the right time. Communicating with journalists and editors in an intelligent way and understanding their medium and how they communicate to their readers, viewers or listeners.
How can clients best utilise online PR tools?
If we are talking about media websites, e-newsletters and the like then just remember that they are very similar to traditional print media. They have a gatekeeper (editor/journalist) who you have to convince that what you have to say is interesting to their audience. This is best handled by a professional. Likewise social media is much more complex than just a Tweet, Fan page or LinkedIn profile. Like all PR and marketing activity it needs objectives, a strategy and a plan. Done well it is very powerful. Done as an add-on it is fairly ineffectual. To make it work takes expertise and time, lots of time. So unless a client is prepared to devote the time at a fairly senior and experienced level they should make it part of the work for their PR agency.
Tell us about one of your clients you are working with at the moment. How is the campaign for them going?
IMEX in Frankfurt and IMEX America are two exhibitions where countries, hotels and destinations exhibit and meeting planners visit. The campaign is on a global basis. IMEX in Frankfurt has just been held and attracted nearly 9000 visitors and 3500 exhibitors from over 150 countries. As well as the year round campaign we welcomed over 400 journalists to the press centre. During the year over 3000 pieces of media coverage were generated and our work on their social media platforms doubled the number of followers, likes and members of groups. More importantly the engagement level has increased by 1200%. So I would say it is going well.
Is there a potential client you’d love to work for?
Anyone that truly understands the true power of PR and realises that great PR is created and doesn’t just happen.
Before you worked in PR, you were group managing director and publisher of Argus Consumer Magazines and Thomson Magazines respectively. What inspired your move from hack to flack?
It seemed like a good idea at the time! Seriously, I had reached a senior level at a young age – publisher of the second largest women’s monthly at 26, managing director of a top five women’s publishing group at 31 – and I decided that I had better start out on my own before someone fired me. PR was an obvious choice as I had seen first hand how it built our magazine brands and I had a real PR expert in Val Mumby, my business partner and joint founder, to cover everything I didn’t know, which was a lot. It still seems like a good idea.
Do you attend networking events? If so, which are you attending soon?
PRCA mainly and as Chair of the SME group I have one coming up soon.
What other projects are you involved in?
We have a mobile phone agency Mobyville, and have just developed apps for Bandy Watches. Our social media and digital division is really busy with clients embracing the opportunities and realising that the technology isn’t the focus, it’s the content and engagement that matters.