PR Interview with Nick Clark, deputy MD of Nelson Bostock Communications
About the agency
What’s been happening recently at Nelson Bostock?
The Nelson Bostock Group has been going from strength to strength. 2012 was a big year for Nelson Bostock Communications (the technology/B2B agency within the Group) as we celebrated our 25th anniversary. It was a successful year for us as well as we won one of the technology sector’s ‘dream clients’ in salesforce.com. More broadly across the Nelson Bostock Group (alongside our sister agencies Fever and Things With Wings) we have continued to work on some amazing campaigns, including the launch of 4G in the UK through EE.
Nelson Bostock Communications is perfectly positioned for growth and we have the strongest line up of talent that I can remember in all my years at the company. These are certainly exciting times.
What is special about the agency’s approach to PR?
It’s tempting to waffle on about integrated communications, PR combined with social and search and paid, owned and earned media channels, etc. However, in my opinion it actually boils down to deep market insight, which enables us to create campaigns that influence our clients’ core audiences, irrespective of the channel.
People talk about the art of storytelling and the move away from the traditional PR approach of banging out press releases. This is something we’ve been doing for a while. Of course there’s a place for press releases but media and broader influencer relations has evolved and audiences want to hear the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ – i.e. why this is interesting to me rather than what is it that you’re trying to sell to me.
What future plans do you have for the agency?
We’re 25 years old and have achieved a great deal in that time. Hopefully the future will lead to more growth and diversification into new areas. We have some really interesting ideas in B2B digital and influencer mapping and engagement. Ultimately, we’re not resting on our laurels and we recognise the need to move with the industry to ensure we hit our targets, whilst keeping our people motivated.
About the industry
How do you think the PR industry on the whole has coped with the rapid change to digital? What’s next on the horizon?
I think the PR industry has adapted and coped well with the evolution of digital but in many cases I think the challenge has actually been taking clients on this journey. Social media is still in its infancy. Facebook has over a billion users but is still a young company and who knows where it could go. In the B2B space LinkedIn is going to be big – we haven’t seen the best of it yet but the platform is becoming an incredibly valuable tool, which PRs need to tap into more.
The elephant in the room as always is evaluation and that’s something that the industry needs to crack in 2013. There’s no silver bullet but PR agencies have to get smarter at showing the value of the service we deliver. Digital can only help here.
What’s the best practice you’ve seen from a PR? And the worst?
I’ll start with the worst. I constantly cringe when I see journalists ‘outing’ PRs for bad practice. You have to understand your audience and know what’s going to resonate and we get a bad reputation as a result of a minority who fail to understand the simple principles of PR and how to engage with journalists. This comes back to my point about the art of storytelling – sending out a press release to 500 contacts and then phoning them up to ask if they received it is not how it’s done!
On the flip side, I am impressed every day with my team who are managing some complicated issues across major brands such as Facebook, EE and Canon through a combination of detailed market and client knowledge and high level media relationships. This is not unique to us but it’s great to watch and is what PR consultants get up for in the morning.
In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing the PR industry today?
Evaluation, as I mentioned before. We have to crack this, and soon.
The whole integration of marketing disciplines is more of an opportunity than a challenge, in my book. There’s still a place for specialists in PR, advertising, direct, SEO, digital/social, etc. The challenge comes when these people are not willing to work together. We work in a creative industry and creative campaigns don’t work in silos, or at least won’t be as effective. We need to find a better way of working with other disciplines whilst ensuring that we can deliver real, specialist value in areas such as media relations and reputation management.
We also need to make sure that we’re dining at the top table. As consultants we have a lot to offer, including the ability to influence business strategy through knowledge of existing products and services combined with media and market insight. PR shouldn’t be seen as the poor relation to advertising and C-level executives need to be convinced of the value that PR can deliver.
Who are some of the agency’s most well-known, or respected clients?
Almost too many to mention but I’d have to say Facebook, HTC, Canon, EE (T-Mobile, Orange and EE), salesforce.com and Toshiba.
Tell us about a time you devised a campaign for a client through social media – what was the brief, the approach, and the result?
Social media is an integrated part of campaign work, not an add-on, so this is not an easy question to answer. Of course we manage online communities for clients and use social channels to reach their target audiences, but it’s rare that we get briefed on a specific social media campaign that’s not part of an ongoing programme – and we wouldn’t ever advise doing this in isolation to what else is happening.
One example of using social channels in a different way for a client is the ‘meet-ups’ we instigated for HTC. It was a unique opportunity for fans to see devices on the same day they were announced to press, and also to meet personalities behind the brand. We promoted the event through Facebook and Twitter, and had over 1000 RSVPs to the inaugural event. We had to quickly find a second venue but it was a fantastic night. The meet-up was so successful it spawned a series of events across Europe.
What advice would you give to recent business start-ups on their PR strategy?
Work with an agency that understands your business and buys into your product or service. Don’t think that PR is just about getting you in the FT; use it to engage key influencers and help build your proposition. Finally, work in partnership with your agency. Commit time to PR and if you can’t, don’t do it. It will only work if you invest your time in making it happen. PR isn’t a magic wand that you can wave over a business and expect journalists to come running.
Is there anything the agency is particularly experienced at when helping out journalists with their stories?
I’d like to think that across the Nelson Bostock Group we have great two-way relationships with the press. We try and help journalists by giving them the bigger picture – not just what’s relevant to our clients. We also work with some of the leading technology brands in the UK so of course we can give them access to what our clients are launching, and when you’re the first to bring 4G to the UK for instance, the press want to test it out.
What are your three tips/rules to building and maintaining strong relationships with journalists?
1. Understand what makes them tick and what they’re looking for in a story.
2. Build personal relationships and gain their trust – if you don’t deliver on your promises, they don’t forget easily.
3. Cut through the marketing bullshit and explain what the real story is.
If you could ask a journalist one question out of the ordinary, what would it be?
Who’s the worst person you’ve ever interviewed? (and pray that it wasn’t one of my clients)
What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?
Name three guests you’d invite to a dinner party and why.
Nigella – for the food, obviously!
Ian Botham – has a reputation for drinking a lot of red wine and has some great anecdotes.
Parky – he’d keep the conversation going if we run out of things to say.
What’s the first rule of good PR?
Question everything – is what we’re doing right, how can I improve this idea, do we truly understand the challenge here, how can we deliver something brilliant?