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!

We all lose focus sometimes. Whether it’s in a daydream or scrolling through social media, occasionally our brains just switch off for no particular reason and we procrastinate. Of course, a bit of procrastination never hurt anybody, but if it’s continually affecting your work, then something needs to be done.

In the new world of work, working from home has become more frequent — which is excellent — but sometimes, the distractions at home can be a little too tempting.

As PRs and marketers, we are often working on creative projects that need us to focus so we can conjure up exciting and inspiring ideas, but if we allow ourselves too much time for procrastination, it’s likely that our ideas won’t develop, and our clients will be left unhappy. To prevent this from happening, we’ve found Focusmate.

Focusmate is a free, virtual coworking model that pairs you with an accountability partner for a live, virtual coworking session that will keep you focused on your tasks. All you need to start the session is a computer with a camera, microphone and an internet connection. By connecting you to other professionals looking to prevent procrastination, Focusmate keeps you both accountable and ensures that you get your work done in the allotted 50-minute session.

During the session, you are allowed to say ‘hello’ to your partner and share what you plan to work on. Then, at the end, you can ask your partner how the session went. You’re encouraged not to speak to your partner during the session as this may be a distraction. If your partner is late, doesn’t show up or gets distracted during the session, you can report it to help enforce the rules consistently and fairly.

So, if you want to stop procrastinating and start being productive, then check out Focusmate and get your work back on track.

Facebook (and many of the social networks) have already been putting greater transparency measures in place in the recent waves of scrutiny and interest. For example, Facebook discussed openly how it deals with abuse and radicalisation, and Canada allowed consumers to see what ads a company is running at any one time.

Facebook’s latest move to be supportive is to help with the forthcoming GDPR regulations. Compared to many overly legalistic guidelines, Facebook’s information does a good job of explaining what businesses using Facebook need to know. For example – and I’m paraphrasing – it essentially says things like “when we do custom audience matching, we’re the data processor, when you decide the purpose of processing data, you’re the data controller”

Now back in January, Facebook approached this from the user perspective, giving consumers the ability to control how they were advertised to and it’ll be interesting to see how this evolves and how the ICO views this. At the moment, the privacy page is very granular, but it’s not the easiest page to reach or customise. I imagine that come May, Facebook will present a pop-up that users cannot click away from, forcing them to review their ad and privacy choices.

Otherwise, they’ll be marketing on the basis of legitimate interest rather than unambiguous consent – and whilst this is still legal, it’s on slightly shakier ground. After all, ‘legitimate interest’ could justifiably be argued based on a link to demographic groups (e.g. you’re 18-21 and list ‘music’ as an interest, so Facebook will serve you music-based ads) but it does rather put the onus for consent back on the advertiser. Since advertisers aren’t in control of the platform, and doing ‘per ad consent’ would be a nightmare, this isn’t a great solution.

In the meantime, if you’re one of the advertisers that contributes to Facebook’s $36bn ad revenue, use this page and know where you stand!

You may have started to hear about a new social network called Vero. The self-described ‘relationship-first social network’ had a surge in popularity recently after saying its first one million users wouldn’t have to pay for a subscription in future, causing mass sign ups, a lot of press headlines about how this may be ‘the next Instagram’, and ultimately creating major service interruptions for the app due to the influx of users.

But why all the fuss? Do we really need another social network? Probably not, to be honest, but Vero’s supposed USP over other networks is a non-algorithm-based feed and a paid subscription model (eventually), meaning it won’t rely on ad revenue and serving users content they don’t necessarily care about. In its own descriptors, it aims to align physical world relationships to the online experience, providing a seamless way to share content with your network. You can read its full manifesto here.

That’s a nice proposition if they can make it work, but whether this will be enough to surge it to mainstream adoption and popularity remains to be seen. For now, here’s my first impressions to help you can decide if this is the network for you.

No advertising and a chronological news feed

It’s hard to judge this yet since I’m not following nearly as many people on Vero as I am on Instagram (and very few of my friends are on it), but the ad free and chronological news feed is definitely a plus for the platform. It’s frustrating to miss a post from someone you genuinely you want to see content from just because they don’t post often and therefore are ruled out by the algorithms, or to have a post from six days ago coming up at the top of today’s news feed. This ‘old-Instagram’ feature will be a winner but be aware that a clause in its privacy policy suggests the company may still use your data for advertising in some capacity. This excerpt from the policy says:

Not just visuals

Vero allows users to post photos, links, and recommendations for music, films, TV shows, books and places, and the news feed actually looks a bit more like Twitter than Instagram or Facebook to me. There’s no option for a free-text post, which suggests you might get less Facebook-esque rants from friends and more ‘meaningful’ content. This could be great for businesses, as it will help the spread of more natural word-of-mouth recommendations but is less good if you happen to follow anyone who starts sharing ‘Fake News’ links. Perhaps it’s just my PR cynicism, but I also think this kind of sharing just encourages more Instagram-influencer style posts that are clearly advertising rather than genuine expression, and if there’s too much of that, I suspect people will tune out.

Prioritise your connections

In line with it’s chronological news feed, Vero helps you prioritise your connections. You can choose to ‘follow’ or ‘connect’ with people, and when you connect with them you can specify if they’re a ‘close friend’, ‘friend’, or ‘acquaintance’. The default setting for a new connection is ‘acquaintance’ and only you can see how you’ve classified connections, which is handy. When you share content, you can also choose who will see it – be it close friends, acquaintances, everyone etc.

Poor identity verification

Vero does use verified ticks for high profile users, but it doesn’t have usernames. It strongly encourages people to use their real name when creating their profile (a la Facebook) and does ask for your phone number and email upon sign up to help verify you, try and prevent false identities, and help you find connections. However, it’s a bit simple and there’s no reason why someone couldn’t make a fake profile – and it seems there’s already plenty on there (here’s looking at you ‘Taylor Swift’), as with other social networks.

Confusing interface and functionality

This is the most annoying thing about Vero for me. It’s a bit hard to use, I don’t like the colour schemes, and it’s just not as intuitive as other social networks (yet). In many ways it is like a re-skinned Instagram, but the explore page (pictured below) makes it hard to find the kind of people I’d want to follow (or perhaps they aren’t on it yet) and I’m finding myself darting between different parts of it trying to work out where to go. The collections section could be useful for curating content once you’re following the right people, but right now the whole thing is a bit of a turn off. I also read that pictures sent to you in private conversations will appear in your news feed (albeit only visible to you), which has a bit too much disaster potential for my liking!

You’ll have to pay for it

Vero users will eventually have to pay a yet to be specified ‘small annual fee’ to join, and Vero will also take a cut from businesses that sell via its ‘buy now’ feature. While constant advertising on other social networks is frustrating, Vero will surely have to knock other networks off their pedestals in order to make its paid subscription model work. Why would I pay to speak to my best friend when I can WhatsApp her? Why would I pay to see content from my favourite musician when I can follow them on Instagram and hear their music on Spotify?

I suspect that Vero may argue that through its app you can do that all in one place, but multiple platforms for this don’t bother me enough right now to be switching entirely.

My Vero verdict

Vero definitely has some positive aspects, but I’m just not sure we need it. I already see the same content from friends on Instagram and Facebook in particular, so I don’t need to like the photo a third time on Vero, surely?

I can see the opportunity for aspiring businesses and influencers – particularly creative artists, musicians, and retail sellers to have another means of selling to consumers, but when Vero doesn’t want to be filled with advertising, this opportunity is unlikely to pay off unless consumers are willing to see all that brand-filled content.

All that said, I’m not going to knock it until I’ve tried it more, and it’s worth a go while it’s free anyway – even if you delete it soon after!

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn

“I’m sure I saw that somewhere…”

One of the cornerstones of successful marketing is research – and perhaps more importantly, turning research into understanding and knowledge. However, it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed with the deluge of stuff, gubbins and general noise online, and lose track of the one Chrome tab that contained a crucial gem of insight.

Ever since it was discontinued in 2011, we’ve been searching for a replacement for Google Desktop. We’ve recently come across a promising – and still evolving – product called WorldBrain. This chrome plugin indexes your search history, Evernote and Pocket files, offering a superfast way to search through them. In time, we’re promised fast email searching and more.

All data is stored locally on your computer, so you don’t have to worry about privacy – although you should be careful that WorldBrain will also gobble up your lunchtime browsing history. However, compared to the frustration of a weaker marketing strategy because you couldn’t ‘re-find’ a piece of inspiration, the risk of flashing your next holiday destination at your boss is far outweighed by the benefits!

Winter is coming, the days are getting darker earlier and that can make us feel a little miserable at times. It can hit people hard, with some suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which impacts concentration, personal effectiveness and energy levels. Not good for our wellbeing, and not good for business.

Natural light is always the best answer. A study found that workers sat by a window received 173% more white light exposure during work hours and slept 46 minutes more (on average) each night. But with shorter days on the horizon, a thought to other solutions is very worthwhile. The Independent recently compiled this great list of SAD lamps which provides light therapy for those suffering the winter blues.

We usually pick one great tool for you, but this month we encourage you to give some thought to the light around you and take inspiration from the Independent’s list.

AnswerThePublic isn’t a new tool, but it’s a goodie if you’ve not come across it before. The site collates the auto suggested results provided by Google and Bing, for a word or phrase. It’ll search keywords whether you want to look for the name of a product or service, the name of your brand, or your competitors. The clever people at AnswerThePublic also created a way to visualise the data, grouping questions by who, what, where, when, why and how.

In the example on Facebook, you’ll see from a quick scan that Facebook has some work to do on how it explains its privacy settings. You’ll also notice topical questions pop up, like in this example ‘Which Facebook friends like Trump?’, so it’s always worth refreshing this insight on a regular basis.

This search insight is valuable for PR and marketers in many ways – whether you want some prompts in a creative brainstorm or you want to understand how your competitor is being searched for. Also, in the safety of their browsers, people are more likely to express their true feelings and preferences, and you may uncover insights you won’t get from surveys. Often in surveys you get social desirability bias – meaning that people over-stress good behaviour and under-stress bad behaviour.  You don’t get that when you’re analysing search patterns.

Search insight is also especially interesting as PR and SEO become more intrinsically linked. Google is constantly tweaking its algorithm to point people to the right answers, so it’s particularly useful to know which are the popular questions associated with your brand and products/services.

So, next time you’re searching Google for ‘is there a tool that collates auto-suggested search results?’ you already have your answer!

He aims, he sends and the e-mail bounces straight back.

Despite frequent exclamations that “E-mail is dead!”, it is truly alive and kicking and still the primary, and sometimes preferred, means of communication for most.

But what if you don’t have the right email address?

We first attempt to decipher the company email pattern, hoping that the standard will reap the intended result. Even if the email doesn’t bounce back into your inbox, can you ever be certain that it truly did get sent and to the right person in the company? It is quite probable there is more than one John Smith in the business. So, as with many other problems, we then turn to Google. Hours of mind-numbing searching, preventing you from working on other important tasks, and potentially leaving you nothing to show for your efforts.

This is where Email Hunter hopes to come in. The free tool aims to unearth those important and difficult to find e-mail addresses from the internet. Simply entering the company domain or even just the company’s name reveals all employee email addresses listed on the web – hopefully exposing the company’s email pattern. This can all be filtered down to people’s specific emails by adding the target’s first and last name.

Worried that you may have noted down the wrong address?  The most useful aspect of the tool is the Email Verifier which checks the validity of the email source and its deliverability. Making sure that when you do shoot out that important email, you hit the bullseye.

Even with the right email address, this cannot guarantee total success. This tool will only help to reach some of those targets we deemed out of arm’s length, some simply are untraceable. It certainly cannot ensure that emails will actually be opened and acted upon. That is up to you. At least, though, Email Hunter can ease the hassle and give you more time to work on that.

We have already spoken about changing data protection laws (most importantly, GDPR) and this may have a significant impact about how the data from Email Hunter can be used. Just in case, better get on the hunt soon!


This is the second in a two part series, where I provide tips on how to get the most out of a PR video interview. My background is teaching video skills to would-be journalists and bloggers in Vietnam. What I learnt there translates beautifully to the UK – after all, the art of communication is not limited by geography or language.

Last week I looked at interviewing skills, but this week is all about the filming component – an aspect that can make or break the success of your video interviews.

Part Two: Filming  

The ability to interview and film like a journalist (or as close as you can) is becoming an increasingly important part of our business.

While interviewing is not too hard of a skill to pick up for PRs, learning the ins and outs of a video camera can be a little more painstaking. Here’s how we prepare for and complete our filming on the day:

1. Make sure you’re prepared

Before you go to do any kind of video interview, you need to make sure all your equipment is ready. Have you charged all the batteries? Do you have spare batteries? Do you have SD cards with plentiful space with you? Do you have lighting capabilities? Do you have several places to back up your files once you’ve finished filming?

These are must-have elements of the preparation process. If you answer “no” to any of these, you’re planning for disaster. There is nothing more embarrassing than realising you’ve forgotten something or haven’t got enough battery in front of your talent. Create an inventory checklist of what you need to do, and go through it one to two days before your scheduled interview.

2. Choose your background wisely

Ideally you’ll be filming in a location that gives context to your interview and your talent will be dressed accordingly – for example, a doctor dressed in scrubs with a background that looks like a hospital or GP’s office.

This can be challenging if your client can’t elaborate on what your location will look like in advance or if you know you’ll be in a dull setting, but do your best to dress the background appropriately and bring props if necessary.

Regardless, ensure there’s nothing distracting happening in the background of your picture, such as extra people, signs with text, and bright objects (or inappropriate content!). Likewise, avoid filming in front of things that may look like they’re protruding from the talent’s head or body, such as trees or poles.

3. Set up the correct eyeline

interviewtriangleSet up an interview in a (right-angle) triangle. Your interviewee should be positioned in a straight line from the camera lens, while your interviewer stands slightly to the side of the camera. This will ensure your talent is looking at a slight diagonal to your interviewer without looking too front-on or side-on.

We like to remind the talent to maintain eye contact with the interviewer for the duration of the interview too, so that they don’t get nervous and look down the middle of the camera. If you’re the interviewer, also do your best to be at the same eye level as the talent, so the talent doesn’t appear to be looking up or down at you in the footage.

4. Get some support

Use a tripod wherever possible and ensure it is set at a height at the eye level of the talent. There is nothing worse than shaky footage!

If you’re stuck without one, try to find a solid wall or post to lean against and clamp your elbows together to help reduce the shakes while you film.

If there’s nothing to lean on, crouch in on yourself as much as possible. Keep your elbows locked, bend your knees, and rock in gentle, small, and very slow side to side motions as you film so any shakes are controlled. It sounds ridiculous, but it works!

5. Can you hear me?

Always monitor the audio as you film with a pair of headphones to ensure it’s clear throughout. Ideally your talent should be speaking at -6dB (not over -3dB) – you will usually be able to check this level is being met on the visual display – at their usual talking volume to get the best results.

Keep your microphone as close as possible to the talent without obstructing the visual, and take care to ensure the talent removes anything that may jewellery ‘jingle’ in the microphone, such as necklaces, bracelets, or watches.

Have them say a few lines before you start filming to ensure everything sounds correct and that they’re sounding clear. We often ask clients to introduce themselves to the camera with their name and title – this comes in handy in editing too if you need to confirm surnames or positions for title slides.

6. Frame the shot

videointerviewspictureA well-framed shot is essential for video interviews. Generally for an interview, a medium-to-close shot of the subject is good, but ensure you aren’t cutting them off at the elbows or the tops of their shoulders.

Another important part of framing is the looking space. If your interviewee is looking to the left at your interviewer, ensure there’s background showing to their left of the frame and vice versa. You don’t want your talent to look like they’re too centred or as though they’re staring into the edge of the shot. Similarly, ensure you leave a small amount of space above their head and to the side of their body that’s not on the looking space side.

7. See the light

This is where things get a bit more technical. The best way to ensure a perfectly lit video interview is to use natural light wherever possible. If you’re outdoors, stick to the shade (but ensure no harsh shadows are falling across the talent); if you’re inside try to make sure the talent is near a window and the light falls on their face and shoulders (there’ll be a shadow if they have their back to it). If the light is falling strongly to one side of their face, you may need to use a prop light to balance the unlit side and ensure they aren’t too shadowed.

Before filming, check if your camera has a button or dial called ‘zebra’. This will bring up moving, zebra-stripe like lines on the footage to show how exposed your footage is. Turn the zebra stripes to their lowest point (the shot may go dark), and slowly bring them back up until the stripes are just falling onto the talent’s face. Your shot should now be well exposed.

If there’s no natural light or you can’t bring in your own lighting, look for a setting on your camera titled ‘gain’. Set this to low, or L, and see how the shot looks. Ideally you will be able to keep the setting on low, but you can increase it to medium, or M, if it’s too dark. However, the more you increase your gain the grainier your footage will get – this is particularly bad if you’re going to display your video on a large screen. The lower the better!

8. And a few extra considerations

Having gone through these, you should be safe to film. But there’s a few more things to ensure you’ve done before you wrap it up. If you’re going to be editing your interview to include the questions being spoken from the interviewer, set up your camera after the interview so it faces the interviewer and film them re-asking the questions. You’ll also need to film the interviewer’s reaction-shots of them nodding, laughing and so on. You never know what you’ll need in editing!

Similarly, if it’s a long interview you may like to include other footage of the interviewee doing something that relates to their answers – called overlay – to keep the visuals interesting. The more footage and angles you can get, the easier the editing process will be.

Wrap it up

At the end of the process, it’s better to end up with too much footage than too little, and the more you can get right before the editing process starts the easier it will be to create polished video interviews. Don’t rely on post-production – always fix everything you can while filming. Good luck!

Go back to Part One: Interviewing.

In the first of a two part series, I’ll be providing tips about how to get the most out of a PR video interview. My background is teaching video skills to would-be journalists and bloggers in Vietnam. What I learnt there translates beautifully to the UK – after all, the art of communication is not limited by geography or language.

Part One: Interview technique


PR agencies can do more than just write a press release or blog post – video is really coming to the fore, both for B2B and B2C communications.

I’m not talking here about full-blown, high budget video production. Rather, the video work we do for our clients is designed to support their marketing activities – for example, video interviews with executives on topical issues, vox pops to support campaigns, or shots from an event our client is attending.

Even before you start to shoot, it’s important to have a sound knowledge of interview techniques.  Here is how we approach video interviews for our clients:

1. Prepare, but don’t be a slave to a script

Draft out a list of questions, but keep it flexible. To get the best out of spokespeople – your ‘talent’ – they must stay relaxed and be able to express themselves in their own words. Also, depending on the responses, it’s sometimes necessary to deviate from the plan and go down a different line of questioning in order to get the best answers.

Our approach is to start a dialogue with the interviewee before the camera starts rolling so that they relax, whilst ensuring their attention stays on us, not the camera lens! There are times where a piece to camera is appropriate, but it’s a harder skill to master and most of the time focusing on the interviewer is easier for the talent.

2. Answer the question with a question

We also encourage the answers to be in full sentences – for example, if we ask “what’s your opinion about PR evaluation?” They say: “My opinion on PR evaluation is that most agencies don’t understand it,” not “Most agencies don’t understand it.” This means that you can better pull out sound bites in the editing process.

3. Listen carefully

It sounds obvious, but really listening to answers can make or break video interviews. We never want to end up in the editing process realising that the interviewee could have expanded on an important topic or could have explained something complex more thoroughly.

Similarly, we ensure that the interviewee speaks more broadly than what we ask – they may add something we’ve not considered. At its simplest, we end the interview by asking “is there anything else you would like to say?”

As a public relations consultant it’s your job to ensure the video stays on message, so if you’re interviewing your own client or colleague, you’ve got a role to play here. Make sure you have your PR messaging sheet on hand and that you’re familiar with it.

Listen out for repetition or verbal tics. Often an interviewee will latch on to a phrase or term, that is repeated. It’s not noticeable in common communication, but on video it sticks out like a sore thumb.

4. Make sure your talent is passionate

As an interviewer and director, your role is to ensure that your talent looks and sounds as good as possible on screen. Most interviewees are too busy thinking about their answers to consider how it comes across.

Encourage your talent to ‘dial up’ their energy levels. Show them what you mean – often it’s important to make the case that no matter how ‘silly’ it feels being extra energetic in the moment, it won’t look over-the-top on camera.

Get them to talk about people they respect most on TV. Chances are it’s because of their passion for the subject. Another technique is to get them to talk about something they have a strong interest in, then dive back into the interview and see the enthusiasm levels maintained.

5. Ensure the answers are clear and ‘waffle-free’

We sometimes find ourselves with an interviewee who is already particularly passionate about a topic. This is fantastic for the energy but it can also mean you get a lot of waffling. In these cases we listen to the answer in the first take, suggest the key points and retake until we have something succinct and punchy. Likewise, if the interviewee sniffs, coughs, sneezes, or another loud noise interrupts their answer, we simply redo the question. The result: neat, clear answers that make the editing process much easier.

The most important thing we strive for in the process of video interviews is getting it right first time. Messaging, particularly for client marketing material, needs to be on point and any mistakes in wording can’t be fixed in post-production editing. That said, while good interview technique is essential in producing a client-worthy result, the technical ability to frame a shot and film it properly is just as essential.

Stay tuned for our next blog post in this series – Part Two: Filming.

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