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Five great achievements in five years of City Road Comms

A fifth birthday party typically conjures thoughts of hyperactive children, jelly and clowns.

City Road Comms’ recent fifth birthday celebrations, thankfully, had none of those things… well, some may say there were a few clowns in the room, but not in the truest sense of the word.

It was a lovely evening: a chance to spend time with clients – some of whom we’ve worked with for a couple of years without ever meeting in person (thanks, Covid) – in a more relaxed setting. And a chance to bring together all our team, including a few former employees who played important roles in our journey to date.

The event was also a rare opportunity to reflect on everything CRC has achieved since November 2017. After all, how often in businesses do we take a step back and celebrate our own successes?

The nature of being a smaller agency dictates that day-to-day life tends to be busy. Planning, pitching, writing, monitoring, reporting, liaising with clients; you are driven by a to-do list of what needs to be achieved for each client, and ensuring the results consistently meet, if not exceed, expectations.

But from time-to-time, it’s important to put aside busyness and bashfulness. So, having been a director of the agency since day one, I thought I’d share the five things that I am most proud of from CRC’s first five years…

1. Long-term client relationships

During the early months of City Road Comms, as the agency was finding its feet, we had just two retained clients on the books. Fast forward five years, those two clients are still with us.

But it’s not just those two clients that have stuck with us. We enjoy very little churn; the vast majority of businesses we work with remain with CRC for the long haul.

In fact, we’ve 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 a clear indication that we deliver value for clients, not to mention the quality of the relationships we have built with those businesses and the people within them.

2. The bigger picture

Over the years, as the agency grew in numbers and our client-base became more stable, we have managed to gain perspective on the bigger picture.

There is an ever-greater focus on purpose within business, often through the lens of ESG and CSR policies. And at CRC, we have taken action in the past three years to ensure we’re influencing positive change.

For one, we have done away with the traditional PR agency model of sending gifts to clients at Christmas – we swapped luxury hampers for charitable donations. Namely, each year since 2020 we have back the Crisis at Christmas campaign, offering homeless people food and shelter over the festive period. We will do the same again this year.

More recently still, we created The Forest of City Road Communications – a carbon offsetting tree-planting initiative that you can read more about here.

In 2023, we have plans to do much more when it comes to supporting charitable and ESG initiatives.

3. Consistency

One of the most common grievances I hear from founders and CEOs about their past experiences of working with PR agencies is the sheer inconsistency of the work, not to mention the results. Often this manifests itself in short bursts of media coverage, which the agency then dines off for weeks or months.

At CRC, we take pride in delivering great results week after week after week. For me, this is the true sign of quality; not being great once or twice, but doing it with unerring regularity.

How? Well, our campaigns are meticulously planned and mapped out in quarterly calendars, providing clients with a clear overview of all our deliverables in advance of each month – it is transparent and ensures complete accountability.

With the plans in place, there’s nowhere to hide from our expecting clients. They know what we are meant to deliver. So, we push ourselves to deliver great content and excellent media coverage every week. In my opinion, this consistency – compared to the complacency of some competitors – is one of our great strengths. Again, it underlines why clients stay with CRC for years.

4. People and culture

My favourite part of working with CRC is the people. Over the years we have assembled a wonderful team of people. Many join the agency as one of their first jobs in the world of PR and comms, and seeing their development is very rewarding.

Irrevocably linked to our people is our culture. It is something staff regularly highlight as the most appealing element of life at CRC.

The culture has evolved organically – we do not have slogans on the wall, we don’t do a lot in terms of team-building initiatives. Instead, we embrace open, honest communication between the team, combined with an ethos where everyone mucks in on the work that needs to be done. Doing away with strict, lineated hierarchies accelerates people’s development, giving them exposure to a greater range of tasks and responsibilities. Plus, I believe, it creates an environment where people have greater flexibility and can express themselves more freely.

5. Mentorship and founder support

Back in 2019, when the agency was just a couple of years old, we began working with London & Partners as a strategic partner on their Business Growth Programme (BGP). What that basically means is that for every cohort of start-ups that join the BGP, we provide a two-hour workshop to explain the value of PR for early-stage businesses, along with advice of how to do it well.

Three years on, we are still performing this role. A rough calculation would say that in this time we have run workshops with some 300 start-up founders and leaders. Often, after the session, CRC will provide further assistance to them, gratis, to help them during the formative stages of their business journey.

It’s really satisfying to meet with founders during those early months and years of their start-up stories. It has heightened our understanding of the challenges smaller businesses face when executing successful PR strategies and, in turn, how we can cater our offering to the start-up community.


It has been an interesting, challenging and extremely rewarding journey to date. I’m excited to see how City Road Comms grows and develops over the next five years.

Want to know more about how CRC could help your organisation? 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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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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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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Why work with a PR agency?

For any startup or scaleup, choosing the right service providers can have a strong bearing on the success or failure of their venture. Whether it’s tech, HR, finance or PR, selecting an external company to play a key role in your day-to-day business operations is a decision that takes time and consideration.

For instance, did you know that more than two fifths (42%) of UK business outsource some or all of their marketing? Of those, 36% listed PR as the element of their marketing and communications activities that they entrust to a third party. 

This raises some important questions.  

Why work with a PR agency over doing it yourself?

Choosing to work with a PR agency makes sense in many instances. For one, early-stage companies often lack the resources and skills internally to fully commit to a successful, long-term PR strategy. 

Do they have great copywriters, or people who know how to craft a press release that will get read? Do they have any existing contacts with the media, or know how to find them? Do they understand how to tailor content depending on whether it’s going to press, on their blog or onto social media? And if the answer to all those things is yes, there is still the issue of whether there is enough time for those people within your team to commit to doing them regularly.

More often than not, the answer to many of those key questions is “no”. Hence, many businesses turn to outside support. 

By going with an agency, they gain access to vital skills, experience, contacts and tools – such as media monitoring software, journalist databases, reporting platforms, and more. They will gain a team that – assuming they choose wisely (more on that here) – will be aligned with their own goals and ways of working, and will help build their brand proactively and in the right way. 

PR is an exercise in building and maintaining a positive image of your business. It requires a clear vision on how you want your brand to be seen – what are the values you stand for, what is your tone of voice, and what do you want to be seen championing across the media?

Finding the right partners who can shape and then achieve this vision will be crucial to the long-term commercial success of a business. After all, PR is the all-important opening to the sales funnel; it is typically how startups and scaleups can get their names in front of the most people, and it is how they build up the reputation of trust in their brand over time.

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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The value of reactive, responsive PR… and how to do it

There are many ways to get your business in the press, some more effective than others.

Yes, I know, that’s some razor-sharp insight, honed by many years working in PR. But keep reading — there are lessons here for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

At one end of the spectrum sits the mass distribution of an adjective-laden press release shouting about how great your business is. This is the bad end of the spectrum — it’s an approach that will, in my experience, be met with silence, indifference or a polite response of “piss off”.

At the other end sits the more effective PR: a business offering genuine opinion, advice or insight regarding pertinent topics or breaking news stories.

Why is it effective?

For two main reasons.

Firstly, those topics or events are already going to be written about by journalists, so you have the opportunity to align your business with the existing news agenda.

Put another way, it makes ‘the pitch’ a lot easier. You do not have to convince a journalist that you have a newsworthy story — the story is already there, you are just reacting to it.

Secondly, those topics or stories are actually of interest to the readers, hence journalists are writing about them. So, as a business you are discussing subjects that will resonate with a particular audience, be it consumers or businesspeople, rather than simply talking about yourself.

How to plan reactive PR

The easiest way to be successful through a reactive, responsive PR strategy is to plan as much as you can in advance, even if that sounds contradictory. Some may say “PR must be proactive, not reactive”… nonsense, it has to be both.

There is a huge number of events, announcements, anniversaries and awareness days that we know are going to dominate the news agenda well before they actually take place. Take some obvious examples in March:

  • 3 March, the Chancellor’s Spring Budget
  • 8 March, International Women’s Day
  • 23 March, one-year anniversary of the UK’s first Covid lockdown

There are more niche ones, too. Did you know, the 15 to 22 March is Compost Week UK? Slap bang in the middle of it, today in fact (19 March), is National Poultry Day. Two big hitters competing for column inches.

The point being that with a little research, using free online calendars or more sophisticated media planning tools, businesses can create a week-by-week diary of key events that will be of relevance to their customers. That’s step one; then comes the harder part.

Getting in the media

So, you know a major event is around the corner and that it is something your customers will be thinking about, talking about, reading about. But what can you do as a business to use that as a platform to get your name — or that of your CEO, for instance — in the media?

There are several options. You could conduct research into a specific topic relating to the event, using an anniversary or announcement as a news hook so journalists are more likely to write about your research. Could you, perhaps, conduct a survey delving into major issues brought about by the pandemic, using the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown as a timely moment to share the findings with the media?

Alternatively, in the build-up to or aftermath of the event, you could pitch to relevant publications — national newspapers, trade magazines and websites, local press — offering a guest article (op-ed) delving further into its importance or consequences.

For example, following the Spring Budget at the start of March, we had a client (a mortgage lender) featured in Bloomberg discussing the implications of the Chancellor’s decision to extend the stamp duty holiday and freeze various tax rates.

Another option: on the specific day of an event or announcement, or if there is a breaking news story, your business could share a quote reacting to the latest developments. This need only be a few sentences long — journalists are often hungry for business leaders’ reactions, particularly if they offer a clear-cut opinion on whether it is good or bad news.

Again, take the Spring Budget: on the day of the Chancellor’s announcement, we had three clients featured in the Daily Mail (along with many industry trade publications), while another had quotes included in articles from The TimesDaily Express and The Sun.

The trick was for us to work with the clients to create quotes the day before, given much of Rishi Sunak’s speech was known in advance, and then get those quotes to journalists likely to be covering the Budget as the announcement began. The speed and punchiness of the comments were the critical factors.

Build your brand and your journalist relationships

There are many ways to use the existing media agenda — and specific events you can plan around — to get your business in the press. The important thing is to engage with what journalists are actually writing about (or going to be writing about); offering useful opinion and insight around those topics is more likely to be of value than a generic press release about yourself.

Getting your brand in the media commenting on the day’s news might not be an overt promotion of your business — it will not be a direct sales pitch for your product or service. But it’s a great strategy for getting your name seen, developing a reputation as a respected voice within a particular market, and building strong relationships with journalists who will be responsive to your emails in the future.

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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COVID-19: Why PR and comms are more important than ever

The world as we knew it no longer exists. How long will it be before something resembling normality returns? Will the way we work and live ever go back to what we had before? It would seem that not even leading virologists and politicians can answer these questions.

For businesses, the challenges that have ensued from the COVID-19 pandemic are too many to list. Supply chains have been disrupted, market demand is fluctuating massively from sector to sector, and products and services have to be pivoted.

Pete Flint, a managing partner at NFX, a seed-stage venture firm based in San Francisco, wrote the below in an article about how to overcome the current situation:

I’ve found there are three distinct but equally critical elements of how you manage a crisis:

1. The first is managing losses. This will be the most difficult and painful thing you do as a CEO because it involves people, but it’s often not so much about the what as it is the how. Your empathy and speed are key here.

2. The second is gaining ground. These are the ways you will reorient your focus, your tactics, and your team so you come out ahead after a crisis.

3. The third is managing psychology. It is crucial you keep yourself, your team, and those around you healthy, sane and productive.

The first of those points comes down to making difficult but empathetic decisions as a business leader. When it comes to the second and third points, though, the value of a coherent PR and communications strategy is huge.

In fact, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, it is more important than ever to ensure a business has a carefully calculated PR and comms strategy in place.

PR and comms during crisis

First and foremost, timely and well-managed communications are at the heart of successfully managing any crisis. That is, of course, why there is a specialist field dedicated to it: crisis comms.

However, when the going is smooth, some businesses take their communications with external and internal stakeholders for granted. Many of these are quickly learning the danger of doing so.

Business leaders must find ways to effectively relay information to current or prospective customers; they must not just inform them of their own actions at this challenging time, but also provide insight into how their market is responding (you should want to be seen as an expert, after all, so people should look to you for expertise); they must try to answer people’s questions and reassure them.

At the same time, internal staff, the supply chain, business partners and investors — should your business have them or work with them — must also be kept abreast of how you are handling the situation. A business must show all these different audiences that it is taking swift, positive, decisive action.

Silence breeds suspicion in the current climate. A fatal error is to pretend it’s “business as normal” when everyone can clearly see that it isn’t. It causes staff, customers and partners to fear the worst and question your approach.

Blogs, social media platforms, newsletters, email marketing, webinars — these are just a few of the ways that businesses can communicate with relevant audiences about what is happening and why they should stick with them. Better yet, reports and infographics can provide genuine insight into what is happening right now.

Content is king, or so the cliché goes. And right now, well written content and thorough communications can go a long, long way to steadying the ship.

Businesses must have a clear handle on:

  • What is the message, or messages, they want to promote at this time
  • How will they carefully construct that message so it has the desired effect
  • And where will they distribute that message to ensure it is actually seen

Thriving not surviving

Steadying the ship is only half of the battle, though. Crisis comms will be vital for virtually every business if they want to survive the coronavirus lockdown, but many businesses will also need to find ways to pivot and break new ground while their competitors falter. Indeed, there are some businesses who will emerge from the other side of this pandemic with a far greater market share and larger customer-base than before it.

The global financial crisis 12 or so years ago offers a good example. While many businesses suffered, some seized on new opportunities. Many have written about the bigger firms — the likes of Netflix and Groupon — which grew at pace, but many SMEs also thrived by being responsive. It kickstarted the alternative finance and fintech revolutions, for example.

At City Road Comms we have already seen many of our clients pivot. They have used their products, services, infrastructure or networks to create a business model that better fits with the current social and economic landscape.

For those that are shifting their focus, targeting new customers or delivering a different product, they need potential customers, clients and investors to hear about it. And this is where PR comes in.

Due to self-isolation and social distancing, people around the world are consuming more media than ever. They are inside more. They are watching and reading more news. They are seeking ways to stay informed or be distracted. And already we are seeing a slight fatigue in the media from coronavirus content — journalists have been telling us that they are on the hunt for interesting (and ideally ‘feel-good’) stories to write about, rather than the contents of the Government’s daily briefings.

Be bullish

Now is the perfect time for businesses to take a bullish approach to PR. Creating the right narrative and sharing it with the right journalists will enable a business to raise its profile, boost its reputation, get in front of potential customers, and shout about what it is doing.

There are undoubtedly ways of adapting products or services to better serve consumers and businesses in the current climate. The business leaders best able to spot these opportunities have the best chances of not just surviving but thriving. But all that work risks being done in vain should they not find ways to communicate their message through their own channels and with the wider world.

That is why both crisis comms and PR are more important than ever. They could be the different between life and death for a business.

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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PR and Brexit: How not to manage external communications

Last month, in an interview with ITV, former Prime Minister David Cameron admitted his decision to call for an EU referendum still haunts him. And given the sheer, unadulterated chaos that has ensued since the vote in June 2016, such regret is easy to understand; after all, the decision not only cost Cameron his job (even though he had said he would remain in power regardless of the outcome), but it’s also turned UK politics on its head.

To put some of the political mayhem into perspective, here are a couple of interesting stats. The first: since Theresa May was elected with a minority government in 2017, more than 70 MPs have changed party affiliation — including becoming independent or joining a new party. This is the same number as in the entire preceding two decades.

The second: between 1979 and 2017, only once did three ministers resign in the same 24-hour period (Humphrey Atkins, Lord Carrington, and Richard Luce, over the Falkland conflict). Between June 2018 and July 2019, it happened four times.

David Cameron, like the rest of the country, could not have predicted the torrent of shocks and surprises that would be thrown up by Brexit. It has seldom strayed from the front pages over the past three-and-a-half years; yet despite the volume of media coverage it has received, the UK public has often been left scratching its proverbial head wondering exactly what is happening.

Putting aside one’s personal views on Brexit (as much as is possible), it is hard to dispute that the whole event has been something of a PR disaster. Heads have metaphorically rolled, political parties have been divided into countless factions, and many reputations have been tarnished, some beyond repair.

At City Road Comms, we have been pondering over what PR lessons, then, can be learnt from the Brexit saga? And more specifically, based on what we’ve seen from the government’s communications strategy over the past three years (or lack thereof), what can businesses learn what it comes to maintaining support and trust during times of intense scrutiny?

Be clear, honest and transparent

If one thing has become apparent in the government’s handling of Brexit, it is the need for honesty and transparency when delivering external communications. This becomes all the more important when dealing with complicated or potentially unpopular matters.

In fact, this is a golden rule for virtually any effective PR and comms strategy. Audiences will not sit open-mouthed and swallow whatever lines you give them. Whether it is a newspaper quote, radio interview or press release, organisations must state their points clearly, but also offer information or opinions that are genuine and honest.

A failure to be truthful about events that are taking place, or relying too heavily on rhetoric and hyperbole, is an easy way for organisations to alienate an audience.

This is a point many people would relate to, with much of the frustration regarding Brexit stemming from a lack of understanding about what is happening. And in truth, even if there is bad news — or no news at all — the most effective option is often for organisations to be honest and say just that.

The same is true in any form of crisis communications; experience teaches us that people will be far more forgiving and, thereby, a brand’s reputation can be protected if an organisation is proactive in communicating the latest developments. What’s more, it must ensure when it does so that it is clear, honest and transparent in the message it delivers.

Avoid jargon

The goal of almost any PR and communications strategy is to effectively bridge the gap between an organisation and a particular audience (typically its customers). To achieve this, the language used within external comms must be as accessible as possible.

When it comes to Brexit, the government — and Westminster more generally — has failed. Most MPs have frequently used jargon within their political speeches, TV interviews and newspaper columns.

Backstop, no deal, transition period, WTO rules, divorce bill, withdrawal agreement — these new terms have entered our everyday lexicon since the EU referendum. So much so, in fact, that the BBC and many other media outlets have their very own “Brexit jargon buster” on their websites to help readers.

However, while admittedly hard to avoid, this jargon can hurt an organisation’s chances of winning trust and support from an audience. And again, this comes back to clarity in communications. If a person or group cannot easily understand what a person is saying and why they are saying it then it becomes difficult for them to offer their support.

Organisations and their spokespeople must try, as best they can, to remove themselves from the bubble in which they operate and ensure certain terms are either avoided or clarified.

Create a united front

Regardless of there being too little honesty and too much jargon, the most obvious flaw in the government’s Brexit communications strategy has been its inability to create a united front. Indeed, this has proved almost impossible due to the lack of consensus within the Conservative Party — let alone the House of Commons — regarding the desired Brexit outcome.

Nonetheless, there is a clear lesson to be learnt here: when there is a lack of a uniform “party line”, the scope for negative news is greatly increased.

From charity to startup, multinational business to government department, it is vital an organisation’s spokespeople are seen to be championing the same values. Not only will this ensure a particular message is clearly conveyed to an audience, but it also prevents contradictory statements appearing in the media — something that is certain to damage the reputation of a brand or company.

Even when people’s opinions or perspectives vary, a party line can still be achieved by making sure there is a core set of points — ideals, if you will — that unite the people within an organisation.

The government’s failure to create anything like a united front has fuelled the media’s portrayal of Brexit chaos. While such divisive events may not ever impact other businesses to the same degree, the need for a strong brand identity that is supported through a proactive, consistent PR strategy remains hugely important.

Considered, coherent PR strategies

It is all too easy to criticise the government’s handling of Brexit as an armchair pundit. It’s also unfair to take cheap shots at bestiality-related stories involving a former PM.

Ultimately, uniting a country divided (almost) down the middle while also negotiating a deal with Brussels and getting a majority of MPs to agree to it is perhaps the hardest task any Prime Minister has been faced with in recent times. Nevertheless, there is no question that businesses can learn some valuable lessons about PR and communications from the way political leaders have struggled with Brexit.

Businesses can be thankful that they will never face such scrutiny as Cameron, May and Johnson have. Yet the challenges involved in connecting with particular audiences, building trust and handling potentially negative news are ones that many leaders will face.

To overcome such challenges, businesses require a well-considered, coherent PR strategy. Moreover, as has hopefully been stressed here, clarity and uniformity in both the language and messaging they use are absolutely essential. Adopting such an approach will maximise the chances of a business’ communications being effective, in turn ensuring its overarching PR strategy is successful.

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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The Ship of Theseus and PR: How can startups maintain a strong brand as they evolve?

Greek philosophy and public relations: two subjects that rarely inform the same discussion. But here we go (please bear with me).

In his biographical works Plutarch’s Lives, the eponymous Greek historian and writer questions our understanding of ‘identity’. He uses the example of The Ship of Theseus — a legendary king and war hero who purportedly founded the city of Athens.

According to the allegory, having returned from its nautical adventures, Theseus’ mythical ship sits in a harbour as a memorial to the king’s military achievements. However, over the course of a hundred years its rotting planks are replaced one by one. Plutarch asks, therefore, whether or not we should still consider the vessel to be the ship of Theseus if all its original parts have been replaced?

In different guises, this question has debated for the best part of two thousand years. Seldom, though, when talking about PR.

Yet there is relevance between the two, particularly for startups. Specifically, as businesses age, pivot and evolve into different entities, PR can play an important role in enabling a startup’s brand — its identity, if you will — to weather those changes and stand the test of time.

The evolution of a business

It’s almost inevitable that many elements of a startup will evolve over time. We see it persistently with the startups we work with at City Road Comms, even over the course of just two or three months.

For example, the personnel typically change dramatically over the course of several years — even co-founders fall-out and part ways. Business models and specialisms constantly adapt to market demands, and in some instances the company’s revenue streams end up being entirely different from those originally sought after.

And so we return to Theseus’ ship… albeit in a modern, commercial context.
When, several years into its journey, a startup looks back at its inception, it will often see that many of its component parts have changed from those when it was founded. What remains, more often than not, is the core premise of the business and the problem it’s attempting to solve — the actual service or product may be different, and the staff delivering it may not have been there from day one, but what’s left are the core values or propositions underpinning the business.

As with the proverbial Greek ship, conceptually the entity remains largely the same, even if its physical makeup has changed. Which brings us back to the matter of public relations and, in particular, how an effective PR strategy can help to develop and maintain a startup’s brand identity while things around it change.

PR and brand building

Public relations is often over-simplified as media relations — as a means of getting an organisation and its spokespeople into the press. In reality, while this is invariably a key element of a PR strategy, the aim ought to be far bigger.

As the art of maintaining an organisation’s public image, PR is essentially a brand-building exercise. It’s about creating an identity and presenting it to an audience — either in a B2B or B2C environment — so people are able to better understand who you are, what you do and the qualities you offer.

When done successfully, PR focuses on the conceptual or the ideological more than the specific practicalities of a business; this is particularly true for startups, which will struggle to get much airtime if they are only seen to be talking about their “brand new product”.

Indeed, one of the most common mistakes we see startups make in their PR strategies (before we begin working with them, of course) is to focus solely on selling themselves — to shamelessly shout about their supposed outstanding and unique qualities. Journalists often do not wish to promote such material, while readers will glean little value from it. Rather, effective PR is built around addressing pertinent issues that an audience can relate to and, ideally, offering insight into how people can overcome them.

Startup PR is, therefore, usually a matter of relating what the business does to the challenges of its potential clients. In doing so, the young company can build its brand around a core set of values; it will demonstrate the specialist knowledge of the business and develop trust within a marketplace.

Business identity and longevity

Effective brand building, which goes far beyond a logo and a name, is hugely important to the longevity of a startup.

As companies grow their parts change. For startups that wish to remain in the public eye — even if that is within niche B2B circles — the brand must be strong enough to withstand the constant process of evolution.

A business’ identity is not — or should not be — a CEO, nor the product, office or colour scheme on its website. It’s the brand.

And developing a strong, consistent brand requires a PR strategy that focuses on more than the component parts; one that is not preoccupied just with the here and now or a sales message but is instead centred on the core values of the business. In turn, this ought to ensure a startup’s client-facing image and the coverage it receives in the media is consistent and relevant, even if each of its planks (rotten or not) is replaced one by one.

This article is based on a piece that was originally written for Consultancy.uk.

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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