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PR Interview with Dianne Canham, founder of éclat Marketing

Hi Dianne. éclat specialises in IT security  what’s the most challenging aspect of doing the PR for this sector?

The speed at which new security breaches hit both the trade and national headlines makes the task of getting insightful quotes from our clients approved and out to the key journalists, in a timely fashion, one of the toughest parts of the job. The other thing is the difficulty of getting our clients' enterprise customers to talk about what they are doing for fear of becoming a target for hackers, or providing any information that could make it easier for hackers to break into their networks.

What’s the best thing about working in IT security PR?

It’s a really fascinating sector of the technology market because cybercrime touches us all in some way.  For me, it has all the essential ingredients of a great story, which at the end of the day is the most vital element of PR; you’ve got the evil villain – the cybercriminal, the long suffering victim – the IT Director and the unwitting consumers, and the vanquishing hero – the security vendors (well, sometimes!).

Does IT security make for interesting stories? How do you ensure the press get excited about covering it?

I wrote an article recently for PR Week called 'Why IT Security is the New Rock ‘n’ Roll' which talks about why – in the wake of Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations – the coverage on IT security and the eternal debate over security versus privacy has increased coverage on this subject to an all-time high. 

It’s a bit like the latter day Cowboys and Indians, but often with massively important issues at stake. The hackers and cybercriminals are in a constant battle for supremacy against the security vendors and enterprise IT security teams defending enterprise assets and the public’s confidential data. 

Another thing that makes this sector sexy is the variety of motives behind cybercrime. It ranges from geeks making a political point by posting an embarrassing image on a public website, to government sponsored cybercriminals looking to destabilise a whole country or region by targeting key infrastructures like nuclear power stations or the national grid, or undermining the stability of financial institutions behind world economies. 

As client services director (as well as founder), you are responsible for a high level of service to clients. How do you keep your clients happy while ensuring PR objectives are realistic?

Firstly, it’s important to have clear, unambiguous objectives that are clearly understood and agreed to by both client and agency. Our ‘Payment-by-Results’ business model ensures that each quarter we sit down with our clients and work out tangible, measurable goals which are linked to our remuneration. This model is different to the traditional fixed-fee model based on hours worked that most agencies still abide by, in that it changes the dynamic between agency and client. The most common complaint from prospective clients that I still hear on a regular basis is the lack of pro-activity by agencies. This is a function of a business model that places the onus on the client to drive the relationship and identify newsworthy opportunities for coverage. The model we have adopted for the last ten years places the onus on us to meet coverage targets in order to earn our full fee, which means that the agency drives the momentum to uncover opportunities for news coverage – rather than sitting back and relying on the client to do so. 

How does éclat's ‘payment by results’ service ensure tangible results for the client? 

Clients love our business model because it means that we share the risk and reward with them – if we don’t hit our targets we don’t get paid, it’s as simple as that. We set objectives jointly with our clients each quarter. The targets can change each quarter, but essentially they have to be simple and easily measurable, typically relating to coverage targets within specific media. We first started using this model ten years ago and in essence it is very simple, but it only works if the client and agency work closely together. It relies on a partnership based on mutual trust and respect that enables the agency to understand the client’s business in order to come up with campaign ideas that resonate with the media and relate to the client’s area of expertise.

What campaign have you been working on recently? What was the brief, the approach, and the result?

We've just been working on launching a new client called Co3 ahead of the most important event in the IT security calendar – InfoSecurity Europe –which took place at Earls Court at the end of April. Like many of our security clients they are a fast growing, innovative new company entering the UK market. Launching around a key industry event makes it all the harder to get the media attention as all of the security vendors are vying for the attention of the tech journalists covering this space at this time of year. 

However, we’re confident of making a splash because they have something genuinely different to offer – they help companies to mitigate the effects of data breaches and develop incident response plans to deal with any IT Security incident, big or small, backed up by a vast body of knowledge designed to help companies navigate the myriad of variations in compliance and legislation around the globe. The result is still work in progress but we’re confident of success – we’re lucky enough to have one of the IT security world’s leading lights, Bruce Schneier, as their CTO, which is our ace in the pack!

How does the agency structure its account teams for client work?

We have a traditional team structure of account directors, managers and executives but we work on a couple of key principles: a flat hierarchy so that all members of the team are actively involved in the account, including pitching to the media – not just the most junior member, as is the case in some agencies. The second principle is of keeping and developing our account teams. We don’t want employees that are using us as a stepping stone to a London agency, instead we aim to recruit local talent and work to build them from account executive into account directors over time.

You’re also a marketing co-ordinator for Yateley Sports CIC. What PR/marketing campaigns have you worked on recently?

My son plays for the local football team and my husband kindly volunteered my services to help organise an annual music festival – the Yateley Gig on the Green – to raise money for sports for the local community. Now in its third year, the festival has raised enough money to buy land in Yateley to become the home ground for Yateley United Football club, and all the 35 teams and over 350 young players. 

Helping with the festival has been really fun and I’m responsible for the social media and PR and marketing for the festival, which last year was visited by 4,000 festival-goers and this year is on target to reach 5,000. 

With the nature of PR continuously evolving, how best can people prepare for a career in the industry?

When I’m interviewing a prospective employee I look for a couple of key things: evidence of a genuine flair for communications, both verbal and written, and an interest in the media and how it shapes our perceptions. So, someone looking to enter the PR industry should consider ways that they can demonstrate these skills – perhaps at university or to support a charity as a volunteer. It’s not just about having the requisite qualifications, but being able to point to examples of how you’ve used these skill sets in your spare time, as well as how you tackle the task of marketing and selling the ‘product’ that you alone have the power to control – yourself as a potential employee.

Is the need to develop relationships with press journalists as important now since the rise in use of content marketing and social media?

Yes, it’s even more important as the relevance of press releases diminishes daily. Being able to develop relationships with key press and understanding who to go to with what story is a vital aspect of the value-add that we bring to our clients. One of the most exciting aspects of social media today in the B2B tech sector is its power to amplify coverage that has been generated in traditional media, and drive traffic to websites, enabling greater lead and ROI measurement by clients. Social media also makes developing media campaigns around topical issues even more effective in building thought leadership, and PR agencies are the natural choice to help companies develop compelling content which can be put to multiple uses by developing a fully integrated media communications strategy. 

Dianne Canham can be found tweeting @Dianne_Canham.