PR Interview with Tracey Dunn, MD of BlueSky PR
About BlueSky PR
What industry sectors does the agency specialise in?
We have two practices, one which specialises in the recruitment, HR and talent management sectors and one which focuses on the international business education arena.
What is special about the agency’s approach to PR?
We don’t just focus on generating media opportunities and coverage for its own sake; we provide well written and informed content for our clients, utilising all the channels available – traditional, online and social. What is important to us is that our client’s content or coverage is not just read, but shared, and that’s how we measure the success of our campaigns.
How do you ensure your clients get the right coverage in the press?
Tailoring the message is crucial. If we are writing a press release, we’ll probably do three, four or even five versions each with a slightly different focus for, say, national, regional, trade press, a blog, etc. Press releases really form a small part of what we do; we’re much more about pitching thought leadership and opinion pieces to key media and then ghost writing those on behalf of clients. Additionally, because we are specialists, we get a lot of journalists contacting us directly for client comments. Often they are looking for two or three different opinions and know that we can provide them.
What qualities do you look for in new recruits?
An ability to write and write well is a must have as is emotional maturity and a genuine interest in business and current affairs. Initiative, self-motivation and creativity are important as is a good understanding of existing and emerging social media platforms.
What has been the biggest challenge for the agency?
Getting the balance right between delivery and actually running the business! As owner managers (I have a co-MD), delegation has been the biggest challenge. When it’s your own business, it is often difficult to let go as you think that no one can do things as well as you. However, our team (which is now 12 strong) has happily proved us very wrong!
Can you list some of your most well-known, or respected clients?
We work with international business schools such as Darden and McGill in North America, EM Lyon and HEC in France, Indian School of Business, Melbourne Business School, Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium, Nyenrode Universiteit in The Netherlands and The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Clients within the recruitment, HR and talent management practice include: Ochre House, Antal International, Twenty Recruitment Group, The Association of Professional Staffing Companies ( APSCo), McGregor Boyall, Women in Technology, Venn Group, DMJ Recruitment, Webrecruit, Assessment and Development Consultants ( a&dC) and The Employment Agency Movement (TEAM).
Tell us about one of your clients you recently worked with. What was the company’s brief, your approach and the result?
BlueSky PR was appointed by management recruitment specialist Antal International to look at the marketing challenges generated by its global reach. Whilst the 75 individual offices were well known within their domestic markets, its overall global brand awareness amongst potential candidates and clients needed improving.
The objectives were 1) To raise awareness of the Antal brand on a global basis and 2) To keep the costs of the project down. Previous quotes from a major international PR firm had come in at £350,000 annually. We had a budget of around £35,000.
Strategy and plan
In order to keep the cost of the project down without sacrificing quality, the PR team came up with the idea of a simple quarterly survey which would monitor hiring and firing levels of managers and professionals in key markets around the world. The PR team knew this would appeal to both specialist and generalist media because employment trends are often a reliable indicator of wider economic ones.
The survey, limited to four basic questions – are you hiring now, do you plan to hire in the next three months, are you firing now, are you planning to hire in the next three months – was carried out by Antal’s own consultants. The PR team reasoned that by including the consultants in the research would not only keep costs down, but also provide a valuable business development opportunity, giving them a reason to contact potential clients.
With the research completed, the PR team turned it into a written report and then produced press releases tailored to each country. The report was used for marketing purposes and the press releases were distributed on a global basis. The PR team produced a ‘guide to dealing with the media’ so individual offices could distribute the releases to the local media without incurring large fees to use a news wire service.
Measurement and evaluation
The campaign generated hundreds of pieces of coverage in diverse media such as The Financial Times, CNN, Spain’s El Mundo, The Times of China, the Gulf’s Arabian Business, as well as TV interviews on stations such as CNBC. All this has resulted in brand recognition and credibility on a global basis.
As a direct result of the survey, Antal secured several new clients on a global basis. This included companies in the UK, Netherlands, China, Poland, India and the Middle East. During the two months following the release of the survey, the Antal website also experienced a 20% increase in unique users.
How do you balance the use of social media and traditional PR in your work?
We don’t really make a distinction – social media channels are a vital part of the PR mix and they all need to work together to get the maximum benefit. To my mind, social media is now the new normal.
What has been your most memorable work for a client?
I think that would have to be the results of a blog that we produce on behalf of Twenty Recruitment. They have a large financial services recruitment practice and we piggyback interesting recruitment and talent management issues from the sector. By writing a couple of controversial blogs on bankers’ bonuses, and then making sure that they were shared via other social media channels, we attracted the attention of Sky News researchers. This resulted in two live TV interviews for our client with Jeff Randall during peak evening viewing. By using real time Google analytics we were also able to link these appearances with huge spikes in website traffic and blog readership.
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 tend to work with all but the consumer press on a regular basis. There are a few specialist national staffers we work with, particularly on the business education side, but we also have good relationships with a large number of freelancers that write for a variety of national and international media. We also have a large number of trade media journalists with whom we work regularly. Additionally, we work with top flight business publications such as The Economist, CNBC and Forbes.
What can you offer to journalists seeking a story on one of your clients?
We have access to interesting research from international business schools and subject experts on issues such as diversity, entrepreneurship, sustainability, the economy, global hiring trends, salaries and pay, UK hiring trends, sector specific recruitment trends, talent management, etc.
How do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?
To me this is a really simple one. We have a reputation for providing them with good, well written and informed copy that that they can use, or if they want interviews, we make sure that they happen on time. We also come up with ideas that freelancers can pitch to commissioning editors and short concise pitches for thought leadership articles.
How do you think the PR/journalist dynamic will change in the future?
I think it’s already beginning to change and in some areas the lines are getting blurred. Social media channels are allowing brands to almost become the media themselves and there are a number of high profile journalists who have moved over to PR firms, but who still write guest columns for publications.
How did you get into PR?
I started out in recruitment in the mid-80s and then moved over to be the recruitment agency’s PR and marketing manager. I then decided to get some mainstream PR experience and spent a few years in the construction industry, ending up as head of comms at Balfour Beatty. A stint freelancing followed (which coincided with the birth of my two children) and then I set up BlueSky with my co-MD Adrian Barrett in 2002, which became a limited company in 2005.
What media do you seek out first thing in the morning?
The Today programme when I get up and then my FT breakfast briefing that comes directly into my inbox.
Name three guests you’d invite to a dinner party and why.
Peter Gabriel, as he is my absolute musical hero, Caitlin Moran because her columns and tweets make me laugh so much and Joanna Lumley (as Patsy from Ab Fab, of course).
Do you attend networking events? If so, which are you attending soon?
All the time – I attend a regular recruitment networking group run by UK Recruiter.
What’s the first rule of good PR?
Content is king.