As revealed in Netflix’s new documentary‘White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch’today’s company is very different from the brand of the 1990s and early 2000s. For more than a decade, Abercrombie and Fitch have been in the process of rebuilding its reputation; this reveals some interesting lessons that we can take away as PR and comms professionals.

In its heyday, Abercrombie & Fitch (Abercrombie) was worth more than $5 billion and had more than 1000 stores worldwide. During this period, the company was led by Mike Jeffries, who once revealed in that now-famous 2006 interview that the company’s marketing strategy was deliberately exclusionary. He only wanted the ‘attractive’, ‘cool kids’ wearing Abercrombie. If we look a little deeper, we see that this was not merely a surface level PR strategy – you want what you can’t have, right? Instead, racist and exclusionary policies were embedded within the company’s culture. While these policies once appeared to benefit Abercrombie, as attitudes changed, they quickly eroded the company’s reputation, which has had a fundamental impact on the business’s long-term growth.

The question is; what can the demise of Abercrombie teach us about the importance of managing your company’s reputation?

Leadership and reputation

As the company’s figurehead, the CEO will always have a significant impact on the reputation of your company – both positive and negative! The former CEO of Abercrombie, Mike Jeffries, who once led the brand’s revival, would ultimately become its biggest liability. Jeffries was known for his bold ideas and commitment to the brand. However, he was also uncompromising, unorthodox, and did not take criticism well.

While Jeffries has long since left the company, Abercrombie is still working to ameliorate the damage caused by his tenure as CEO. Ultimately, Jeffries should not have been left to manage the company for so long. That being said, the current CEO, Fran Horowitz, has been working hard to ensure that the company is accountable for past mistakes. In a statement to CNN, Horowitz said, “we own and validate that there were exclusionary and inappropriate actions under former leadership,” adding that the company is now “a place of belonging”.

While the company has a long way to go, the importance of leadership accountability is evident here. Suppose a business fails to hold its leader accountable or recognise when it is time for leadership change. In that case, long-term damage will be inflicted upon the company’s reputation.

Company values

As times change, often should a company’s values. Failure to make the necessary changes will eventually impact the reputation of any company. When Jeffries began his tenure as CEO, he built the brand upon racist and discriminatory values. These values quickly began to seep into company culture and policies, hiring practices, and even the designs on the clothes.

In 2003, 8 former employees sued Abercrombie for race and sex discrimination. Without admitting any guilt, the company settled and was required to pay $40 million and sign a decree to change its practices and promote diversity.

For a while, the company continued to get away with its discriminatory practices. However, these days consumers value and expect brands to promote diversity and inclusion. Abercrombie failed to move with the times, which meant that as attitudes changed, the brand became toxic, and their failure to own up to past mistakes came back to haunt them. Companies should continually audit their values and policies to ensure that they are promoting diversity and inclusion and that they are not breaking the law, for that matter!

So, what can we learn from this as communications professionals?

The demise of Abercrombie from a multi-billion dollar brand to a disgraced clothing company can teach us a few things about managing your company’s reputation:

  • The CEO embodies a company’s reputation: the CEO of any company embodies its reputation. Organisations should be willing to let go of a CEO if their actions or personal life begin to distract from the mission of the company – failure to do so can cause irreversible damage 
  • Accountability: organisations that hold themselves accountable for past mistakes will be able to distance themselves from previous damage and begin rebuilding their reputation
  • Values: organisations should constantly review their values, culture and policies to ensure that they reflect the mission of the company. Out of date practices should be scrapped and replaced with policies that promote diversity and inclusion. 

May has been a month of innovation and continued regulatory shifts in the tech sector. It can be difficult to keep up with the endless waves of change (Elon Musk’s continual indecision over purchasing Twitter spring to mind for anyone?), but the Firefly team always havs our finger on the pulse. Here’s our lowdown on what you might have missed.

Artificial intelligence reaches new heights

It’s no secret that supply chain issues and the candidate crisis have plagued businesses significantly recently. But what if AI innovation could offer the solution?

A growing number of startups are applying AI technology alongside established logistics firms to help businesses ease supply concerns.  In the recruitment arena, AI is becoming an increasingly effective tool for hiring strong candidates. Google has even gone as far to develop almost human-level intelligence. Increasing efficiencies is always beneficial; we will certainly be tracking these developments closely.

Dialling back the power of big tech

As the power of AI innovation grows, so do the legal restrictions within the technology sector. The UK Government is set to introduce new competition rules for large tech companies, paving the way for innovation among smaller businesses.

When it comes to user safety, the discussion on the Online Safety Bill continues. Campaigners argue the current provisions do not sufficiently address violence against women and girls, showing that greater protections are needed. We’re also seeing a crackdown on Big Tech’s data collection, with the global central bank calling for individuals to be given more control.

These moves highlight greater oversight is needed over the sector to ensure that everyone can engage with technology safely and freely.

As virtual reality thrives, cryptocurrencies take a nosedive

June has been a less than ideal month for the crypto world, as several stablecoins crashed in a historic market collapse. Though, if anyone fancies a trip to Gucci’s US-based stores, rest assured you can use bitcoin to complete your purchase there, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

Finally, let’s not forget about the ever-expanding possibilities of VR innovation. Everyone’s favourite music streaming service is now on board, and even the sunny seaside city of Portsmouth has recently launched a VR centre, so that we can all get our fix whilst on our summer holidays.

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Imagine entering your workplace in a 3D world and heading into a meeting room where you greet your virtual colleagues. It feels like you are together, but in fact, you are at home wearing a VR headset as indeed they are, and perhaps on the other side of the world. We might not be too far off from this scenario.

The increased adoption of VR and augmented reality (AR) are evolving both work and play. In the short space of a few months, AR and VR have become inherently tied to the world of communications. When Facebook underwent a major rebrand and unveiled themselves as Meta last October, widening its reach outside of social media into the virtual reality space, the world took notice. And when Big Tech sets a trend, people follow. Virtual reality has even been touted as the next new way to experience hands-on training and development.

Modern workers are no strangers to communicating remotely. But the substantial impact of these technologies on the comms world will be their power to help us collaborate in ways that were unheard of before, bringing people together who might not otherwise meet, enabling authentic human interactions. From allowing creativity to flourish, to enabling communication (in a virtual space) with people across the globe. Here are my top three ways that VR could enhance your comms efforts:

1. Bolstering Creativity

Your space plays a key role in how creative you are. And for those of us in the comms industry, creativity is our driving force. If you do not feel inspired and comfortable in your surroundings, you will not perform at your best. Virtual spaces have the power to be much more effective than physical spaces in this way – simulating reality and allowing us to work in a virtual world where possibilities are endless.

VR meetings are also a powerful tool. Unlike Zoom calls, VR meetings enable you to see the physical presence of colleagues, making it much more like an in-person meeting. Understanding body language and the dynamics in the room are a valuable tool for gauging the feelings of your colleagues and making decisions accordingly. Plus, we can break free of the traditional office setting – who wouldn’t like to conduct meetings or draft an article, from the beach, or an inspiring historical landmark if that were possible one day?

2. Enabling human connections

As comms professionals, it is crucial to meet our audience where they are. Emotional connections are important, particularly for brands that are seeking to bolster authenticity in their interactions with potential customers. In fact, this is the heart of our business. People need to feel seen and heard in order to engage – and VR has the immense power to help with this, by leveraging technology that enables human connections regardless of location. Authenticity is also important when communicating with customers and clients – it’s crucial that we don’t underestimate the importance of a virtual hug during a time when many have been distanced.

3. Taking collaboration to new heights

How virtual reality could influence our daily lives has been a hot topic , described as the future of work, and for good reason. At the moment, the technology almost seems too good to be true – because it has the power to create a new level of seamless collaboration that was unheard of a few years ago. Brainstorming sessions are more powerful in person, and when physical location is no longer a factor, it is limitless what could be achieved.

VR has the power to make our day-to-day business easier, more productive, and more authentic – which is crucial for organisations to flourish. And while this technology is still developing, it could change everything that we know about human interaction and collaboration in the space of a few short years.

Other than losing an hour in bed, April has had a lot to offer: longer days, better weather, and chocolate moulded in perfectly shaped ovals! It’s also when it really begins to look and feel like summer; as the eternally optimistic people of Britain begin to emerge from their long hibernation in the hopes of experiencing the elusive phenomena known as sunshine. Time for this month’s tech news roundup!

The less optimistic folk have decided to flee the country in search of the sun. However, not every passenger has been successful in their pursuit of Vitamin D. Indeed, the news has been filled with travel horror stories as recovering airlines struggle to deal with chronic staff shortages. Those travelling to outer galaxies seem to have had an easier journey. April saw the first paying civilians blast off to the International Space Station as part of Elon Musk’s private space exploration service, SpaceX.

But, what if I told you that you could escape to another country or indeed a different planet without leaving your home? This could soon be possible, as some of the largest tech companies, including Meta and Epic Games, share more details of their vision of the metaverse.

While the infamous billionaire is primarily known for his adventures into space and the (slow) production of his high-performance electric vehicle, the Tesla, Musk has once again been the centre of attention in the media for his involvement in Twitter. This month it was revealed that he was the majority stakeholder in the social media platform, and is now even trying to buy it. I wonder if it was his idea to introduce a new ‘edit button’? Some of his tweets certainly need it…cough, cough…perhaps his tweet declaring that he wanted to take Tesla, private? Breaking SEC rules, and ultimately costing him his position as chairman of Tesla and millions of dollars in fines.

Twitter has largely managed to avoid controversy this month. However, the same can’t be said for some other social media giants or, indeed, Will Smith – talk about awkward! Facebook has been marred with a string of failures this month, which has included claims of failing to protect younger users, and accusations of spreading misinformation.

Once again, there has been little good news for the climate. Although, there have been some exciting advancements in the electric vehicle market. Honda is set to ramp up its production of electric cars with a $64billion budget and NASA has designed an electric car battery that can be charged in 15 minutes. When it comes to saving the planet, every little bit helps!

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Nowadays, attention span is one of the scarcest commodities we have in modern society. Online life can be addictive and endless, with perpetual anticipation of the next big thing and every brands’ reputation on the line. With this in mind, now is the perfect time to start prioritising and shaping your comms, with authentic and captivating PR strategies. Maintaining your company’s reputation, demonstrating your positive culture, and looking after your own workforce will ensure people are tuned in and listening.  

Attention span is defined as the ‘amount of concentrated time on a task without being distracted’. Scientifically, they call it ‘attention failure’, essentially investigating why cognitively we reach for our phones with such ease and frequency at every point in the day. Attention spans are shrinking, with some reports suggesting that humans are 25% less engaged than they were only a few years ago.  

Researchers in Denmark studied a range of media types; from movie ticket purchasing habits, popular books, Tweets, as well as Wikipedia attention time. What they found was that the hotness of topic, time in the public sphere, and desire for a new topic vary greatly and depend on the media type. As an example, Twitter is currently fixated on the recent Elon Musk board scandal but people will quickly move on to the next thing. Those doing a deep dive on Wikipedia are engaged for far longer.  

How can we overcome this attention span deficit? By moving to briefer, personalised, and authentic comms to engage distracted audiences and create content that is evergreen that won’t be caught up in the trend cycle. Not just with audiences, but with your internal comms too. Using engaging internal comms strategies to hold attention will also ensure this is reflected externally.  

Positivity engages audiences, and shines your reputation  

Positive content is more viral. Authentic and original human stories based on relationships will stand out from the crowd.  

Brandon Stanton, the creator of the viral storytelling account Humans of New York, emphasises when writing his personal profiles that he does not describe people in adjectives, but rather describes actions of their life. After all, actions do speak louder than words. Looking across his portfolio of work on social channels (with 20 million followers), he notably gets right to the point, with little explanation or introduction. Your audience is smart enough to get the gist.  

The journey of a good narrative in comms  

Researchers found that people read information on paper vastly differently than online, as the amount of data to absorb on a singular page in a book is far less than a busy webpage. The slow and linear journey of a book is why it is so pleasing to race towards the end (no spoilers, please!). Your online content should follow suit, and always engage in a complimentary, moving narrative journey.  

It seems obvious, but the simplicity of the beginning, middle and end with challenges addressed by solutions, is just the way our brains like to consume. So, when you’re creating content and communicating with your audiences this year, remember to get back to basics. And don’t check your phone whilst writing it- resist the urge, if you can.  

Interested in more on reputation shaping and online reputations? See here for our resources from making the most of content to measuring your PR efforts.  

It is estimated that there are between 3.2 and 37.8 million social media influencers. That’s millions of individuals relying on their personal brand to gain followers, secure brand deals and increase engagement on their relative platforms. Although many choose to turn their nose up at those who label themselves as ‘influencers’ and ‘content creators’, we can’t deny that those who are doing it right are reaping the rewards.

Logan Paul, for example, started making YouTube videos from the age of 10. His success on YouTube and Vine has since catapulted him into fame and he is now worth $35 million at the age of 26. Not too shabby for a few videos and a strong personal brand, right?

With the age of digitalisation upon us (any one fancy a virtual beer after work?), perhaps companies could learn a thing or two from those that have had such success with their online personal branding. Personal brand upkeep isn’t so dissimilar to maintaining a strong company brand after all; it’s about keeping up with trends, keeping content relevant, and appealing to your target audience.

In fact, if we take a look at some of Forbes’ golden rules for personal branding:

  1. Have a focus
  2. Be genuine
  3. Be consistent

It’s clear that there are many similarities  between those individuals trying to monetise their online presence, and a company seeking to establish a strong online brand. Although technology has revolutionised marketing, companies must be aware of how they sell themselves online and what their messaging is truly saying.

Influencers have always seized the opportunity to glamourise their realities, editing photos and posts to make their lives seem perfect and unattainable. While these posts may be nice to look at, they can actually alienate your following into a sense of ‘me’ and ‘them’. If what you’re posting is entirely unrelatable, you can only really achieve a surface-level connection with your following.

Recently, we have seen an influx of influencers who are doing away with filters and photoshop, and instead portraying an honest representation of their lives, good and bad. These more genuine posts create instead a notion of ‘us’. Followers are able to relate to the posts, inspiring open discussions and driving engagement.

So, what can brands learn from this?

That honesty is the best policy. If a brand is not transparent, customers will be hesitant to take the risk that comes with giving the benefit of the doubt to an unfamiliar company. As much as aesthetic and image hold a great deal of importance, companies shouldn’t rely solely on looks to engage their customers.

As we transition into this digital future, it seems that companies could have a lot to learn from influencers and content creators. Companies and individuals alike must keep their brands focused, genuine and consistent – you need to know who your target audience is and how to appeal to them. So, why not hold a mirror up to your brand and see what it is you’re really saying? And if you’re falling short, it might be worth heading to the wonderful world of influencers for some creative inspiration!

One of the tech stories that really caught my eye this month is Facebook’s focus on developing the metaverse. Recently, the company announced that it plans to hire 10,000 employees in the EU to work on this so-called metaverse, and it got me thinking – will the metaverse force us into changing the way we communicate, or will it just be another tech plaything that doesn’t really go anywhere? 

When I think of the metaverse, I immediately imagine the OASIS from Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, one of my favourite sci-fi novels. In the book, the OASIS is described as “a massively multiplayer online game that had gradually evolved into the globally network virtual reality most of humanity now use on a daily basis,. The Steven Spielberg film adaptation of the book gives us a more fanciful description of the OASIS as, “a place where the limits of reality are your own imagination… except for eating, sleeping and bathroom breaks, whatever people want to do, they do it in the OASIS. And since everyone is here, this is where we meet each other. This is where we make friends.”  

Could this be the Facebook vision? Could Mark Zuckerberg be the new James Halliday, the creator of the OASIS in the novel?  

Maybe not exactly (and considering how the plot develops in the book, you kind of hope not either!) In fact, no one quite really knows yet what the real-life metaverse could look like, probably not even Zuckerberg himself. What we do know, in a broader sense, is that it’s going to be some kind of future iteration of the internet, made up of “virtual spaces” linked to a perceived virtual universe – that’s according to the Wikipedia’s description anyway.  

This kind of concept is already beginning to enter our world – remember those Travis Scott and Ariana Grande’s concerts in Fortnite last year? Fortnite enthusiasts were thrusted into an immersive concert experience during gameplay, with each individual player able to freely roam around, “watching” the concert in whatever way they wanted. It was an immersive experience and a huge hit for Fortnite, to say the least, and we can expect the metaverse to be the next step up from this.   

Levelling up immersive technology 

Facebook doesn’t expect the true metaverse to be up and running until at least ten years from now, mainly because the immersive technology is not quite up to scratch yet, and, let’s face it, with Facebook’s history, no doubt they’ll be a few regulatory challenges along with way. That said, VR and AR have already come a long way since inception, with VR gaming particularly taking off in the last decade, and AR making waves in marketing campaigns and other commercial industries. But it’s still not something the average person comes across in their daily routine – this is the metaverse’s challenge at the moment. It’s a huge risk to spend time and money creating a whole new virtual world that’s only accessible via VR headsets or other equipment, only to find out that a limited number of people can access it because of the high price of the equipment and the computing power that is often needed to provide a well-executed VR experience.   

It certainly will be a challenge to get the metaverse fully up and running, whether Facebook make the breakthrough or not, but investors are seeing the potential of it too – especially with COVID-19 separating friends and families, and people longing for a connection that isn’t just on a screen, you can totally see it becoming a way to better connect people.  

What it means to communicate in the metaverse 

Infrastructure and tech aside, though, if we really are seeing the metaverse in the next ten years, a real-life OASIS that could end up being our new normal, what will the affect be on the way we communicate? 

For a start, in the corporate world, those long work Zoom calls could become a little more interesting in the metaverse. Imagine being able to see more than just a talking head on a screen and being able to walk around a virtual meeting room, or even a virtual office? Virtual meetings may become more inclusive, and a near-real life atmosphere of in-person meetings. There’s potential for meetings to become more creative if the metaverse allows for employees to create their own avatars or characters in the metaverse, which could completely change the perception and culture of your company, and how you communicate with your stakeholders. You could even have a metaverse CEO or leadership team and mould them into whoever you want them to be, regardless of who they really are on the outside. Quite a scary thought! 

From a consumer-perspective, the metaverse could allow for an even better and personalised customer experience. Retailers could offer more immersive “try before you buy” services, like getting your metaverse person to try on the clothes you want in real-life. The ability of the metaverse to create pretty much any virtual environment also further feeds our curiosity about the world – Wikipedia pages in the metaverse could get a lot more chilling, if they’re able to transform them into an immersive experience, that’s for sure! But it could also help put more emphasis and action on certain topics too – like, if we’re able to immerse ourselves into the true effects of climate change in 50 or 100 years’ time in the metaverse, people, companies and governments may be more inclined to drive further action in the real world because they would be able to see and feel the affect it actually has – something which is difficult to communicate currently.  

It goes without saying, though, that any new form of connectivity and experience in the virtual world doesn’t come without its issues when it comes to communication – the spread misinformation, cyberbullying and self-image issues are just some of the issues that have been born out of the social media era, and who’s to say that they could also be transcended in the metaverse too? If the metaverse aims to be like the OASIS, where anyone can be who they want to be, it could raise concerns of deceit between individuals if they aren’t who they say they are, scuppering relationships when they find out who they’re actually communicating with in real life. There also remains the ethics behind isolated worlds being owned by different companies and collecting our data, and monetising on every move we do in the metaverse. Beside what’s happening in the metaverse, there are also the concerns of what it could be doing to us as individuals on the outside and our real life communications – having even less distance from reality could spur on a mental health crisis, and while we might interact with more humans in the metaverse, the real human connection will still be lacking. To quote Ready Player One: “I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life, right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realised, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real.” 

Whatever the metaverse might become in the future, whether it be a place we use in our daily lives, in our working lives, or simply as leisure, it will provoke huge shift in the way that we communicate and interact with each other. From even bigger, better and more personalised immersive storytelling to the rise and creation of fictitious influencers that only appear and take part in the metaverse. And as comms professionals, it could really be a gamechanger, whether we like it or not. We must be ready to take into account the opportunities in the metaverse, as well as the real impacts that the metaverse could have on an individual in the outside world.  

The metaverse might not be arriving for a few years, but when it does, we must be ready for it.  

Innovation. The introduction of something new and a word we hear about all the time in the creative industry. It can be crucial to the initial and continuing success of a business, but also crippling if you don’t commit to it and give consumers exactly what they want.

Customer service is often considered to be the key to a brand’s reputation, but part of keeping the customer happy and loyal, is to bring something new and exciting to keep them engaged. And that’s where individuality and innovation come in, because people will get bored easily. Remember how popular HQ Trivia was only a few months back? Now, the novelty of potentially winning £500 at 3pm and 9pm everyday has worn off, so people simply aren’t bothered by it anymore. Consumers are more intrigued by the concept of HQ Trivia, rather than the brand itself and frankly, the game became more of a trend than a sustainable brand.

A recent study revealed that UK CMOs are almost half as likely to see innovation as the primary role of the marketing function as their US counterparts – only 25% of UK marketers identify “leading disruptive innovation” as a core functional priority. Surprising, since you only need to Google “innovation” to see all the articles that express the importance of innovation in business. So, why are marketers so resistant to prioritise it?

Engaging with the right crowd

Understanding exactly what consumers want when it comes to new innovations can be tough, especially when there are so many other brands competing for the same crowds, and it can seem difficult to get noticed by anyone. In recent years, brands have attempted to create new marketing techniques, particularly on social media, to try and break through the noise. But some of these actually have a very minimal effect on the relationship between the brand and consumer.

Awareness day campaigns are obvious examples of this. “National Avocado Day”, “International Sloth Day” or “Bring a Potato to Work Day” are just a few of the many examples of this kind of activity that are constantly popping up and trending on social media. And brands are quick to seize the opportunity to create extravagant campaigns, even if the topic has no correlation with their brand. But because it’s trending and popular, they want to be in on it. Whilst some brands are capable of pulling something off – like Aperol giving out free Aperol spritz on National Prosecco Day (yes please!) – for others, the buzz and engagement only really lasts for the day, so is it really worth it?

Similarly, brands who jump on the clickbait-, relatable-type Facebook posts, like the “Tag your friend so that they have to look at this pickle” or “Share if you think XYZ” posts, among others, will only ever get lots of likes, shares and comments on that post and that tends to be where the engagement with the user stops. Consumers are only liking, sharing and commenting because they can relate to the content, not because they want to engage with the brand. Converting leads is said to be a top priority for 70% of marketers, but jumping on social media trends won’t always deliver the best ROI.

Perceptions of innovation

Churning out new products or coming up with big, extravagant marketing campaigns is what most people expect when they think of innovation, and what brands think will gain them more customers. But innovation doesn’t have to be as big as that. In fact, small, more focused approaches to innovation can be more beneficial to the brand. Micro influencers, for example, are more focused than a huge, celebrity influencer because they have followers who are genuinely interested in the content that they post.

Likewise, engaging with consumers in a way that’s meaningful will be much more valuable for your brand in the long-term. Challenger bank, Monzo, has a community forum where its users can chat to each other about Monzo products and interact with a team of Monzo employees to discuss new ideas. It allows Monzo to properly listen to what their customers are thinking, and the customers really feel like they are part of the Monzo brand.

Jumping on the bandwagon of novelty marketing trends is easily done, especially when you see every other brand taking part. But it’s important to stay in-line with business values, making sure the customer is front of mind and asking yourself “will this really benefit my business and gain me loyal customers?”

Every brand has something unique and interesting which makes them who they are – otherwise they wouldn’t be a brand. Finding what makes a brand unique and exploiting that, instead of jumping onto current, popular trends, will be much more valuable in the long run – just because everyone might be talking about one thing one day, doesn’t mean they’ll be talking about it the next.

Wimbledon may be over and done, but while the sun is shining, tennis – followed by strawberries and cream, of course – is always on my to-do list. And it often makes me think that choosing an agency and running a pitch process can be a bit like a game of tennis. In short, sweaty and exhausting but thoroughly rewarding when it’s done right.

I joke, but it’s not easy on either party. And sometimes you’ve won or lost before you even get on the court; the wrong choice of opponent (or wrong shortlist of agencies) or playing on clay when you’re used to grass – inviting an SEO agency when you need a social media firm – can cause you no end of headaches for the rest of the contract period.

So, with that in mind, dust off the old tennis whites, re-string that racquet sitting in your cupboard and join me as we run through how to get the most from the pitching process – and avoid your boss uttering the infamous line “you cannot be serious!”

Before the game

The other day I played tennis with my sister, Helen, for the first time in months, but I know that we’re about the same standard. In the same way, picking the right longlist and shortlist of agencies is important – and if you haven’t played before, get a coach. There are plenty of freelance senior PR advisors who are familiar with the agency landscape and can help you find the right agency to fit you.

This is a crucial first step; working with a small, boutique agency can be very different from working with a vast multinational, full-service agency, and there are pros and cons for each. Similarly, marketing is a vast, sprawling discipline these days, so you may not be sure whether you need a ‘traditional’ (i.e. media relations) PR agency, an SEO agency or an influencer relations agency – but when you only have the budget for one of them, the temptation is to invite all three to pitch.

This ‘mixed doubles’ approach towards selecting an agency isn’t necessarily a mistake, but it’s something you should walk into with your eyes open. Different agency types have very different styles of responding to a brief, so you should be firm in specifying how you want them to respond if you’re to avoid comparing apples with oranges and giving yourself a huge headache.

It’s all in the opening serve…

Playing against a ball machine always seems like a bit of a novelty, but after a while you’ll find yourself craving a human opponent, however much they may grunt (sorry Helen, but it’s true). In the same way, during the first stage of agency selection, do a lot of it in person or over video calls.

Many of our contemporaries have made less flattering comparisons for the initial stages of the pitch process, saying that you wouldn’t marry someone after just two dates, and without having met them – and this is totally fair. You’ll be working in close proximity with this agency for (hopefully) a number of months and years, so you need to understand that their vision and energy matches yours, that they understand your company and have good experience in the space – and that you think you could work well together. Doing this face-to-face is much easier and more effective than doing it over email.

… and the final smash

The most important thing in securing the right agency partner for you, whether it’s in a phone call or during a face-to-face briefing session, is being clear about what you want to get from the relationship. Imagine the final smash that wins the match – or even a post-game review where you’re assessing the project in a year’s time. What was successful about the campaign? What did the agency achieve? What made your boss crack open the bubbly in celebration? Play this back within the brief and you’ll be onto a winner.

However, the other important component is that the resources you provide (i.e. the budget) must match your requirements. I think most people would confess to having champagne taste and a beer budget – but this rarely works professionally! If communications and marketing are vital to your organisation, then the leadership team must provide realistic resources for this – or compromise. You wouldn’t expect Rafael Nadal to come onto court with a second-hand racquet, trainers falling apart, having forgotten to train for the last fortnight – he needs the best equipment and training to stay number one.

There you have it – a few more tips on how to get the most from your agency selection process. It’s something we’ve written on quite a lot, so if you want further guidance, please don’t hesitate to contact me, or to read some of our previous pieces. It can be a tough process, but by following these steps, you can court the right agency and ace your marketing plan!

NGINX, Inc., the company based on the popular open source project and offering a suite of technologies designed to develop and deliver modern applications, has appointed technology marketing communications agency Firefly Communications Group to handle communications in the UK, France and Germany. Firefly will work in partnership with PAN Communications in the US and PR Deadlines in Australia to cover NGINX’s priority regions.

Firefly will increase NGINX’s brand awareness across all three European markets, with the agency set to handle media relations activity including press relations, speaker programs, awards, and news hijacking. Firefly will also manage analyst relations activities, directly supporting the lead pipeline.

Claire Walker, CEO and founder of Firefly added: “It’s rare to work with a company that affects so many people, but is so modest about its achievements. The simple fact that over half of all global web traffic touches NGINX code at some stage is mind-blowing, but we’re also looking forward to getting down into the technology and delving into the world of containers, microservices and making NGINX’s story front-of-mind with its prospects everywhere.”

“Through our open source roots, NGINX has incredible brand recognition and we’ve been achieving rapid growth, especially in the EMEA region. We needed to find the right agency to partner with us for the next stage of our business,” said Jesica Church, NGINX Director of Brand and MarCom. “With strong experience in multiple markets to help execute our initiatives, Firefly is already helping NGINX expand our voice in the tech landscape.”

NGINX powers two thirds of the world’s busiest sites and applications including Buzzfeed, Instagram, Netflix, Pinterest and SoundCloud. The NGINX open source project started in 2002 and was formally created as a company in 2011. Since then, it has achieved 100 percent year-on-year growth for four straight years and has recently raised $43m in Series C funding to help accelerate its mission to digitally transform the enterprise and modernise applications. Today, millions of innovators choose NGINX and NGINX Plus for delivering their sites and applications with performance, reliability, security and scale.

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