The story of how the fake design agency Madbird ensnared unsuspecting job seekers into its web has gone viral, leaving readers shocked at the façade that was created.

Can you blame these unsuspecting employees who trusted that the company they were working for was in fact legitimate? The evidence presented across all aspects of the company set-up was convincing. After all, we were in the thick of a global pandemic and relied heavily on technology (and still do). It’s become an important conduit of communication in our professional and personal lives.

I myself made the decision to accept a job offer in London and immigrate to the UK – based solely on communication and interaction through technology with a dash of blind faith. Job interviews over Zoom/MS teams have become the norm. Fortunately, I evaded becoming a casualty of jobfishing and joined an established, reputable, and dynamic European tech PR agency.   

Madbird was built lie upon lie and rotten to the core, using a technology-built façade as a blunt instrument to lure clients and employees. It created fake characters, fake imagery, fake campaigns and fake clients and it nearly succeeded. Is it possible the PR and comms industry might have fake imposters?

Let’s assume our industry is not immune to imposters – what steps can you take to flush out the fakes when looking to partner with a PR or communications agency?

Choosing a European tech PR agency


The first step is to establish if the agency in question is registered and has passed management consultancy standards by a notable industry body or association such as the PRCA.  The agency should be accredited and committed to the development of its own industry.

Word of mouth

Reach out to your network to see if they’ve heard of the agency or its founder and establish if they have a favourable reputation, not only in the communications industry but business circles too.

Don’t be blinded by the flash

Establish whether the PR agency you’re considering partnering with has a passion for and experience in effective communications. Any company can put together a flashy presentation that is hugely impressive, but is there substance? Will the team deliver on promises? Is the agency demonstrating a proactive and brave yet focused? Is it an agency that could align with your company’s strategic imperatives and would the team know how to translate that into a communications strategy?

Chemistry is key

Your PR agency should be an extension of your team and be able to integrate seamlessly into your company and team culture. Setting up a chemistry session (in person if possible) should quickly tell you if these are the type of people you would like to work with – do they have the right energy and could you see them building strong interpersonal relationships with you and your team? Remember to trust your gut.

Take up referrals and references

Review the case studies or work the agency has executed (and verify it if you can) and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals whether from clients or journalists.

As a communications agency whose core business is servicing technology-driven clients, Firefly has been fortunate to collaborate with many great companies, large and small, whose technology has made a strong case for impacting human lives, business and our planet positively.

Technology may be our passion and an enabler in business, but we spend as much time as we can listening mostly but talking to our clients, and talking amongst ourselves about different ways, better ways or faster way to achieve results and greater impact. Speak to the people proposed on your team, and interview them as you would any potential joiner to your business. You buy into an agency culture, but really you buy a team of people.

This is a post from the Firefly archives – timeless advice, as relevant today as it was in 2015! 

Memes, public Instagram images, and screenshots of funny things that’ve made it into the media via Facebook are just a few examples of the popular content we see constantly in today’s digital world.

They’re increasingly popular across the internet for both commercial and non-commercial reasons, and with the ease of consumption and sharing, it’s no surprise the lines are a little blurred between what constitutes copyright infringement or image plagiarism.

Avoiding hot water

PRs and journalists are not immune to this – we use and re-use a vast amount on content on a daily basis. For example. someone’s hashtagged a nice picture with your client’s brand on it? Seen a funny picture in a forum that would make a viral-worthy news piece? Great! But before you use these for your own advantage, consider these tips to avoid image plagiarism:

1. Make sure it is credible

Is the person who posted this image the first person to post it? Try your best to ensure that it’s original content. Likewise, if the content is associated with a news event, it’s vital you’re publishing true information and won’t have to retract items later.

2. Get consent

Always get in contact with the person who posted the image and ask their permission to use it. You can tweet them, direct message, comment – it all depends on the platform, but make sure you get consent. If the picture is on sites such as Flickr, you might also need to consider Creative Commons attribution. Don’t forget, if you’re using the image for a client or employer, it’s being used commercially, rather than for personal use.

3. Attribute the author

Again, this will depend on any applicable Creative Commons licences, but if you’re using someone else’s image it’s generally good practice to attribute their name. Better yet, tag the social media account it was sourced from or embed the image directly from the source.

4. Do it yourself

If possible, why not try and take a picture yourself? In a lot of cases, this might be just as easy and save the wait-time for user consent. You need is your smartphone and a few filters or an editing app, and you’ve got a picture!

5. Or keep it clean

While user-generated images can make excellent and authentic social fodder, any media buffs concerned about getting into trouble can always stick to stock images. They aren’t always as engaging (and they can cost you money), but you’ll know you’re not breaking the law. When you’re using free stock images, please do note that it’s still polite to reference the creator! For ideas, check out Unsplash, Pexels and PxHere.

That said, it’s always worth looking at the terms and conditions before you use them. For example, you can’t usually use a stock photo as part of a logo or trademark.

In practice, image plagiarism online is a bit of a legal grey area, it’s better to be safe than to lose a client contract or risk fines. Photo agencies have expensive lawyers and aren’t afraid to use them.

Learning more…

Getty Images has teamed up with the BAPLA (British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies) and PACA (Picture Archive Council of America) to set up, a useful guide to using stock photography and understanding image rights. There is a helpful FAQ, which is well worth bookmarking.

(Photo credit: Bonnie Kittle, Unsplash)

Every now and then something floors me. Quite a few years ago now, ‘DIG’ was a one-word email reply from a client. And yes, it was in capital letters too for added emphasis.

Could it have meant appreciation? Could it have meant ‘I like it a lot’? How dangerous to assume. What it meant was ‘I haven’t got time to help you, please work it out yourselves’.

I was reminded of this moment when a prospect recently talked about her frustrations with her ‘soon-to-be ex’ agency and what promoted the change. She just didn’t have the time to explain something twice, and nor should she have to. She didn’t expect to train up new team members. But she did expect her agency to work out problems, and only go to her if they hit a dead end.

Reasonable, right?

So, what happened and why the lack of resourcefulness? It’s worth a quick look at the flip side.

There’s a narrow path between being too dependent and being too independent. The former is needy, the latter an unguided missile.  But the middle ground between working unchecked, unguided and not needing so much handholding is where agencies must strike the right balance.

Whether you’re reading this in-house side or agency-side, there are measures you can put in place to make sure you’re ‘digging’ right:

And even with all this in place, your agency must have the DIG mindset. Without it, it’s like giving them the shovel, pointing them in the right direction but useless if they don’t get on with it.

Is your team often asking themselves…Is there another way to get what I need? Who else could help me with this? Can I recall anything similar that might also help me? What is one more thing I can try before I ask for help?

Plus, when you do dig you never know what you can find. A curious and open-minded agency may find you some PR gold even though their initial intention was to problem-solve.

But please, be the right kind of gold digger!

Cambridge Analytica, Huawei and the GDPR, of course, have all helped to bring data privacy into the spotlight and people are becoming more wary of how companies are collecting and using their data (Just check out our client, the Internet Society’s, latest report on consumers’ security concerns with IoT devices – it turns out we think Alexa is pretty creepy!).

And because there is so much of our data stored on the internet – whether it’s on social media or Google, there is also risk of old data being exposed and potentially used against us and out of context – remember when Disney fired (and subsequently re-hired) James Gunn because of decade-old tweets?

Whether we’re worried about how secure our social media account is, where our voice notes are stored in our Alexa, or if we just want to do a bit of a data spring clean, look no further! Because Jumbo is here.

Jumbo is a handy little app that aims to protect your privacy online and there are three ways it can help: it can make your tweets ephemeral by automatically deleting them after a certain period of time, it has a Smart Facebook Privacy Setting which cleans your data on Facebook in a more simple way than Facebook’s own settings, and it can also automatically delete your Google Searches and Alexa recordings.

So the next time the data privacy demons are whispering in your ear, threatening to expose all those times you asked Alexa to play the Vengaboys, make sure you grab your Jumbo app to safeguard your guilty pleasures (and the other important data too).

Despite what the name may suggest, this has nothing to do with the infamous ride-hailing service, but it could help drive up your SEO.

Certainly, when it comes to finding the perfect keywords and pushing you up the SERPs, it never hurts to have an extra helping hand, especially when your Google juice inspiration is running a little low.

That’s exactly what Neil Patel is hoping to provide with Ubersuggest (if you haven’t heard of him, by the way, it could be worth looking him up ‒ it seems he’s a pretty big deal in the US entrepreneurial and marketing world). We’re sure that you will all be aware of the likes of Moz for your SEO needs but Ubersuggest hopes to take this one step further.

What content are people actually reading and sharing? Or, if you’re struggling for ideas, what other keywords could you be using? Ubersuggest looks to answers all of these questions, outlining the top-performing content for certain keywords and generating keyword suggestions based on what people are actually typing into Google.

Furthermore, it also offers insights into your competitors, so you can see what’s working (and what isn’t) for the rest of your industry.  Not just so you can do the same but so you can do it better.

Best of all ‒ its free!

So, we suggest you give it a go. And if you’d still like some additional advice, we’ve written a whole guide and eBook on SEO.

What are the most annoying elements of social media? Trolling, definitely. Boast posts, absolutely. How about when you see a post – perhaps a video or a recipe – that you want to look at again later, but then you can’t find it again when you want or need it? Infuriating!

A new app has been released that lets you save content from all major social channels in one place, to look at again whenever you want. Videos, GIFs, memes, music files, notes – you can collate them all on Figgle. It’s like a digital pinboard for your favourite content – so no more trawling through your social feeds searching for that content you wanted to forward to colleagues or friends.

The app is available on all iPhones free of charge – check it out here.

The privacy war has been one of the slowest revolutions in the 21st century: the Snowden revelations weren’t enough, Wikileaks didn’t do it, but the vast and ongoing data breaches have begun to effect a change – starting with Ashley Madison and ending with … well, it hasn’t ended yet, although almost every major platform has experienced one or another kind of data breach.

As a result, people are slowly starting to take privacy more seriously and one consequence of this is that there has been a slow erosion in the number of consumers using the major social and browsing platforms like Facebook and services from the likes of Google.

Unfortunately, we’ve only just found an alternative to our go-to browser of choice, Chrome. Brave offers fast browsing speeds – equal to or better than Chrome – with no weird functionality, just plain and simply surfing.

But under the hood, Brave gives you the opportunity to stay private. On one side of the URL bar, clicking one icon allows you to turn on ad blocking, avoid tracking cookies, encrypt your connection and run scripts – or not. It’s as simple as flicking a switch, and Brave also boasts a host of features from importing bookmarks (phew) to integration with Tor functionality for privacy pros.

So if you’re concerned, or just fancy a change, check it out.

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The European Union is in the process of finalising new copyright rules which could see Google pull its News service in Europe. The details have yet to be finalised but currently Article 11 would require aggregators like Google to pay when an article ‘snippet’ is featured. You’d think that there are ways around this for Google, but going by past behaviour, this could mean the death of Google News in Europe.

In 2014, the Spanish newspaper publishers’ association (AEDE) lobbied for a new law which would require news aggregators to pay for the right to use story snippets. Rather than amending the delivery of news articles, for example adding adverts in Google News to cover costs or not featuring a full snippet, Google shut down Google News in Spain. This has lead the industry to question how important Google News is to Google. Given that Google doesn’t make money from the service, removing it in Europe won’t lead to a financial hit, simply disappointment from users.

Assuming then that Google removes Google News in Europe, the impact to marketing and communication professionals will be huge. Google News is an invaluable tool to follow hot topics, track the development of stories and to be informed when firms are looking to add their view to a topic. Sure there will be ways around it, but it will impact the speed and quality of story development.

It is also wrong to assume that publishers will simply gain from these new rules. Many publishers that rely on traffic from Google will lose eyeballs, and lost eyeballs is lost revenue. A study in 2017 by the Spanish Association of Publishers of Periodical Publications found that the Spanish law caused publishers to lose 13% of their web traffic, resulting in a nine million Euro loss. A ruling that aims to help could end up hindering publishers, particularly the smaller players.

There are commentators in the media industry who are convinced Google will come up with a solution. I wish I was as optimistic as them! One for PR and marketing professionals to watch closely.

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It’s been on the market a little while now and we’re sure you’ve heard of it (for the savvier amongst you, are already even using it). Still, we feel that BuzzSumo hasn’t quite got the credit it deserves –now tipped by some to be one of THE business tools for 2019, we thought we should help it get a little more recognition.

So then, what is BuzzSumo?

Well, BuzzSumo offers a number of different services, with the overall aim of ensuring that you can most effectively optimise that all-important new marketing strategy for 2019.

Who’s talking about your brand and sharing your content? What are visitors most interested in on your website? BuzzSumo is first and foremost a monitoring tool but there is a lot more it can do. Wish to find out the most talked-about trends and topics in your industry, what kind of content your target audience wants and which influencers you should be in contact and building relationships with? BuzzSumo provides you with a full overview and analysis. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, it also helps give real insight into what your competition is up to.

With this greater understanding, you should be much better equipped to create a great marketing strategy that you now know is guaranteed to perform.

If you’re not already, it may well be time to give it a go.


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Talking. Some might say it’s what marketers do best, but all too often it can be a source of stress and anxiety. Public speaking, recording podcasts, sitting on panel debates – all of these require calm nerves and steady delivery, free from ums, errs and talkingtooquicklyaswetendtodowhenwe’rereallynervous.

We can’t all take on a ‘real’ speaking coach (although if you are interested, I’d wholeheartedly recommend the wonderful Elke Smith), but now there’s a digital alternative. Gweek is an app for Android and iOS that analyses your speech patterns – the pauses, the mixed-up words, the speed at which you speak – and offers you hints and tips to help you improve. It records a minute of your speech through your phone, then shows you how to improve, as well as offering tips on how to improve your argument, stay authentic and sharpen your visual communication.

The initial analysis is free, and there’s a small monthly fee (£6.49) thereafter. So, if you want to know where you stand compared to Benedict Cumberbatch or Jeremy Corbyn’s speech skills, give it a go!

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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