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.
There are 51 countries in Europe with 23 official languages – so it’s a huge mistake to think that PR operates in the same way across the continent. There are even nuances in different regions within different countries. Whilst we like to operate as one European PR team, there could be prejudices and cultural differences going back centuries than mean it’s not just 23 different languages we dealing with; it’s actually more than 50 different cultures.
Here at Firefly, we’ve run successful campaigns across 35 different territories and on every occasion there are careful considerations to make. The media is evolving at different rates – particularly on the digital side – in each of these countries, so nothing stands still.
This is by no means a definitive list, but highlights the seven biggest errors we see when it comes to pan-European PR campaigns.
If you want to get the most from your agency investment, try to minimise the number of countries you have on a “as you need it” basis. When it’s completely ad-hoc, you miss out on so many hijacking opportunities and your agency’s “brain time” will be spent on other clients, so when you do want to activate them it’s rarely at the optimum performance levels. You’re better off having a small retainer in each country you have a presence in, even if it means banking some of the time for when you need it.
From a media perspective, a staccato presence can be perceived as a lack of commitment to that region. And that’s assuming they remember you in the first place!
With bank holidays, it’s not as simple as just ruling out a particular date in the PR plan. UK bank holidays tend to take place on a Monday or a Friday, but in other countries it can happen on any day of the week. For example, if a bank holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday in France, many workers, including journalists, “fait le pont” (bridge the gap) by taking the Monday or Friday off in order to lengthen their weekend. Also, not all bank holidays are national in Europe. For example, in Germany, Bavaria gets an extra four bank holiday days, which is important if you’re targeting media based in Munich. You also cannot underestimate the media slowdown during the summer months, with many outlets operating with skeleton staff during the month of August.
Not every European capital city is the hub for the country’s media. Taking Germany as an example, there several important cities. Munich houses technology and some lifestyle titles, Hamburg is home to the main lifestyle publications and Cologne is the number one place for broadcast outlets. This is hugely important when planning events, media tours and face-time with your company’s executives.
Don’t assume that every county’s digital habits are the same. For example, did you know that Spain has a higher Twitter usage than the UK? There are cultural and usage differences too. For example, in Germany people have a more private attitude to sharing personal information online through sites such as Facebook and Twitter, compared to the UK. Also, when it comes to blogging, Germany is less commercial than the UK, where popular blogs have more in common with traditional media websites than the more personal Germany blogs.
Building adequate lead time for translations and pre-pitching is vital in pan-European PR roll-out. For example, a US company distributing an announcement in English and then asking non-English speaking countries to translate and distribute the announcement after the event. With a merging of media, this means that the local-language sites are less likely to cover the announcement, because it is “old news”. We also see timezone issues where a release is distributed at 9am PST, which is late afternoon in Europe. If you haven’t allowed your European agencies to pre-pitch the story, it’s likely that the results won’t be as good as they could be.
One monthly call isn’t enough to ensure your European public relations team is aligned. In fact conference calls are better for giving briefings rather than two way dialogue, especially if it’s a large European network. Consider using other channels, such as instant messenger and file sharing tools to get feedback from in-country representatives. Google Docs is one of the most under-utilised tools for file sharing, in our opinion.
It’s obvious to say, but the team on the ground know the ins-and-outs of the media the best. This is especially so when trying something different, since they consume the media every day, so their experience and intuition must be considered. English may be the language of business and spoken widely, however, not everyone is confident communicating verbally, so it’s best to allow the team to feedback over email or IM, giving them time and access to tools to help them express what they want to say.
It’s important to take some time to understand the local landscapes, different industries in different regions as well as listen to local professionals on how to tailor your PR approach – you can’t be expected to know everything about all 51 countries.
Also, don’t assume that you need a single PR agency to operate in all your markets. It’s unlikely that a large agency will have the same standard of performance in every market, so why tie yourself into one supplier. Every agency should be grown-up enough to work in a partner network.
At Firefly we have three European offices, in London, Paris and Munich and then a genuine network of hand-picked partners across the rest of Europe (and in America, Australia and the Far East for that matter). We feel that this approach gives us the ability to be flexible to use the right partner for the clients’ needs, while also having a strong relationship to understand everyone’s needs.
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