PR Interview with Chaz Brooks, co-founder and creative director of Chazbrooks Communications

About the agency

What industry sectors does Chazbrooks Communications specialise in?

We specialise in B2B technology PR across mobile, telecoms, IT, health and science and professional services (legal, property and finance) sectors and B2C technology PR across the consumer lifestyle and gadget sectors. We serve these markets across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

Chazbrooks is an Investor in People accredited company, a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and has also won the London and South East Best of Business award for Commitment to Learning. What is special about the agency’s approach to PR that has led to this recognition?

Winning the Best of Business Award for Commitment to Learning has underlined how a focus on developing people and investing in core competencies to deliver exceptional customer service through higher levels of staff motivation can distinguish a company from others. Also through membership of the CIPR we are part of a huge network of professionals with access to best practice models/tools, forums and training and up-to-date knowledge and trends in the industry. The Investor in People programme has brought us a framework for linking our training and development to meeting our business objectives which in turn are met by meeting our clients’ needs with services that are of value to them. These three recognitions have benchmarked our efforts in building a loyal and enabled workforce to deliver best practice PR and marketing solutions for businesses, and contribute to building a core of long-standing clients who are referrers of our service.

How do you ensure your clients get the right coverage in the press?

We’re constantly in conversation with our clients to fully understand their key messaging and their target markets. We spend time finding the best media outlets for press material, so that the key messaging is in front of the appropriate audience and is interesting to them. By knowing these key media outlets for our clients, we then create strong relationships with its journalists and provide as much detail as required to the journalist so that if the opportunity arises, a well-informed article is created on-message. We know that PRs often get a bad press (excuse the pun…) for annoying journalists by ignoring deadlines or trying too hard to 'sell in' their clients when it doesn’t fit – we take an honest approach and if we know it’s a stretch, we’ll say so. Rather than ‘selling in’, we’re keen to liaise with journalists so that we know their brief well, meaning we deliver to that brief wherever we can, and on time!

What has been the biggest challenge for the agency?

Possibly the biggest and most recent challenge for us was actually having to move premises with a notice period of less than three weeks when, sadly, a landlord’s gentlemen’s agreement dissolved into thin air. We rose to the challenge and we did it, but we were at the mercy of national telecoms providers whose agenda for snow disruption took precedence. Thankfully we’ve got a flexible team and everyone’s attitude was great; we all rolled up our sleeves and got on with it, which meant that we were able to minimise the business disruption. It actually turned into a surprisingly fun and motivating experience; we know that having a positive and proactive attitude is vital when it comes to unplanned emergencies. Just like with crisis management solutions, you have to be well aware of how you can turn an emergency into an opportunity.

About clients

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

Our client has been involved in a four year project with its public sector customer and we were asked to promote this work and all the technical aspects of the project to the media both in the UK and the US in order to highlight our client’s expertise to other potential customers. As part of this brief, we placed a number of opinion articles and comment pieces in key media in UK, Europe and the US and have now got the final sign-off from the customer for a case study as well, that our client will use as further sales/marketing collateral across the globe, and we’ll use in the media as a follow up to the previous opinion articles we placed. The project has gone well; not only have we secured articles in several key publications, but on the back of the right people reading these, our client has been approached to speak at an industry conference… and they have also been asked to prepare a proposal for some work – a pretty major project. Both of these were the direct result of positive PR and media coverage, and the company that asked our client to help with the project said “we’ve read so much about you guys and your work in this area, you really are the experts on this, that we need to talk to get this project off the ground."

How do you balance the use of Social Media and traditional PR in your work?

The extent to which we integrate social media into our clients’ PR campaigns depends on the nature of their business and where their audiences are. There is no point meeting and engaging with customers/end users through blogs, forums, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter and video channels if the channel’s users are not your key targets.

Social media can be very time consuming and the amount of voices out there can be overwhelming. Where it’s relevant, we help businesses by reaching out to the most influential bloggers, media and stakeholders on their behalf who are using social media, and managing social media interactions to ensure consistent and joined-up messaging across multiple channels. We use analytics tools to track the journey and measure the effect that the social media PR campaign is having on the business, ensuring that social media is adding value alongside traditional PR.

What has been your most memorable work for a client?

A couple of years ago we were hired to promote a Royal Gala dinner in London hosted by English royalty and an Oscar-winning actress for the launch of a leading foreign royal's charity. We set up a one-to-one interview with the Daily Telegraph for a feature on the royal and the inside story behind the charity. When the reporter and the photographer and I turned up at the private hotel (owned by the royal) at the appointed time, I was quietly told that the royal had changed his mind and "did not want to do the interview" plus "he is asleep and cannot be woken." That's not really the kind of excuse you can give to the Daily Telegraph, is it?  After an hour of me negotiating with the aide, His Royal Highness was woken up and decided to do the interview! Nice piece came out of it as well 🙂

With over 15 years experience in the PR industry, the company must have learnt a lot about how to stay successful. What advice would you give to recent business start-ups on their PR strategy?

The majority of small businesses are based on talented people who have great ideas about products and services to meet specific needs or wants of certain markets. It’s that personal passion which drives them to set up businesses. However, behind the passion they will need a solid business plan before they can begin to make an impact on the market, as the competition is so fierce. We’ve worked with a lot of start-ups over the years and we’ve recognised that, unfortunately, passion is rarely enough on its own – probably the reason that a lot of businesses fail. The true story of the people, their passion for making a difference and their unique marketing offering can only realistically be told once the business basics have been covered and a budget is in place. We have helped entrepreneurs with their ideas by guiding them to market, then when they’re set up, we can hit the ground running for them. Thankfully there’s a range of places people can go for help with the basics – government websites, helpful banks, and community business associations too.

About journalists

Which media outlets or journalists do you find you work with the most often?

Due to the range of PR we do, there’s a real mix of different media outlets and journalists we’re in touch with on a regular basis. Naturally we have a great relationship with a lot of our local press which is key for our local clients. We also have great contacts in the technology sector, healthcare, legal, consumer technology…the list goes on!  

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

We always make sure that journalists have access to all the information about our clients that’s required to write their story, so that we’re doing all we can to help the client secure a great piece of coverage, and to ensure the journalist can write the story to the best of their ability. We regularly put the journalist and client in direct contact, so that the journalist can find out all the information they need. We’ve been working with a lot of our clients for a number of years and, as a result, we know a lot about their business. This means that we can also educate the journalist to a good extent on the subject at hand and the client’s expertise/involvement, should it be required.

How do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?

We take pride in building a good rapport with journalists, so that we can secure great coverage for our clients and ultimately add value to their business. We are mindful of what we pitch to journalists, so that we’re not wasting their time; we have a good reputation with a lot of our clients’ key publications to deliver quality and appropriate press material and interview opportunities with professionalism and good nature, so journalists are keen to work with us and our clients again for future features.

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

It’s already changed massively over the last few years with online and social media platforms gaining more credence, which has squeezed journalists’ time. This means that there’s less opportunity for face-to-face meetings, so the relationship side of things, in physical form at least, has become less important to some extent. On the flipside though, this has meant that you tend to work with more journalists across different areas – you may not necessarily have your ‘favourite’ few anymore that you would always approach with a story. With journalists having less and less time, but more publications existing, that need space filled – the role of the PR has to be much more of a facilitator: delivering the right story, in the right time and in an easy to use/manage format for the journalist you’re pitching too. Time is of the essence!

The big game changer for me in the PR/journalist dynamic is Twitter. First, we saw email replacing the phone, but now with journalists getting bombarded with so many press releases and pitches every day, Twitter is becoming the preferred and best medium to liaise with journalists. I know a number of journalists that only really deal with pitches now via Twitter and in the last week alone I’ve had dialogue on Twitter with two national broadcast journalists that I would struggle to speak with, or get to respond to an email, yet Twitter enabled me to pitch and get a response from both.

About you

How did you get into PR?

After a marketing degree, and from a retail management background, I moved into general marketing as marketing manager for two technology companies in the early 90s, then I became marketing manager for Canon which was a fantastic experience and good grounding. Of all the marketing elements, PR appealed to me most due to the variety of the work, and that you get to meet so many different and interesting people.

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

I wake up to the "Today" programme on Radio 4. Then I look at Twitter, which I find the best source of news in one place. I follow BBC, and selected technology, legal, property and local journalists. If you control it and don't follow too many people Twitter is superb for information. You also see all the breaking news and topics which you can then react to.

Are you involved in any other projects?

Yes, a couple of years ago we represented the two private detectives who returned a Leonardo da Vinci painting, and were subsequently caught in a police sting operation and sent to trial. A long and complicated story involving greed, deception, art theft, terrorist organisations, MI5, but suffice to say our clients were acquitted of all charges. Just as well, as I found them their defence lawyers, which is not the normal remit of a PR agency is it?! Sensational PR story too! We're still working on the story and at present are negotiating with a leading screenwriter to produce a movie script for the story.

Do you attend networking events? If so, which are you attending soon?

I'm past president and director of Surrey Chamber of Commerce, so I go to a lot of Chamber networking events. I'm also going to a round table about international trade with China for a regional business magazine. And coming up soon is a networking event for innovation companies which should be very interesting.

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

When I was a retail manager appointed to run my first shop, my regional director took me to one side and said: "Treat this as your own business, spend the firm's money as if it's your own." That's exactly what we do now for our clients, so if we are suggesting spending money on design, advertising, direct mail or recommending giving away product for review or competitions, our acid test is: "If this was our business, would we do this?" If the answer is "no", we don't recommend it to our clients.

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