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Learn more about the misconceptions and what is going to be the future of public relations in our very first podcast episode with Oliver Ellerton, Founder and Director of Ellerton & Co.
Through the years, PR has taken a lot of faces depending on what medium of communication was most effective at a given point, with digitalization playing a huge role along the way.
With information technology increasingly made available and consumer-friendly for the public, more companies and individuals have begun to take PR into their own hands.
Will this phenomenon signify the end of public relations professionals or is it just the beginning of an evolution in the public relations industry? Let’s hear what Oliver Ellerton, Founder and Director of Singapore-based PR Agency, Ellerton & Co. has to say in the very first episode of Arcc Insights.
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Cleve: It’s really good to have you here. Today you’ll be joining us to enlighten all of us specifically about the status and the future of public relations so, It should be really good to hear more about your insights about the future of public relations as a PR professional. Probably you might want to start off by sharing with us your background and career experience?
Oliver: Sure. My name is Oliver. I’m the founder and director of Ellerton and Co. Public Relations. We are a PR agency based in Singapore but remit and throughout South-East Asia with partners in Australia, The US, Hong Kong, and China. Our team is based here at 75 High Street by Arcc Spaces and we do a range of work, primarily PR, a lot of media engagement, and strategy for our clients around the region. We also do digital marketing such as Facebook and Google advertising. We also have a great designer and we do a lot of design work so this can range from just your static ads or your print ads to social media animations. So, we do cover a range of different services as well.
Cleve: Sounds like you have a wide range of talent. That’s really good to hear! Probably you might also want to let us know about how PR works by today’s standards compared to the past? Maybe we’ll talk about the future later and also let us know about why do you love the PR industry so much? Is it more exciting now or challenging than before?
Oliver: Well, I’ll first start by looking at what clients usually want and need. This hasn’t really changed over time. They still want to be able to get the word out about their brand, products, and services to as wide a range of target markets as possible. But, the means by which this is done has obviously changed.
Essentially, PR is about storytelling. It’s about telling the story of that brand in a way that connects with their potential customers and future customers. So, in essence, that’s what we do. We tell stories. The way we get those stories out and to who does vary and change. Obviously, as most people know 10 – 20 years ago you had your print publications, newspapers and everyone on the MRT would have a newspaper. About radio and tv today, we still have that but lesser. It’s kind of replaced by digital means such as your mobile phone, podcasts, by many streaming services providing a much wider range of platforms to reach consumers and that’s where the target markets kind of consume their news today.
So, our job is to see how we can insert our clients in and amongst this mix, and the way we tell their story is very important as well. There is a difference between advertising and public relations. In advertising, you can be a lot more promotional. You can be a lot more direct but of course, it’s different as it’s a paid service. With PR, it’s about persuading both the gatekeepers and the media to run our story to interview our clients but also through the media persuading consumers (B2C or B2B) to engage with our clients.
It’s a tough industry to be in. We have to be on top of the latest trends. Like I said, we have designers, animators, and digital marketers. They’re just as important as the PR guys that we have.
Cleve: It certainly sounds more complex than way before and I think there’s a similarity between advertising and PR which is at the end of the day to portray a good image of the subject right?
Cleve: Where and how does your love for the PR industry come about?
Oliver: I think for me it’s more about the interaction with people. The great thing about a PR agency is we have many different clients from across a spectrum of industries and sectors. We have fintech clients, architecture firms, technology firms, and blockchain firms, etc. It’s this range of clients that we work with on a day-to-day basis that keeps us on our toes and keeps things interesting.
I have worked in-house before, meaning I have been recruited as a PR lead for a single company and It’s fine. But, for me when you’re with one brand, one product, or one service 24 hours a day for years, it does get a bit kind of boring. What I like about an agency is just that complete mix and just forging relationships with clients and some other really interesting brands that we work with from the beginning. One of our clients is now one of the largest technology companies in the world, kind of worth over 35 billion. We started working with those guys about four or five years ago when they were just a small startup with a team of 20 at the time. Now, they must have hundreds of employees around the world. Their technology is in the automation space and it’s revolutionizing the way that we work.
That’s just one example. You know, there are many other clients that we work with doing great stuff so you know that’s a really really good thing as well, to see and to work with such clients on a daily basis.
Cleve: That’s really good to hear. I assume you are keeping in contact with the company?
Oliver: They’re still our client.. Yea.
Cleve: Awesome! All right, so let’s start to talk about the future now. I think It’s not just me but everyone else has already noticed about social media and the internet these days and I think it has really allowed people to be their own news channel. How much has this impacted the industry?
Oliver: Obviously, social media is super important and it does allow our clients or anyone to kind of tell their own story. However, there are limitations.
Social media companies need to make money so for brands who want to reach a wider pool of people, payment is required. But having said that, content is also king. Great content will cut through and that’s very important as well. Consumers themselves you know, we’re not stupid and what i mean by that is we can tell a kind of self-promotional piece on linkedin for example and i think third-party media is still very important. It still does have that perception of impartiality. A kind of quality control if you read an interview with someone in a newspaper, there is a recognition or a perception that you know this this is a credible company or service simply because of the interview format, and it’s gone through a journalist. Whether that’s true or not, that’s another question.
So, I do think yeah.. Of course, social media has changed things but I do think that traditional media is still important. There’s still a credibility and trust factor there.
Cleve: Right. I’m sure there’s still an audience who prefer to look at traditional media?
Oliver: Right, and of course I’m sure you and I have read articles through social media. It’s a conduit as well.
Cleve: Also, just to add on to that. There’s also like an increasing amount of tools for people to use for their own PR such as Cision PR Newswire or even Telum. So, how good are these freemium tools or paid tools compared to the experience of engaging a PR agency?
Oliver: Yeah.. I mean there’s no such thing as a free lunch. You can’t just pay a newswire service and expect good quality coverage. They’re very different tools. With an agency, depending on the news and depending on what story you have to tell, you’ll get good quality coverage, interviews, and more in-depth interviews.
A newswire service will just post your press release. It’s often syndicated with a lot of different publications so you may appear in one of the pages on some of these online publications. Whether that is valuable to you or not really depends. Obviously, they’re a lot cheaper and they’ll take any news. The key really is what news do you have to tell. Is it just a self-promotional “we won this award” type of news? Well.. No good media is going to pick that up unless you’re winning the Emmys or the Oscars. A piece of news talking about a business award is not going to be picked up. That’s not newsworthy isn’t it?
Maybe if you put it through a newswire, at least you’ll have something online to show your stakeholders whoever they may be. But, if you have a major funding round, if the story you’re telling is market-moving and newsworthy then i’d highly recommend engaging a PR agency or pushing it out through by contacting the media yourself because that could be of interest to journalists and editors. So, they’re two separate things.
Cleve: Right. I also assume for someone who wants to do PR themselves they have to be really educated about what they want to do right? Otherwise, they might just land themselves on the wrong channel and not get the right exposure. At the end of the day, such things are not going to be effective anymore right?
Oliver: Right. Almost any agency will have multiple clients from multiple industries. A good PR consultant will understand the media, have a broad range of media they can kind of tap into, and every day we’ll be exposed to different journalists and different opportunities so that’s why I’m a big fan of agencies. Not just our agency but in general, because the technical quality of that consultant will just be higher in my opinion, and this is coming from someone who has worked in-house and in a growth agency.
Cleve: Right. Ok. Adding on to education which I was talking about earlier regarding crisis management. I think a lot of people are not educated in this area of PR and I think even I myself… I’m not a PR person but when I think of crisis management, it sort of scares me and makes me nervous. I think this is where PR agencies can really shine because everyone can simply enjoy the glorified days and then just be happy about it. But, when there’s a crisis or something that could affect the reputation and if they do not know what to do, I guess the PR agencies could really help here, and how is crisis management gonna be trickier as well these days?
Oliver: Yeah.. With social media obviously, if you’re a big B2C company, if you’re a big online platform and something goes wrong, you know bad news spreads like wildfire doesn’t it? if you’re a retailer and one of your staff does something wrong, he/she got caught on camera, this can be a very tricky situation. One thing i would say about crisis management is that 90% is in preparation.
So, a PR agency will work with you to forecast the kind of crises you can have. Obviously, you don’t know everything but we can forecast some of the most likely crises, prepare for them the messaging, responses, things like chain of communication, the chain of decision making, etc. When there’s a crisis, things are very chaotic we need to know who’s in charge. We need to know who’s in charge of what, who’s responsible for what, where the information comes from, and the accuracy of information. All this stuff needs to be prepped beforehand and can be prepped to a high degree and then adapted to whatever situation that comes about.
So, even though 90% of it is in the preparation, I would add that however good a PR agency is, they can’t undo a crisis. This is a perception that a lot of people have as if they hire a PR agency they think they can make it go away. We can’t generally do that. Crisis management is about cushioning the impact. It’s about helping the client deal with it immediately in an accurate, clear, and articulate manner to obviously reduce any negative impacts on the client and hopefully, eliminate those negative impacts and then recover from it.
But, you know.. We can’t undo what’s already been done. We have to work closely with the client. We need information just like the media does. We need accurate information. So yeah, it’s very complex. Our role is to manage it and hopefully help the client recover their brand equity both immediately after (the crisis) and in the longer term.
Cleve: Right. Also about digitalization these days, I think it has sort of made the public pay less attention to a lot of content because there are so many mediums out there. So, how can a PR agency help to make content stand out in terms of what your client wants?
Oliver: I think it’s all about creativity and storytelling. You know we’ve had some clients and brands that we work with super dry, technical B2B kind of brands but no successful company just exists for no reason. There’s always a reason behind a company’s existence and this means that there’s a trend we can talk to, there’s a story and we can create meaning. It’s about being creative in the way that you articulate the meaning of that brand.
So, you can be the driest tech company but you’re providing a very vital and valuable service. Otherwise, you wouldn’t exist and the reasons behind that are often very interesting. Whether it’s wider digitization trends or whether it’s the topic around work from home/office, there’s always something interesting behind that we can say and talk about.
So yeah, it’s about using creativity while working with the client and developing a story that can cut through in the media.
Cleve: Yeah, I totally agree on this because I think creativity is like an evergreen thing even in the future whereby things get so stagnant and too digitalized, I think creativity is the best way to get things to stand out better.
Oliver: Yeah exactly.
Cleve: Now, adding on to this. How does a PR agency make use of a company’s backstory to maximize the potential of getting the attention your client wants in terms of authenticity? Does this come into a two-way play whereby the company has to be authentic in its own story?
Oliver: We love using backstories. You know, a lot of our clients or most companies didn’t just appear. They often went through years of different iterations of your tough times and good times, and we love using the stories of the founders/CEOs as well. There’re some really interesting people out there.
One of our clients for example, when he first started his company he had no money. He used to busk at MRT stations but now he’s signing deals with some of the biggest brands in the world. Another one of my clients, he’s over 50 years old and he still runs ultra marathons. He has run all the way around the world including Antarctica. We’re talking 5 days 12 hours a day runs. You sleep in tents, you carry everything you need on a backpack that kind of routine.
You know, what tends to happen especially in the startup space, and in most companies, these founders will be very interesting people. There’s always a backstory and that drives authenticity. it’s never about hard-selling the company.
In many ways, the best way of selling a brand is through interesting people and interesting stories. Even if the brand is taking second place, what this does is personalize your brand. It creates a human face to the brand and this is what we try to do and this is very powerful. So yeah, we love those kinds of stories and so do the media and so do readers as well.
Cleve: Yeah, because I think there’s so much content online whereby I think a lot of people also feel that a lot of content is staged. So, people will be more receptive to something that is more authentic or true. So yeah, I think authenticity is going to stay in the future as well.
Oliver: Right. Yeah absolutely.
Cleve: All right, and how do you get their story out? I believe some companies might have difficulty in conveying their story to others so how do you try to understand the true backstory of a company?
Oliver: That’s a good question. In fact, a lot of business owners or founders are very good at what they do and that could be blockchain or engineering or medicine but they’ll be terrible at explaining what they do if that makes sense.
So, our job is to almost dumb down what they tell us because they’ll be so focused on their work. We need to take a step back and say okay this is a wider story here, this is a wider picture, etc and you know oftentimes, we will sit down and just have a chat with every client that we work with, in an almost interview style as if we are a journalist. We’ll ask them about their backstory, their hobbies, about you know.. Weird and wonderful events that happened in their lives, and there’s nearly always going to be something interesting there that they wouldn’t have told anyone.
A good example is just the other day when I found out that Singapore’s first sailing world champion works for one of my clients. that’s really interesting! I spoke to her and she has a great story about how she capsized in Belgium with like 3-meter waves and 35-knot wins or something like that. You know how she traveled around the world to win competitions and now she’s a twitch gamer! She plays League of Legends on Twitch and she has her own following. She also does tournaments and it’s like this is super cool!
So yeah, there’ll be interesting stories hidden in every company. It’s just a matter of how to bring that out.
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