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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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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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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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