PR Interview with Saul Trewern, director of Saltwater Communications
About the Agency
What industry sectors does the agency specialise in?
Saltwater is first and foremost a maritime agency, working in the recreational sail and power, merchant/transport, offshore/oil and gas, professional fishing, subsea survey and renewable energy sectors. In parallel, we have clients operating in the aeronautical industry and in satellite communications, providing connectivity in regions such as Africa, the Middle East and Asia. We also occasionally dip into a broader cross section of business sectors including engineering, broadcast media technology, government contracts, sporting events and humanitarian organisations.
What is special about the agency’s approach to PR?
Our maritime focus ensures that we can work and talk at the same level as our clients. We know the industry inside out, which helps us to develop and execute targeted and relevant PR and media strategies from the moment we are appointed. The Saltwater team is also prepared to go the extra mile, as we are keen to build long-term relationships with clients. Some of our clients have been with us for well over ten years and I put this down to making sure we provide value, with enthusiasm and quality, in everything we do for them. We also know how to say no. How to advise rather than just nod our heads to whatever a client wants to do. If we don’t agree with a suggestion or direction we’ll say so, but always offer an alternative, more beneficial approach.
How do you ensure your clients get the right coverage in the press?
1. Good content and source material delivered to the right media.
2. Communicating with editors and journalists regularly.
3. Joining the dots between our clients’ management, technical or sales people and the media wanting to write about what they do.
4. Good research for our own articles and features, or on behalf of journalists covering specific subjects.
5. Taking complex briefs and hitting the nail on the head.
6. Meeting the media at trade shows.
7. Introducing them to clients.
8. Knowing our business.
9. Not always shouting too loudly.
10. Making opportunities and embracing those that come to us.
What has been your biggest PR/communications challenge?
Many of our clients develop technical products and services, which we’re expected to understand and write about/communicate with authority. This gets even more challenging when a single client offers hundreds of products across multiple industry sectors. Understanding and communicating massively different technology, products and services is the challenge, but this variety is also part of why we love what we do.
One morning we could be charged with writing about a satellite reference system for Dynamic Positioning of vessels in the Gulf of Mexico and in the afternoon we could be answering questions about our clients’ responses to new EU regulations on green shipping. At the same time, we’ll have some of the team working on bringing one of the USA’s leading performance shoe brands into Europe whilst others might be writing an article about toilet technology for yachts, before starting on an editorial about developing communications infrastructure in South Sudan.
Can you list some of your most well-known, or respected clients?
Avon, Dometic Group and Sperry Topsider are notable names to the public in the recreational maritime market. We work with some big names in the professional maritime world, including Kongsberg Maritime, Marlink and Thrane & Thrane. All are at the top of their game and we pride ourselves on doing our best to help them stay there.
Tell us about one of your clients you recently worked with. What was the company’s brief, your approach and the result?
A recent trade show build-up produced fantastic results. The client requirement was to bring media to its stand at Posidonia 2012 in Athens during June, for face-to-face meetings and interviews with the CEO. After doing the initial sell-in with editors we had incredibly positive feedback, which meant fitting all the meetings into the CEO’s schedule was a real challenge, especially as it changed on a regular basis, but that’s to be expected. We know the CEO uses media interest at shows as a measure of PR success, but I don’t think he was quite expecting to have back-to-back media meetings for the whole time he was there.
We’ve generated some fantastic unique online coverage so far and are looking forward to seeing a stream of articles in print coming through in the next few months. The thing I’m particularly pleased with is that we are on-track to achieve high levels of positive coverage, but I also know that the CEO and the sales and marketing team are incredibly happy with our handling of the media at this show.
What has been your most outlandish campaign?
That would be for one of our few non-marine clients and has to be the introduction of The Simpsons soft drinks to the UK market, complete with accompanying a giant Bart Simpson on a tour of supermarkets!
What are the main issues for your clients in the maritime industry right now?
The recreational industry has of course been effected by the economic downturn, so sales of smaller boats and equipment for them have cooled somewhat, although the super and mega yacht sectors are still strong. This has only served to make companies with good products even hungrier for success and teaming with an agency that knows the business and the media as well as Saltwater supports them in an incredibly competitive market.
In regards to specific issues in the professional maritime sector, there are several hot topics right now, including crew retention, piracy and the environment. These are all seen as opportunities by forward-thinking companies though, who put their technical skills in developing communication systems, electronics and engineering solutions to good use in order to help address the issues.
What advice would you give to recent business start-ups on their PR strategy?
Focus. Don’t dip in and out when you have a moment. Work hard to make your company the first one that springs to mind when a journalist is commissioned to write about your industry. Understand that editorial is harder to achieve than advertising, but can be much more valuable. Answer journalist enquiries and create your own pull. The results could reach thousands of potential customers if you work with the right media. And of course, appoint a PR agency that knows your business, not just how to write press releases.
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?
The majority of our work is with special interest media – boating, watersports, travel – for our clients in the recreational maritime industry. For our clients in the commercial maritime industry it’s almost purely trade press.
Regardless of which industry our clients operate in though, we also work with national and regional print and broadcast media when the campaign calls for it.
What can you offer to journalists seeking a story on one of your clients?
A way in, which is especially important for some of our large clients with thousands of employees and offices all over the world. We help journalists to connect with the right people and understand if they want a hands-off or hands-on approach to getting the right information.
We invite the relevant media to events at boat shows and trade expos all over the world. We work hard to schedule as many face-to-face meetings as possible between journalists and technical or management staff from our clients during shows. We also organise press junkets, factory and yard visits, dinners and other client-press events to enable them to network with each other.
How do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?
By doing our best to provide quality content and source material to deadline. To achieve our expected level of service to clients, we have to provide high levels of service to members of the press. Professionalism, honesty, courtesy, creativity and directness can all go a long way when working with the media. Luckily, the Saltwater team believes in all these attributes at a personal level.
In your experience, do you think the relationship between journalists and PRs is always harmonious, or is it more of a love-hate affair?
We’re lucky to work within a sector of the media that, on the whole, appreciates the support of PR agencies, so, I would say things are pretty harmonious. There are obviously occasional challenges, but a level of mutual respect and professionalism ensures that we have good relations in all of the media sectors we work in.
If you could ask a journalist one question out of the ordinary, what would it be?
Is that the real deadline?
What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?
We all have our own specialist areas to keep abreast of at Saltwater. For me, my morning starts off looking at the shipping news, offshore news and boating news. Possibly a few consumer tech and maritime tech websites and of course the permanent, magically replenishing pile of trade journals next to my in-tray.
Are you involved in any other projects?
I have responsibility for our online press office, where all client news releases and images are published and distributed. The online press office was started about 12 years ago and we re-built it from scratch as a tool for journalists in 2011. I also support the on-going development of our corporate website. The latest incarnation of which went live in May this year. Handling the websites at Saltwater is hard work but very satisfying when it all comes together.
Do you attend networking events? If so, which are you attending soon?
Not at the local level, as most of our business comes from companies operating in international markets. But I do get involved at trade shows around the world and members of the team attend leisure boating and superyacht industry networking events at boat shows. Personally, I’ll be at the Offshore North Seas conference and expo in Norway in August and the Shipbuilding, Machinery and Marine Technology trade show in Hamburg in September.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Two pieces of advice spring to mind. Firstly, if somebody is upset, let them finish what they have to say. Don’t interrupt a rant. They’ll run out of steam and it does wonders to diffuse the situation. Luckily, I don’t have to employ this tactic very often.
Secondly and probably more important: don’t try and blag it. Really. Don’t. Because once you’ve started, there’s no turning back. There’s nothing wrong with telling a journalist you don’t know the answer, but you know somebody who does. Then simply call your client and get what you need. It could take all of ten minutes (admittedly, sometimes longer) to answer the original question and the journalist will appreciate you all the more for your honesty, accuracy and diligence.