Looking at the front pages of national newspapers or watching TV bulletins over the past 10 days you could be forgiven for thinking there wasn’t anything else going on in the world but the Olympics. From the awe of the opening ceremony and the GB team winning gold medals to empty seats in stands and allegations of athletes taking performance-enhancing drugs, stories linked to the London 2012 Games are top of the news agenda.
Editors have, of course, managed to squeeze in coverage (towards the back of the paper, naturally) on big international stories like the on-going crisis in Syria. And on the business pages, the ups and downs of large international organisations, like the Royal Bank of Scotland reporting a half-year loss of £1.5bn, are still making print.
But with limited space for non-Olympics stories in the nationals, combined with some trade publications missing editions for the quiet summer period, PR agencies would be foolish to be embarking on large-scale proactive profile-raising activity right now. Online and social channels are of course always open for business, but there just aren’t the pages in print editions to make a real splash while the world is watching everything from athletics to table tennis.
For comms professionals that aren’t helping Lord Coe and his team with the Olympics effort, this is no time for thumb-twiddling however. We are working with our clients to plan for what promises to be a busy autumn, helping them prioritise and prepare for the big initiatives over the coming months. In essence it comes down to the simple question of what does an organisation want to be famous for?
In a world dominated by 24-hour media and constantly evolving deadlines there is sometimes a temptation to walk hot-footed into every debate going. But by commenting here, there and everywhere, organisations can lose sight of what really matters – i.e. communicating in a really focused manner with key stakeholders, the key influencers that make the difference between a business thriving and becoming extinct. They can wear themselves out by entering such trivial debates that they end up lacking the energy to talk about their own proposition or important issues close to their business.
At MRM we run ‘brown paper sessions’ for our clients where we get the key people from an organisation together in a room and thrash out communications activity for the coming 12 months, getting agreement on campaigns and messaging. It’s much easier to do this when the entire team is together and there isn’t an urgent media deadline looming. And having a number of big thinkers in a room allows for some, if you’ll excuse the jargon, real blue sky thinking.
Some may be cynical about the idea of planning ‘campaigns’ and ‘thought leadership’, not least the media. However, journalists are more bemused when organisations and individuals within them become a rent-a-quote and jump on every bandwagon. And in any case, reporters and editors also use the summer months to plan, for example in terms of investigations.
Journalists also have short tempers when key information about products and services is not in a state that can be quickly sent out. We’ve all seen the diary stories where an organisation’s PR department doesn’t have basic information such as number of employees to hand. Compiling thorough FAQs takes time, but is essential for the smooth running of a comms function. Having worked as a journalist, I know how frustrating it is when a PR can’t deliver the goods when there is a deadline looming.
As we all enjoy the last days of this year’s Olympics, and as what seems like half the country heads off on their summer holidays, for those that are in the office we’ll be getting our ducks in row for September. That said, we’ll still have our eyes fixed very firmly on the developing news agenda – when the Games are over we will quickly be into the silly season and there will suddenly be blank pages to fill. Without getting too trivial and cheapening the PR effort we’ll be staking our claim for coverage here, while at the same time having our eyes focused on the opportunities of the months ahead.