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City Road Comms turns 5!

We’re delighted to have celebrated our fifth birthday this week.

It’s been a chance to reflect on the growth and evolution of City Road Comms since November 2017. After all, one in five businesses in the UK do not survive their first year, with 60% failing within three years – so, reaching the ripe old age of five felt worthy of raising a toast.

And that’s exactly what we did. The Ivy City Garden played host to an evening soiree this past week, with clients, staff and partners – of both past and present – coming together to mark the milestone.

Our thanks go to all our clients for the support they have shown over the years. As an agency, we pride ourselves on delivering incredible media coverage for clients. But just as important is the way we go about our work. Honesty, transparency and accountability are core values for CRC and undoubtedly set us apart. 

Indeed, the combination of our results and our methods helps us to form successful, long-term relationships with clients. In fact, we have worked with 80% of our current clients for longer than 12 months – a little over half have been with us since 2020 or earlier. 

It’s sure-fire sign that we’re doing something right. 

For Dominic Pollard, our director of communications, it all comes down to the team. 

“All of our success over the past five years comes down to the incredible work of the people within the agency,” Dominic said. “The hard graft they put in, not to mention their intelligence, amazing writing skills, professionalism, and nose for a good story: these are the things that ensure a brilliant service and excellent results.”

He added: “We also enjoy the unique benefits of being part of the Media Ventures International family. Precious few PR and comms agencies work under the same roof as journalists and editors – it opens up exciting opportunities, as well as giving us the chance the speak openly with the very people we’re pitching stories to on behalf of clients.”

With the Champagne corks swept up and the birthday cake going stale, the back-slapping has drawn to a close; it’s back down to work. We’re ending the year in a strong position and look forward to what 2023 – not to mention the next five years – brings for CRC, our clients and our team.

Marco Callegari

Co-founder

About the author

Committed to elevating brands and advertisers to engage with their audience through data led strategy, Marco specialises in evolving the media landscape with a focus on emerging trends and challenging the status quo. Putting value at the forefront, from business to the people - Marco can often be found organising the team drinks.

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Welcome to The Forest of City Road Communications

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.”

You don’t have to look far to find eye-catching headlines regarding the fast-approaching climate catastrophe. In fact, with the COP27 climate summit currently taking place in Egypt (6-18 November), you’d have to go out of your way to avoid them.

The quote above, from António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, came as part of a speech to world leaders, imploring them to do more, financially and legislatively, to tackle climate change. But it’s not just governments that must take note – it’s only through a concerted, united effort that meaningful progress can be achieved. Governments, scientists, businesses, charities, consumers – each group has a significant role to play.

To that end, we are delighted to introduce The Forest of City Road Communications.

What’s that?

Working with Tree-Nation, a global tree-planting organisation that was launched in 2006, we are creating our own forest. This is not a one-off donation but rather an ongoing ESG initiative that we have implemented to take action against climate change.

To date, Tree-Nation has helped plant more than 24 million trees worldwide. It develops reforestation and conservation projects to restore forests, create jobs, support local communities and protect biodiversity – organisations and individuals can throw their weight behind this work, financing the projects, offsetting their carbon emissions and contributing to a more sustainable future. We are proud to have joined this mission. 

To get things started, and to mark City Road Comms’ fifth birthday, we’ve planted 500 ceriops tagal trees as part of the Madagascar Reforestation Project. These trees will offset 20,000 kilograms of carbon in their lifetime.

Further to this, as of November 2022, we will be adding to The Forest of City Road Communications regularly: each month we will plant one tree for every member of our team and for every client we are working with each calendar month.

In the months and years to come, we look forward to growing our forest and supporting reforestation projects globally. 

Share your thoughts

We are not sharing this news to pat ourselves on the back. We do so to share ideas as to what we can do – however little or large – to tackle the issues that confront us, as people and businesses, on a daily basis. 

There is no room for complacency – sustainability initiatives and ESG policies are not merely a box to tick. At City Road Comms, we will strive to do more, and we will continue to update you on the action we take.

If you have any ideas of great causes, projects, initiatives or charities to support, please do share them with us. 

Dominic Pollard

Director of Communications

About the author

With a history degree, journalism Master’s, and several years’ experience writing about business and technology for both the national and trade press, Dominic moved into the world of content marketing and comms in 2014. He joined City Road Comms in 2016, becoming the agency’s director of comms two years later. Dominic now oversees clients’ strategies and the overall operations of the agency.

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Meet the City Road Comms team: Sian Bradshaw

Sian Bradshaw joined City Road Comms (CRC) back in February 2020. She had recently completed a BA in English at the University of Cambridge, and had been working as a project assistant within the Bolton NHS Trust. From her first interview, it became clear that Sian had in abundance the intelligence, creativity and passion to succeed in the comms industry. 

That said, it was hardly the smoothest transition into life with the agency – nor into the world of PR and comms. Just a month after relocating to London and joining CRC, the UK entered its first Covid lockdown.

Nevertheless, despite the challenges the pandemic presented, Sian’s progression within CRC has been speedy; a testament to her exceptional work ethic and professionalism, and the quality of the results she has delivered for her clients. Within two years, Sian had risen from communications executive to account manager, with a short stint as an account executive along the way. 

Today, Sian leads on several major fintech accounts, developing a deep understanding of trends like Banking-as-a-Service, embedded finance and dynamic lending, not to mention the movements of financial markets. Now based back in her home city of Liverpool, Sian visits our London office most months. 

Keep reading to find out more about Sian, and her views on CRC and what it’s like working in PR and comms. 

What attracted you to work in PR and comms?

There are a few aspects of the PR and communications that drew me in. On a very basic level, I love to talk. Whether it’s about a major political event or something mundane that’s captured the media’s attention, keeping up with current affairs and having conversations with different people about everything that’s going on in the world is one of my favourite things about the job. 

My educational background is in English literature, so working in PR means that I’m able combine this with my passion for storytelling, which definitely helps when you’re looking for reactive commentary opportunities first thing on a Monday morning.

What do you enjoy about working at CRC?

The best thing about working at City Road Comms is the team. We’re a small, but lively team of people and we’ve grown significantly over the past year. Everybody is lovely and incredibly hard-working – you can always rely on somebody to pitch in to support on a busy campaign or offer their perspective on a press release you’ve been mulling over for a while.

What one piece of advice would you give to a startup founder wanting to do their own PR?

Whenever you’re thinking of going public with an announcement, it’s important to cut the jargon and think about the “why” behind your press releases. 

When you’re putting all your time and energy into getting a new business or product off the ground, it can be tempting to launch straight into technical lingo and lose sight of the bigger picture. However, journalists will give you more credit for explaining your proposition and how it is tackling a pertinent problem in simple, compelling terms. The founders that can explain the broader appeal of their product and how it impacts their customers without being too technical are able to foster better relationships with the media when building their brand.

What’s the worst thing about working in PR?

Because of the fast-paced nature of the job, sometimes a journalist at a big publication will reach out with an opportunity that is perfect on the surface, but the timings might not quite line up with a spokesperson’s availability or expertise, or they might want you to disclose facts and figures that you’re not legally able to share yet. In these situations, it’s nobody’s fault, but it can be disappointing!

What website do you visit the most?

It’s difficult to pin down just one, but if I had to, I would say I read The Times the most to make sure I have the fullest and most accurate picture of what’s happening in the world. That said, I write a lot about financial services and fintech, so I often look to the likes Sifted and the Financial Times to make sure I’m up to date on the latest trends.

What is the last book you read or listened to?

‘Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism’ by Amanda Montell. It’s a pop linguistics book about the sorts-of-cults people join every day and the linguistic tactics that brands use to reel us in and create a sense of community. It has an interesting mix of criticism, anecdotes, interviews and research; it really made me think about how deliberately brands like Peloton use language to gain a cult-like following, and the buzzwords we hear when politicians speak.

What is your coffee order?

Nice and easy – normally a flat white!

Sian Bradshaw

Account Manager

About the author

Sian joined CRC back in 2020 after reading English at the University of Cambridge, with varied experience in student journalism, project management and youth engagement. Since then, she has worked with a variety of the agency’s clients in the tech, business and finance sectors, and now works as an account manager, where she crafts innovative, targeted communications strategies for her accounts.

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PR for a startup: Two tips for achieving success

Between January and June 2022, more than 402,000 new businesses were registered in the UK. That equates to around 80 every hour, or one every 45 seconds.

Evidently, neither the pandemic nor the ensuing cost-of-living crisis have managed to dampen the country’s entrepreneurial spirit. In fact, the challenges spawned from both tumultuous events have, in turn, created opportunities for entrepreneurs, with innovative new solutions launched to help consumers and businesses through the crises. 

This is to be celebrated. What it does mean, however, is that fledgling businesses find themselves in a crowded startup space. That is not only problematic from a commercial perspective, but also for brand-building. 

When establishing an early-stage business – whether trying to secure customers, employees, investors or social media followers – the strength of the brand is of utmost importance. This extends far beyond a sharp logo, name and website; it is about having the right ‘digital footprint’. In other words, what would a person find if they searched for your company – what content have you created, what articles are you featured in and what overall impression are they left with.

Here, PR (particularly media relations) is king. After all, public relations is fundamentally about building and maintaining a favourable image of your brand. So, for a startup hoping to stand out from the crowd, achieving PR success is essential.

But how to do it. Well, here are two key pieces of advice.

  1. 1. Focus on ‘why’

‘Build it and they will come’, as was the tagline of the 1989 Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams. It is an apt concept when it comes to startup PR – there is a common assumption that if one builds an amazing product, then the media coverage will naturally follow.

It is rarely true. For the most part, journalists do not want to provide free advertising to a startup by providing an in-depth review of their business and how it works. Far more important is why your business exists.

As yourself: what pertinent issues are you tackling? How are you making people’s lives easier? Why does a particular market or sector need to be disrupted – what damage is being caused by the traditional ways of doing things?

Journalists will focus on the topics that matter to them and their audience, whether that’s climate change or mental health, business management or diversity and inclusivity, personal finances or investment trends. And as a startup, you must talk about the issues people can relate to – for instance, a new fintech brand would be better served discussing the challenges of the cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation on consumers’ finances than they would the UI and UX of their product. 

When devising a holistic PR strategy that addresses the aforementioned questions, it is advisable to use both quantitative and qualitative insights. That is to say, it’s better to have insightful facts and figures – ideally ones gathered by the startups itself rather than widely available. Doing so will bolster communications significantly, turning what could be dismissed as rhetoric into solid context for the business and its offering

With 80 startups formed every hour, the ones which talk about the issues that matter will have their voices heard, not the ones that talk only about themselves. 

  1. 2. Avoid a stop-start approach

One of the most common mistakes startups make when it comes to PR is that they only focus on it in short-burst. Specifically, the only think about PR at key times for the business: product launches and funding rounds are prime examples. 

This is understandable. Startups’ resources are limited and they may be managing their media relations and PR internally on a more ad hoc basis. But as much as possible it is advisable to view PR as an ongoing part of the business’ growth strategy.

Journalists must recognise that the business – or its leadership team – is available for comment or interview whenever they may require it. They must understand which topics, issues and trends your brand is keen to talk about.

Journalists do not only want to hear from a business when it is flogging its own news. 

Furthermore, when press coverage goes live, the business must be ready to capitalise on this exposure by engaging with more journalists. This enables a startup’s name to become known and for a solid pipeline of press coverage to be developed.

Flipping the switch on and off not only makes it harder to get positive responses from journalists in those small windows of time, but this approach will also mean that a startup only ever secures short bursts of coverage. This is ineffective. You want your brand to appearing in front of a desired audience on a regular basis, building awareness and trust over time. So, whether your startup is looking to attract the attention of consumers, employees, investors or other businesses, consistent and on-going PR is a far more effective and powerful path to success.

Knowing what makes for a killer PR strategy is not easy. Nor is cutting through the noise and grabbing the attention of journalists. But by focusing on the bigger issues at play, and ensuring your startup is constantly considering its PR, media relations and brand-building activities, you will stand a far better chance of emerging out of the crowded startup space ahead of your competitors. 

If you need help managing your PR and communications, creating great content, or getting amazing media coverage, get in touch.

Dominic Pollard

Director of Communications

About the author

With a history degree, journalism Master’s, and several years’ experience writing about business and technology for both the national and trade press, Dominic moved into the world of content marketing and comms in 2014. He joined City Road Comms in 2016, becoming the agency’s director of comms two years later. Dominic now oversees clients’ strategies and the overall operations of the agency.

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How to choose the right PR agency

You have probably heard some horror stories about PR agencies in the past – many businesses and entrepreneurs have, sadly, had poor experiences when working with a PR firm.

Common complaints are failure to place press releases as promised; weeks of inaction; not picking up on key stories in the media; poorly written content; messaging that is ‘off-brand’; and an inability to get a strong handle on the company, its service proposition and the sector it works in.

Importantly, these experiences should not deter businesses from working with a PR agency. They simply reaffirm the importance of choosing the right one

But how do you do that?

There are many important factors to consider. Here are six to mull over…

  1. 1. Cost

Naturally, the agency’s fees will likely be the most immediate concern. And there will be huge swings in the amount agencies charge, from hundreds per month to thousands or tens of thousands. 

Going for the cheapest option can be a false economy – opt for a small retainer within a larger agency and it’ll likely mean you fall down the pecking order of their client list, as well as only receiving the attention of more junior members of staff.

Obtaining multiple quotes from different providers will give a sense of what’s on offer.

  1. 2. Deliverables

When comparing quotes, you will likely be comparing apples and pears. That’s to say, it’s not just the prices that will vary notably, it will also be how the retainers or projects are assembled.

Are you paying for a guaranteed number of articles or pieces of content? Or is about a number of campaigns executed over a period of time?

Whichever way it is done, it is absolutely vital that businesses get crystal clear deliverables from an agency. They must know what they will get for their money.

Transparency and accountability are key watchwords for us here at City Road Comms. Our retainers are built on a list of clear deliverables – the campaigns we will run, the content we will create within them and the research we will commission. Yes, we offer a figure in terms of the anticipated media coverage that will be secured based on past case studies, but PR seldom offers an guarantees, so we find it far more effective to plan and execute our work based on an agreed timeline of activities, then setting out to achieve the very best results within that framework. 

  1. 3. Strategic approach

PR agencies differ significantly in how they approach their work. Some specialise in outlandish stunts and events; others on video content and viral social media campaigns.

At City Road Comms, we focus on using independently commissioned quantitative research and expertly-crafted content to deliver razor sharp insights into pertinent issues and trends. Using that, we develop brands and their leadership teams as expert commentators on the subjects that matter most to the audience they want to reach.

Not every approach will be right for every business or brand. So, it is important to pick an agency whose approach tallies with how you want to be perceived. 

  1. 4. Industry expertise

Choosing an agency with a proven track-record in your particular field is important. It means the agency will not only understand the subject matter, but also have the contacts with relevant journalists. Combined, this ought to mean they have a sharp perception of what will and will not work when developing PR campaigns.

Ask to see case studies of relevant clients in a similar industry or market to yours, or at least businesses that are at the same point in their journey and seeking similar outcomes from their PR.

Head over to our case studies page for a sense of our own case studies – we specialist in finance, property and tech PR, but also have worked with many exciting clients in tangential industries. 

  1. 5. Size

Small and large agencies will each have their own strengths and weaknesses. The former may be a little more dynamic, cost-effective and eager to prove their worth; the latter may have a wider range of services under one roof and a higher proportion of senior figures. 

More often than not, though, it makes sense for a business to work with an agency of a similar size. This should ensure better alignment between their ways of working and overall expectations

  1. 6. Culture fit

Linked to size is culture. It is clichéd, but businesses need to find a culture fit when working with external partners. 

From the way their work is planned, how they report on it, how they present and communicate themselves, and the speed with which they go about things, businesses should seek out an agency that broadly thinks and acts like they do. No tow companies are the same, so an exact mirroring is not possible – but there should be a clear connection in the core culture of both organisations.

It is also worth considering values. ESG, CSR, diversity and inclusivity – do you and an agency share similar values when it comes to socio-political issues? If yes, the chances of forging a fruitful, long-term partnership are improved.

Lots to consider

There is undoubtedly a lot to consider. Businesses must take the time and carry out the necessary due diligence to find an agency that matches their requirements, vision, culture and budget.

And agencies must equally invest a great deal of time and effort into this process (businesses should expect to see this). Agencies must research any prospective client thoroughly and show they understand who they are, what they do and where they sit within their field. Multiple meetings can then help refine pitches and proposals, allowing the PR agency to prove their credentials.

With buy-in and professionalism from both sides, businesses and PR agencies can forge hugely successful partnerships. But there must remain acknowledge for each that sometimes the fit is not right – it’s best to be honest and focus efforts on the opportunities that can truly go somewhere. 

Dominic Pollard

Director of Communications

About the author

With a history degree, journalism Master’s, and several years’ experience writing about business and technology for both the national and trade press, Dominic moved into the world of content marketing and comms in 2014. He joined City Road Comms in 2016, becoming the agency’s director of comms two years later. Dominic now oversees clients’ strategies and the overall operations of the agency.

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