I have to say, I’ve never been very good at getting to grips with the PR side of business. If like me, you want to start getting serious about it then this interview, from my Fashion Insiders series, is for you.
It was a real eye-opener to catch up with Maddi Tiscoe, a PR Account Director, who has been shortlisted as a 30 under 30 young business star and is a finalist for the CIPR Pride Young Communicator Award.
I found out that not only is PR very different to the AB Fab world that many imagine it to be (ahem, definitely not what I thought it was like, no) but that it’s very much about telling stories that create a persona for your brand.
If you really want to start to understand how to promote yourself, fashion brand or otherwise, then read this post as she gave me her top PR tips and told me about the biggest mistakes she see’s brands making time and time again. I learnt a lot from this interview and Maddi’s favourite quote from the economist Theodore Levitt will stay with me as my guiding principle in PR forever more!
Maddi has already had a lot of success in her career so it was great speaking to her about her life as well as her work. She told me about what’s great about living in Cornwall and how throwing herself into a hobby has helped to keep her focussed and relaxed.
Hi Maddi, thank you for taking the time to talk to me today.
You’re a PR Account Director for Wild West Communications (sister company to Wild Card in London). When did you know you wanted to get into PR?
My career started after finishing my English literature degree at University of Leeds. I was interested in journalism and acting. What I loved most about my degree, was analysing the story and the period the writing related to - what it showcased about people, personalities, traits; what the author’s point was and the creative license used to make a point heard.
I’ve always been interested in people. I did a hands on two-week internship at a London agency - learnt a lot! That was when the penny dropped for me, realising that PR surrounded me, every day. It was storytelling in the current world, connecting a brand to consumers. Following my internship, I then took part in the company’s graduate scheme, as an account executive. At the time, I remember trying to explain what PR was to my grandma. ‘But your name isn’t next to the article?’ she said. I remember thinking, ‘But the story wouldn’t exist without me.’ I learnt that a good PR story is often when no one can tell ‘PR’ is behind it.
What skills do you feel are key to what you do?
I do think you have to be a people person. You have to be fascinated by people. Working out what makes people tick is at the core of a PR career. Having creative flair is helpful, as well as being able to think laterally. A high level of skill in copywriting is expected at my agency – you have to be able to communicate well. More specifically to me, as an account director - I have to drive the development of strategic, creative, effective campaigns that deliver client delight within budget. I spearhead new business initiatives, support the growth of the business internally and have to showcase a breadth of knowledge across client businesses and wider industries. It helps to be diplomatic and clear thinking. I’ve grown into an effective delegator and negotiator; I have to manage client satisfaction, ensure programmes meet agreed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) by keeping my team on track by setting clear targets. I also have to maintain relationships with senior influencers and journalists, generating coverage in return. I really enjoy coaching, mentoring and motivating my team.
Is there anything that has inspired or guided you in getting you to where you are today?
The American economist Theodore Levitt once said, “People don’t want to buy quarter-inch drill bits. They want quarter-inch holes so they can hang up pictures of their children.” I remind myself of this, to remain true to the storytelling of a brand – how does this brand or product make people’s lives easier, happier, better…? You’ve got to find out what it is that your audience really cares about.
More personally, I’m often quite hard on myself. Someone once told me, ‘we don’t achieve greatness without failure’, and this has really helped me turn some experiences into positives throughout my career so far.
What kind of satisfaction do you get from your role? For instance, how does it feel when something you’ve worked on is featured in publications you admire or when you work with a client?
It is the best feeling of satisfaction when you see your idea in tangible print. An idea that you helped create, becomes something permanent. And when you hear that it has helped drive sales or bookings for your client, it’s amazing. I still have those first few pieces of coverage I landed eight years ago. Now that I’m in a more senior position, I get a real buzz out of client satisfaction and out of securing new business too.
Storytelling can help transform a brand’s identity and presence. Its purpose is to create trust from both consumers and other representatives in the industry. To be integral to a brand’s transformation is a real privilege.
You’ve had lots of success in your role; you’ve recently been Shortlisted as one of the 30 under 30 young business stars in Cornwall 2017 and you’re a Finalist for the CIPR Pride Young Communicator Award. What advice would you give someone wanting to do what you do?
Thank you. To do PR, you don’t necessarily have to have a PR degree. At Wild West, we have a team from diverse backgrounds (from social housing to journalism). It will help if you are diligent, have good attention to detail, good writing skills, creativity; if you’re able to multitask, have tenacity (getting on the phone to journalists), if you like people (a lot of this job is about managing people and expectations, especially the more senior you get); it helps to have patience and you have to be a team player…
It’s a dynamic, pressurised and creative environment - you’re always learning. We are always looking to hear from people, for internships to permanent roles.
What are your top 3 PR tips for brands?
Focus on perfecting your product before reaching out to the press. Gain feedback from a trusted pool of people to help you improve your product or service. The last thing you want is to have negative customer reviews early on, as this can be hard to rise back up from. A good quality offering is more likely to get more traction in the press anyway, once word is out.
Photography, photography, photography. More and more articles are becoming heavily image led, so good images are important. It’s best to have a professional do it for you. It can be the make or break of a story. The picture can be the story.
Timing. Some ‘long lead’ monthly publications write three to five months in advance, whilst online lifestyle press can publish something within the hour. You need to be able to keep an eye out on news agenda items to appropriately piggyback off of.
What are the most common PR mistakes you see?
Pitches need to be compelling and creative. Of course you might think everything your business does is the best, but not everyone will agree. Pitches need to be personal, as the media are bombarded with hundreds of emails every day. Keep it short and sweet, and make sure your subject line is attention grabbing.
Research who you are contacting – it’s not about cold calling. They are more likely to engage with you if you are speaking to the right person! No one wants to think they are being told something that has been sent to hundreds of other people. What angle can you offer to a publication exclusively?
You have to be able to grab attention in a paragraph or less. If you can’t, then it isn’t a story. If they are interested, they’ll let you know. This goes for press releases too – the less work the journalist has to do to transform it into a story, the more likely they are to feature it.
If a brand only does one thing to increase their profile what should it be?
It’s helpful to think of your brand as a human persona. Trust will be built if the brand personality is interesting and genuine. Help people see the full picture of your business. Don’t shy away from encouraging customers to tell their own stories about how your business benefited them. Your audience will then connect emotionally with who you are through compelling stories, helping to set the tone for your company.
What does a typical day look like for a PR Account Director?
To simplify the structure of a PR team: as a director, I am the strategist and the account managers and executives on my team are the effective ‘doers’. I’ve worked my way up from account executive level. I find that having that knowledge helps to get the strategy right.
A day in the life can have many guises, from being out at a photoshoot to selling in a research story to the national news desks before 9.30am. Typically, I watch BBC breakfast before leaving the house (its interviews with key opinion formers are fascinating) and listen to Radio 2 on my drive to work; the team sits together and we read out key stories from the newspapers by 9.30am, flagging key articles of interest to clients; respond to urgent client emails, hold internal ‘work in progress’ meetings, have a media meeting with a blogger or journalist to discuss editorial opportunities and press trips, hold client calls or client meetings at the office, publish a blog post I’ve written for the Wild West website, go to a networking event in the early evening to keep in the know with local business movements.
My role is to ensure everything is running on schedule, that the client is happy, that my team are happy. I’m a line manager for two colleagues. I also have set targets for bringing in new business to the company and leads can be generated from networking and recommendations from current clients.
PR sounds really glamorous...
Ah ha! Well, there are quite a few PR myths, and here are some top ones… *image of Ab Fab’s Patsy springs to mind*
1. Any coverage is good coverage
2. PR is ALL about press releases and press conferences
3. PR is just ‘stunts and slebs’
4. Good products don’t need publicity
5. Journalists are waiting to be ‘schmoozed’
6. Media will write what you want them to write!
7. It’s all about spin, slogans & propaganda
8. Tell the PR and they’ll tell the media. Simple.
Wining and dining most certainly isn’t enough! Flattery only gets you so far. You have to know your stuff. PRs should pride themselves on knowing the media’s language and how to translate a story for journalists, in a bespoke manner. And it isn’t easy.
What PR really is…
1. Central to a company & brand communications strategy
2. Multi-platformed and fully integrated
3. Reputation building & management
4. A vehicle to reach a defined target audience
5. Underpins sales strategy & prompts action
6. Educates, inspires and entertains
7. Delivers measurable results & KPIs
8. Promotes advocacy to drive brand desire
How has social media affected PR?
Technically, social media is an ‘owned media channel’. Driving reach and engagement is key to amplifying content to wider audiences. Working with brand partners and advocates is valuable in driving attention to those owned channels. Paid for elements are coming into play a lot more – the media is adapting to consumers’ changing habits. According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), more than half (52%) of PR professionals now spend most of their time working on influencer relations. And the public have the right to know when an endorsement is authentic and when it is paid-for content. In CIPR President Jason MacKenzie’s words, ethical conduct has never been more critical to PR. It can’t be misleading.
When selecting influencers to work with, it’s imperative to select those that naturally match the brand’s target audience. Their endorsements have to make sense. You can’t be telling them exactly what to say. It needs to be their voice – as that's what their readers are interested in.
How do you see PR changing in the next few years?
The importance of integrity has never been higher. The threat of ‘fake news’ has made journalists and editors challenge their reporters, setting more parameters in place to ensure news is accurate. Actually, the recent rise in reports of fake news has actually elevated trust in traditional media, PR Week recently reported.
The power of video is only going to grow. Having a visual showcase attracts attention – but it still needs to go hand in hand with written content, with a content strategy behind it.
From May 2018, the new GDPR law for data protection comes into effect, introducing new requirements for how organisations process personal data. It will be a duty for PRs to consult clients on these changes.
You’re based in beautiful Cornwall. What’s unique about the brands you work with in that part of the UK?
The Cornish heartland is aspirational. It offers a rich escape and I feel very lucky to live here. It’s said that a ‘food revolution’ has taken place in Cornwall over the past 12 years, putting the county firmly on the map. It’s an exciting time to work with brands that are at the centre of this. To me, Cornwall is an empowering space with real soul. I’ve been drawn to this county because of its natural rewards, from surfing to the coastal walks and café culture – the beach life. There’s so much to see and discover. This culture, attitude and mind-set appeals to many brands.
However, I’m also aware that the county has some of the UK’s biggest social challenges, and I applaud the likes of businesses such as Crowdfunder who actively offer to help fund organisations aiming to drive change in this area.
Do you feel a lot of pressure? If so then what do you do to unwind?
It is a demanding job and I can feel pressure. But, as I frequently remind myself to get perspective, it is PR not ER! It’s a career in which you never stop learning and it is fast paced. I’ve got better at keeping a work life balance by throwing myself into a hobby. It makes me make my time work hard because I have to leave by a certain time to make it to training. I recommend reading this article featuring Alex Soojung-Kim Pang who is the author of the book, ‘Rest: Why you get more done when you work less.’ He talks about how seriously engaging hobbies are good for you; how ‘deep play’ and serious leisure can keep you focused and relaxed.
I’m a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu purple belt at North Shore Jiu Jitsu in Newquay. Jiu Jitsu is a grappling martial art that uses leverage and positional control with submissions to submit opponents (no striking) and on average I train three to four times a week. It’s mental as much as physical, you learn how to deal with anxiety and overcome adversity. If you can perform when your opponent is trying to ‘rip you limb from limb’, well, then you can work with challenging clients and control your nerves when PR pitching! I’ve trained for almost five years now. It’s not a fad – it takes around 10 years to get to black belt. It takes drive, motivation and perseverance, and it is empowering. I find that It helps me relax my brain by doing something completely different. And you have to leave your ego at the door!
What are your goals in both life and work?
My intention is always to be the best I can be. To be one person, at work and at home. I want to strive to reach a more senior level, to work with a range of lifestyle brands and especially those that want to tap into the Cornish way of life that I have grown to love and understand.
Becoming a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu is definitely on the list! I want to go surfing with my girls more often. To feel more comfortable in the sea. I have such a respect for it. I always want to make the most of what’s on my doorstep with my family.