PR Interview with Tom McConigley, Founder of PR for Higher

About the agency

What were your reasons for founding PR for Higher? And what makes it unique?

The unique bit is easy; we offer 'pay-as-you-go PR'. It's something that we heard a lot of small and medium businesses were crying out for; the chance to get publicity without forking out thousands of pounds in retainers, with nothing to show except a few scattergun press releases. Today’s business clients and entrepreneurs are looking for a much more sophisticated product. We work on identifying and developing a clear message, then work with the client to choose the right forms of media to ensure market penetration based on our client’s target market, from traditional print, direct mail to social media. We are very focused and specific on what we are trying to achieve and can measure the return.  

Does the agency specialise in any specific industry sectors?

Yes, at the moment we are focused on working with FMCG/brands, lifestyle and celebrity and service industries. We do have plans to develop as we grow to move into three additional sectors. Within each sector that we currently work we have experience and specialist knowledge on what works. In addition, we encourage each of our clients to meet and work with each other; we believe when we collaborate together we can achieve more.

What’s been happening recently at the agency?

When I set up PR for Higher, my first two clients were Ali Campbell and Nina Duncan. Ali is a celebrity life coach and recently featured on the Katie Price show on Sky Living, which had obvious publicity benefits. Nina is a quality photographer whose pictures of the Queen in Jubilee year truly went global. As a result of having very public clients, it has raised our agency's profile and attracted similar clients and many small to medium businesses who are looking for market and brand penetration.

As a former journalist, is it easier to ensure clients get the right coverage in the press?

I'd say so. My connections in the media obviously help but, more importantly, knowing the right angle for the coverage and suiting it to that title is key. You can't just try to get your client a free plug; it has to be a win-win for the media title too.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing the PR industry today?

Same as any industry, money is tighter for everyone. That's why businesses will be far less likely to throw money at their PR or marketing budget, rather they will want to see a clear return on their investment. Many PR companies do not explain clearly what they are doing for the clients and do not deliver.

About clients

Can you list some of the clients you have worked with so far?

Sheenashona Jewellery, Ali Campbell, Nina Duncan, Blossom Clinics, award winning pizza chef Tony Macera.

Tell us about one of your clients you recently worked with. What was the client’s brief, your approach and the result?

Sheenashona Jewellery approached us three months ago. This luxury brand was founded by two sisters with extensive business experience in different industries. Shona has a no-nonsense approach to business, and has very clear goals and a high level of expectation. She keeps things concise and simple and made it clear she wanted to see a return on her investment.

After much discussion, and because they are creating a luxury jewellery brand, we felt the best way of getting media coverage was to tell the story behind the business and give the reader a little insight into the girls. This resulted in securing large features within a matter of weeks in the business section of a broadsheet and the lifestyle magazine section of a tabloid. 

All this had major benefits for their social media, direct mail, search engine optimisation and pay-for-click campaigns. And most importantly, they made sales on the back of the coverage. They have now also developed their first pop-up shop in the Corinthian Club Glasgow and are currently working on securing prime retail space, along with extending their business model into a few other avenues. As the business develops, so does their story and we have the privilege of being deeply involved in multiple discussions at a strategic level.

What advice would you give to recent business start-ups on their PR strategy?

Develop a relationship with a few key journalists, rather than have a scattergun approach. This way you can ensure your message goes out there the way you want it. It might not be as comprehensive, but it will be a case of quality over quantity.

Is there a potential client you’d love to work for?

I'm a huge football fan so anything connected with that sport would be great.

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?

We focus on regional and national newspaper coverage, but it's important to keep an open mind and offer your client a bespoke service rather than get them to fit in with who you know in the media. This takes a bit more work but if the results are good then the client will keep coming back, and even recommend us. We have received a lot of business through referrals.

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

We've recently given journalists samples of jewellery to take home, free liposuction treatments and a weekend at a top five star hotel. They do very well!

Now you’re on the other side of the PR/journalist fence, how do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?

Just by remembering exactly what I went through in the media. No random cold calling about products irrelevant to their title. An often overlooked gesture is simply thanking them after the coverage appears!

In your experience, do you think the relationship between journalists and PRs is always harmonious, or is it more of a love-hate affair?

I can't see any reason why it shouldn't be harmonious in the areas we work, but I guess those who work in the political sphere, for example, may differ. 

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

I think it's already changed and there is far more commercial awareness now amongst journalists. They have to make sure that what they are writing brings value to their title, and the internet means that quantitative analysis is sharper than ever before.

About you

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

Literally every single national newspaper title, although all on my iPad.

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

I'd love to hear how Max Clifford built up his business, and I also think Alistair Campbell would have a lot of interesting views on PR! For entertainment value, I'm torn between Paul McCartney or Peter Kay; I'll go for Peter as we're both from Bolton.

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

New York would certainly be a challenging place to work.

What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?

I have to admit I'm a complete disciple of the marketing guru Seth Godin, so anything which he says in his daily blogs. The best one I can remember right now is, “instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don't need to escape from." 

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