Sharing the stories of best-kept secrets

By Katie Mallinson, founder and MD of Scriba PR.

While the world of PR has, hopefully, shaken all connotations of an ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ approach to media relations, some outsiders still view our industry of communicators through tinted glasses.

And none more so than niche B2B firms who believe themselves to be their sector’s ‘best kept secret’. But how can we make sure that public relations doesn’t remain something of a ‘dark art’?

I’ve always believed in providing results-driven communication strategies for organisations that, unfortunately, believed their stories were ‘too complex’ to tell. Often, people told me they were their industry’s ‘best kept secret’ – and I made it my mission to change that.

Fast-forward to now, and a quick glance at the Scriba PR roster shows clients from the world of waste, recycling, construction, engineering, demolition and technology. And it’s fair to say that we’re becoming the ‘go-to’ place for those briefs which some agencies might shy away from.

This isn’t a criticism of course. When teenagers head to university to study PR, it’s perhaps natural they dream of developing campaigns which end up taking a company ‘viral’.

Of course, we still get that buzz when our clients feature on BBC Breakfast or Sky News, or sit inside the pages of the Guardian, FT and Forbes, who wouldn’t? But every piece of coverage we secure has to be underpinned by the long-term objective of the client – be it positioning themselves for a future sale or moving into the next phase of growth.

The more complex, the better

As is the case with any agency brief, as communicators, you have to learn the lingo, understand the challenges and opportunities that clients face, and deduce which channels will open most doors. It just so happens that we actively look for the ‘weird and wonderful’ unsung heroes of industry.

As a team, we genuinely get a kick from helping the so-called ‘underdogs’. That’s not because they’re small or unsuccessful, quite the opposite – our client UNTHA distributes shredding technology on almost every continent – but because they are often a market-leader who some people have never heard of or others feel are ‘out of reach’ because their technologies are so leading-edge.

It’s incredibly humbling to work alongside organisations which have a purpose, drive the economy and protect our environment. Take waste-to-energy as an example, isn’t it interesting to know how it’s possible to turn household rubbish into a clean and sustainable energy source?

These future technologies, products and services will remain important for years to come, and just because their story is highly complex and budgets often small, it doesn’t make them any less worthy of their moment in the spotlight.

It’s not without its challenges though…

That doesn’t mean we’re all experts in every sector – and we have to prove ourselves with each new brief. From the moment we start speaking to a client, there is a real cultural and educational challenge for our team.

We can often come up against a great deal of resistance from staff – particularly engineers – who presume there isn’t any chance we could ever understand the business, their world or language. The fact that we’re used to this doesn’t make it any easier, but it’s undoubtedly what drives us to ‘do a good job’.

We make it our mission to build rapport, get under the skin of the organisation and ultimately speak about their work as eloquently as they would. So much so, that I can confidently say I could probably sell an industrial shredder or cloud technology solution now!

One of the most rewarding things when working in such complex sectors is being able to draft a 1,000-word feature for a technical publication one moment, and then distill all that information to respond to a national media brief, in simple language, the next.

Part of the challenge for our own clients is not selling the product or service, but educating third parties to understand that they have a problem which needs solving to begin with. Therefore, the ability to create debate or draft thought-provoking comms is something which we find genuinely exciting – however geeky that might sound.

Why it’s important to keep talking

In the midst of the Coronavirus crisis, plenty of financial directors looked to slash costs, and agencies were often the first to go – Scriba wasn’t immune to that. Yet, while we know the importance of keeping the lines of communication open in uncertain times, those which hold the purse strings need that evidence.

The very nature of PR means it’s often difficult to attribute ROI to the work we do, regardless of the client or sector. But planting the seed in terms of an idea, problem or solution, is the first step towards the end-goal.

During lockdown, we encouraged one of our USA-based clients to invest in a virtual trade show for the very first time. By creating their digital presentation and supporting comms we helped them to pick up 800 leads – no mean feat in the middle of a pandemic.

Given the nature of their business, the post-event email nurture sequence generated a 38.5% open rate, eight downloads of the presentation and two project opportunities. That might sound like a small conversion rate – but it equates to £4million in potential sales, and an almost unquantifiable  amount of brand awareness in their niche world.

As professionals, we know now more than ever, is the time to communicate, with colleagues, peers, partners and customers. Silence in times like these is when morale drops and anxieties rise, customer confidence wavers, demand may fall, and market presence could plummet.

Now’s not the time to pretend we’re experts in everything, but rather adapt comms accordingly. If we’re to move forwards, it’s the role of all communicators to consider what a new way of working will likely entail, how customers and employees need to be brought on the journey, and how a leader must operate by example to continue navigating uncertain times, instill confidence and keep company culture at a premium.

It’s true that businesses will be remembered for how they behaved during 2020, and as a company owner, I would hope we stand on the right side of the line.

Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

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