Well, here I am, Firefly’s newest recruit.

I join today as Head of Business and Digital. How do I feel about it? One word: positive.

OK, we’re in the after-glow of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, where if you had chance to get into the Olympic Stadium, you were probably in the most positive place on the planet. It’s hard not to be affected by that.

London 2012 - Paralympics

But there’s more reasons to be positive than the Olympics and Paralympics.

The PR industry has seen a lot of changes in the past few years. From the decline of newspaper and magazine readership, to the rise of social media, it’s fair to say that we’ve had to re-evaluate what PR actually means.

So, the first reason I’m feeling positive is that I’ve joined an agency that really gets PR. I’m not talking about the opening a digital team, because clients keep asking about it, or forming a partnership with an ad agency to “create mutually beneficial opportunities”. It’s about understanding how it works – and importantly responding to the industry changes.

I’ve seen that agencies have generally adopted one of three approaches to exploiting the growth of digital PR. The first is to create (or buy) a digital team and offer their services as separate social media specialists. The second approach is to embed digital into the agency, where every consultant is as comfortable with social media communications as traditional media relations. The third is to do nothing.

Personally option one doesn’t work for me. The digital team simply becomes an adjunct to the rest of the agency, rarely invests enough time into understanding the clients’ needs and runs the risk of not understanding how digital fits into the communications mix.

To me, digital needs to be hardwired into every PR consultant’s thinking and social media needs to be just understood as a communications channel, with its own rules of engagement. So, option two is the best as far as I’m concerned. If you are appointing a PR agency, the trick is to spot and then rule out the agency that is saying they’re doing option two, but is actually doing option three (I’ll be writing about this in more detail soon).

The second reason for positivity is that I think that business-to-business PR is a very exciting place to be right now. The rise of social media means that there are new channels to exploit that offer B2B firms the opportunity for real engagement with their clients. This unlocks the ability to be really creative with campaigns and, using analytics tools, measure their impact far more effectively.

From a PR service delivery perspective, there’s also a blurring of the worlds of B2B and B2C communications. Exploiting business data to tell interesting stories is a tactic that works equally well in both a B2B and B2C situation. Meanwhile, video, infographics, blogs and other rich content is starting to relieve reliance on the dull old press releases for business as well as consumer audiences. Finally, there are tons of opportunities to extend a business story off the back of a consumer story (just look at how Cisco exploited it’s sponsorship of London 2012). I think that these relationships will become more inter-dependent in future.

So, lots of reasons to be positive. I’m thrilled to be part of the Firefly team and can’t wait to get stuck in.

By Stuart Rock, Founder & Editorial Director, Real Business 

I have lost count of the number of companies that I have visited since I first started my career in business journalism, more than 25 years ago.

Some companies are destined to be forgettable.  They are grey (literally) organisations, with unmemorable products and services. Their buildings are the same. So is their vocabulary. Even the executives are interchangeable. I won’t identify any particular sectors, that would be unfair – but we all know where to find them.

Others are destined to be memorable. They make extraordinary things, or are behind extraordinary achievements. Think of the Eden Project, the Bloodhound Project, Help for Heroes.  Others have earned their capacity to stand out, from many years of success. You want to meet and touch these companies because of their track record and demonstrable world-class status. Think Dyson, Rolls-Royce, John Lewis, Sunseeker.

Many companies, of course, can’t fit into the latter two categories. So how not to be in the first, the forgettable? Here are my observations – drawn from experience and memory, rather than structured research.

Be real. Talk about the company – what it does, how it’s doing – in accessible language. Don’t hide the blemishes. A company that is prepared to acknowledge its threats and weaknesses provides a far more rounded and memorable understanding.

Be honest. A business that is not afraid to talk about its financial as well as its business model will always stand out. Do I understand how you make your money?

Be interesting. Explain the marketplace. It doesn’t have to be the CEO who does this – although that really helps – but a company that will interpret “what’s going on out there” rather than just pontificate about its own strengths and opportunities, always gets my attention. I want to know why companies do what they do, not just what they do. Even better are the ones who can tell you with clarity and context. Do I understand your difference?

Be successful. Absolute scale is not what is memorable; it’s the quality and nature of the success.

Lastly, it’s easy to place all this on the shoulders of the CEO. Sometimes that’s dangerous. A really fascinating company can be obscured by a cliché-toting, overbearing CEO. But a CEO who is straightforward and enthusiastic, and who conveys deep knowledge of what makes the company tick, really does play a big part in making a business stand out.


You can follow Stuart on Twitter: @stuart_rock

About Real Business: Established in 1997, Real Business was the UK’s first magazine for entrepreneurs and growing mid-sized and smaller businesses. Today, Stuart and his team run the UK’s most active network of high-growth businesses, spotlighting the achievements and challenges of this vital segment of the economy.

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