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Chloe Shepherd
December 7, 2018

Digital PR Digest: Our highlights from CommsCon18

Recently we joined hundreds of PR pros at Hawker House in Canada Water for CommsCon18 – a day filled with inspiring speeches, diverse panel events and insightful debates on all things PR. Here's our take on the key lessons...

Whenever we can, we like to make some time to venture out of the office and see what’s going on out there. So a couple of us headed to Cision CommsCon 18 to see what the PR world at large had to say about the state of the industry, the key trends for the coming year and the lessons learned from recent campaigns. We came away with a few new lessons and were also pleased to see that many of our peers share our views on where digital PR is today and where it’ll be headed in 2019. Here are our three highlights.

1. Great storytelling is a multi-campaign game

This was a panel discussion in which each brand focused on one of their campaigns that they liked and that had been particularly successful. It was interesting to see the synergy in the campaigns that were effective despite the brands being quite different.

Virgin Holidays showcased a campaign it began last year. LBGTQ rights are a priority for the company, so it shone a light on how members of the LGBTQ community are often discriminated against when they are on holiday.

To begin with, the brand took a long view and came up with a three-year plan to commit to the issue. After carrying out consumer research, the Virgin Holidays team found that one in three LGBTQ couples is discriminated against on holiday. They also asked couples to describe some examples of the issues they faced on holiday. They then created a video of a straight couple on holiday being faced with the same comments LGBTQ couples regularly hear in the same situation. This video ended up being the brand’s most watched ever.

Virgin now greatly rely on social media, as they have begun to find it more cost effective with a better reach – which means they no longer send out press releases to avoid being lost in the noise of a journalist’s inbox.

Key takeaway: Authenticity and values are essential; have a clear outcome in mind for each campaign, but be clear on how campaigns fit together to tell a consistent story about your brand.

2. Persistence alone won’t cut it

The eye-catchingly titled What do journalists wants? session was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most interesting of the day for us. It’s always good to get a journalist’s perspective on how things should be done – after all, knowing exactly what makes any given journo tick is the PR holy grail.

When asked what PRs get wrong, there was a consensus among the panel of journalists that hassling them was probably mistake number 1. Most of the panel said they either don’t answer their landline, or have even disconnected it due to incessant PR calls (though some said that they do give their mobile number to certain PRs who they trust). The upshot: email is crucial, and the top tip was take care to make emails relevant, personal, concise and interesting to make sure you get noticed. One panel member said she tends to look out for names she knows, people she’s built relationships with and eye-catching headlines when trawling through her inbox.

It is, however, increasingly difficult to get noticed via email – the Daily Mirror’s consumer features and environment editor, Nada Farhoud: “Today, I looked at my inbox and I’ve got 92,000 unread emails. If I read all the emails, I wouldn’t be able to do my day job.” You’re up against it, so put in the effort to make sure you hit the mark with a compelling story and subject line. And view relationships with journalists as a long-term investment – take the time to get to know them.

Key takeaway: Try not to pester journalists with phone calls. If they like your story, the headline will catch their eye and they’ll tell you. Offer to take them for a coffee and chat about how you can help them, especially if you work within a certain sector.

3. Your content needs substance

We enjoyed an engaging talk from LADbible’s Head of Comms, Peter Heneghan, on How to avoid ‘zombified’ content in the viral landscape. Despite the brand’s name and unsurprisingly laddy beginnings, the outlet now positions itself as a one of the biggest news media companies in the world.

And, helpfully, Peter also gave us his insider view of what makes a good PR campaign, highlighting some of the brand’s recent work. This year LADbible created a campaign titled the British Trash Isles with the Plastic Oceans Foundation they aimed to raise awareness among young people about the plastic pollution issue in the world’s seas.

The brand’s content is typically inherently social-driven, and the team devised a video to promote this campaign, which  gained over 37 million views. Peter emphasised that ‘a simple article or press release wouldn’t have worked – pushing it on social had a bigger effect’, which is an essential takeaway for PR industry as a whole.

Key takeaway: The days of the one-off press release are dead. Think images, videos, and social-friendly headlines, and build a strategy that will play out one to six months, or even a year.

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