PR Interview with Christine Arthur, MD of McCann Birmingham

About the agency

What industry sectors does McCann Birmingham specialise in?

We’re one of the largest agencies in the region and, indeed, outside London. We work on regional, national and international campaigns across b2b and b2c, private and public sectors, and our client base reflects the regional economy.

What is special about the agency’s approach to PR?

We specialise in telling stories, bringing to life the McCann philosophy of ‘Truth Well Told’. We set about uncovering brand ‘truths’ to create content and we then package and leverage these 'truths' to bring our stories to life across a range of traditional and digital channels, creating and shaping conversations.

We use PR strategically (to influence and persuade people to think or act in a specific way by managing reputations and building trust) and tactically (to build awareness and understanding to drive demand, thereby supporting sales). We believe that PR is a powerful and versatile tool in the marketing toolbox.

McCann is also a specialist in integrated comms and has pioneered Communications House, which provides marketing comms services all under one roof, working around a central planning function.

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

Our award-winning approach is based on sound strategy, standout creativity and best delivery. When combined, this ensures that we secure impactful press coverage in the right titles for our clients. More often than not these days, once we’ve grabbed the headlines, we then continue the conversation to truly engage with our audiences using social media.

What qualities do you look for in new recruits?

They usually hold a degree (often arts-related but any subject – engineering, technology, etc.) and have shown an interest in the industry by means of work experience (university newspaper, radio) as well as following current affairs. They would have core skills in writing, ideas/creativity, great organisation, time management, strong communication skills and a sense of humour. We also like our people to have an opinion and hold their own in a debate!

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

Accountability and measurement – we must be able to demonstrate the value we bring. Gone are the days of column inches and advertising value equivalents. We need to talk in terms of outcomes (i.e. behavioural shifts as a result of the work we do). 

Transparency – when trust in brands, in institutions, in the media and in the government is at an all time low, authenticity is the new language. Stories must be built on truths.

Advocacy – an ever-changing media landscape means that we are the media and therefore have a powerful role to play in shaping opinions. In the past, the power of PR has often been based on third party media endorsement, but today it is often the consumer who provides that powerful influence.

And finally, true creativity. In a media-savvy world where we are bombarded with messages every single minute of the day, it’s difficult to stand out from the crowd. New, clever ideas and bold thinking will always win through…but it’s becoming more and more difficult to do!

About clients

Can you list some of your most well-known, or respected clients?

We have a range of business and consumer clients including: Siemens, npower, Vauxhall, National Express, Sharpie Markers, David Wilson Homes and Topps Match Attax.

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

For Stanley Tools’ Rated by Real Pro’s campaign, the objective was to promote Stanley’s range of hand tools to professional users (tradesmen) and serious DIY-ers and to take its hand tools from iconic, to engaging, and focus on peer recommendation.

Our Rated by Real Pro’s campaign invited tradesmen to rate their tools, and we shared these recommendations online through a dedicated website and through traditional media, from nationals to trade press, key regionals to radio. Focusing on new products helped us build awareness of Stanley’s range and quality, while supporting features in core trade press positioned Stanley as the market expert. We used events to create buzz and build direct engagement and, finally, social media underpinned the entire campaign – sharing conversations, building relationships and, ultimately, advocacy.

Our campaign reached 10 million, securing a loyal following of 1,000s and online and media coverage worth over £500k. We’ve also won a clutch of awards for our work including gold for Best integrated Campaign at Fresh Awards and gold for B2B and integrated comms at the CIPR Pride Awards.

How do you balance the use of social media and traditional PR in your work?

We adopt a holistic approach to all of our work – we use planning tools to ensure that we understand our audiences and, therefore, the best way of communicating with them. Both message and medium are optimised by channel before the activity programmes even begin. In our view, it’s all about the right mix and today it is even more exciting as we have an ever-growing range of both traditional and new media channels at our finger tips.

What has been your most memorable work for a client?

Probably working with Sharpie Markers to leverage their global ambassador – none other than David Beckham. We ran a global competition to inspire creativity and in return offered the chance to win a trip to meet the man himself, complete with all the Hollywood treatment!

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?

Given our diverse client base, we are in contact with all media on a daily basis – national, regional, local, trade, consumer, television, radio and online. However, we know that if we get a piece in the nationals, then the other media will feed off it and the story would go wild…

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

We go out of our way to understand what journalists want, and when. We run a 24/7 press office service across our client base providing journalists with the full package on demand (when they want it) – a strong story, creative support (preferable these days, including some film element), product samples, a spokesperson offering clear opinion and ready made case studies (tailored to the media title) to bring our story to life…. as well as all the background information they will need – prices, stockists, web address, helplines, etc.

How do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?

By working at it! Not being based in London, I think we work harder at building relationships and go out of our way to meet them, popping in for coffee catch-ups, taking them to lunch as well as the regular dialogue over the phone, via email and, increasingly, using social media, especially twitter. As a result, we’ve built a reputation for always delivering.

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

The relationship needs to continue to be based on trust, mutual respect and delivery. That said, there will be a blurring of the lines as other influencers come into play, e.g. bloggers, prosumers and advocates.

About you

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

I listen to the Radio 4 Today programme on my way in, and then I check my daily news digest for the key headlines of the day as well as tailored alerts covering my key client markets. I also read a newspaper each morning and will check the BBC website and Sky Sports for the latest footie scores!

Are you involved in any other projects?

I’m a huge sports fan and particularly love my football, helping out with local under 11s team and am even known to run the line! I also use my comms skills to help support charities, both locally and further afield with those working in humanitarian aid.

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

Stephen Fry (for his brain – he’s got something to say about most subjects), Manchester City striker Balotelli (for the entertainment factor – you just have no idea what he’ll do!) and my 11 year old son (who asks the best questions in the whole world and is always one to get the conversation going!)

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

Yes – I attended the CIPR AGM in early April. Over the years I’ve been to countless events but these days I tend to just attend those events  that interest me or where I feel I’ll learn something or I’ll meet new and interesting people, preferably new business prospects.

What’s the first rule of good PR?


Check out our Media Jobs board for PR and Journalism vacancies Learn more