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The global response to the coronavirus crisis is having a significant impact on sales revenues across all industries, but even in these tumultuous times there are still opportunities for companies to increase global sales interest by optimising their media position.

There is a direct correlation between editorial content in the trade, technical, business and mainstream press and an immediate hike in sales interest.

For instance, editorial mentions, more than any other form of marketing, is proven to result in an immediate increase in the number of visitors to a company’s website, generating more incoming sales interest, and thereby reducing the number of telephone interactions sales teams need to make to achieve sales targets. It saves time and can reduce operational costs.

According to sales consultant Brevet, 92% of all customer interactions happen over the phone and it takes an average of eight cold call attempts to reach a prospect.

What’s more, frequent editorial mentions in the press boosts the sales conversation-to-appointment ratio considerably. So, rather than having, say, twenty conversations to get one appointment, more appointments can be achieved for significantly less effort.

By getting your story across in the media you are ostensibly making that tricky first call, but instead of just calling one potential customer, you're reaching out to considerably more, potentially thousands. So, for sales teams, the increase in editorial mentions means doors are already open and potential customers know about you before they make the call.

Unlike advertising and advertorials, which one has to pay for, editorial is the more trusted content because no financial transaction takes place between the supplier (the company/PR Agency) and the consumer (the journalist/editor/publisher).

Content is published on merit and therefore considered an informed and independent endorsement by the end-user, the reader, the potential purchaser. “Editorials build businesses; advertising helps maintain them”, to paraphrase @cynthia-kocialski

As Kendrick PR explains in a blog posted in 2017, "[editorial] is free media coverage that usually materialises as a result of hard work and strong media relationships. This is why it is so important, from a PR and marketing point of view, to build media contacts and relations, as they can be a huge asset down the line. This isn’t to say that advertorials are to be overlooked as they can be great for widespread exposure, but if you can secure editorial, you are saving money and gaining credibility.”

As a case in point consider the integrity and newsworthy value of the story "JD Wetherspoon pubs to reopen with staff in goggles post-lockdown", published today in The Guardian newspaper, against the source material published on the JD Wetherspoon website, which I also link.

While the aim of Wetherspoon with this story is to ultimately generate more customers to its pubs - when they eventually re-open - and to promote the fact the company is still active and in business - the landlord’s PR department/agency has ensured it has achieved far greater exposure and credence than simply posting the story on the company’s website or social media platform and hoping for the best.

Reading the story in The Guardian compelled me to visit Wetherspoon’s website to see if indeed pubs are opening any time soon, and while there is sadly no news to report on that front, you get the drift.

Placing company content on your website and social media channels is useful, but it is passive, considered advertising, and should be used in concert with your external marketing activities, not replace them. No matter how good your story is it will not benefit from the same market reach and sales interest as having it published in a bona fide media outlet.

If your story's in the press, the phones will ring.

Maritime companies around the world are facing unprecedented and challenging times, with the spread of the new coronavirus preventing direct contact with existing and potential customers, suppliers, and colleagues. Tradeshows and conferences have been cancelled and many of you will be reading this from your home office.

The current situation is unlikely to resolve itself for sometime and if companies fail to adapt then further revenue losses can be expected, especially for European and US-based manufacturers in lockdown.

So what should companies be doing to market themselves in a post-coronavirus environment, where traditional marketing avenues are closed?

Firstly, don’t panic! Marketing budgets are often the first to go when the proverbial hits the fan. But don’t be hasty. You’ll need this budget to maintain global sales interest and keep your customers and suppliers informed. If you don’t maintain a market presence you could be forgotten about when the world starts up again.

WEBINARS

These are now a vital tool in the marketing box of tricks and, if you haven't already, you should be looking at holding online webinars, on a regular if not monthly basis, not least to inform customers and suppliers that you’re still in business and doing all you can to get your products and solutions to market.

You can also use this medium to raise issues and promote your business, executives, new solutions and services. Certainly those executives that would have been speaking at the conferences cancelled or postponed will have a platform from which to deliver their presentations.

If you get the content right and market the webinar effectively, you will be surprised how many log-in on the day and listen to what you have to say.

Many webinar platforms are very easy to manage and provide interactive features, such as opinion polls and Q&A’s, video sharing and downloadable presentations. Media agencies, conference producers and publishers are now offering this service, which can be a useful approach to marketing your offering directly to their subscription bases.

CONTENT

Increase your PR and media content output. This is important and helps ensure your voice continues to be heard, often to a much wider audience.

Print and online trade journalists and editors, many of whom work from their home offices anyway, still need to fill pages. So do start putting pen to paper with issue-based, informative and relevent content. They will be very thankful if the copy is good.

Remember, content is king. Editors are savvy and know what’s waffle and what’s not, so it is always best to appoint a specialist capable of unearthing your news (and you will have lots of stories to tell) and present it in a way that appeals to editors and their readers.

The writing of press releases, features, blogs and social media posts is an oft undervalued skill, so do seek advice or you may be clogging up journalists' inboxes with crap and any subsequent mails will go straight to the trashcan.

MEDIA RELATIONS

While we are all fighting our own fires at the moment, journalists too will struggle if they are unable to source a story or are unable to contact you directly for a quote.

Many will still be interested in speaking with you if your story is newsworthy. So do consider 1-2-1 interviews with a media representative. Most are friendly bunch and happy to talk with you if your story whet’s the appetite.

But again, it is highly recommended that you get a media specialist to pave the way and sit in on the interview. Before any interview takes place, you should speak with someone capable of providing media training on the do’s and dont's as this can prevent you saying something that you really wish you hadn’t.

SOCIAL MEDIA

LinkedIn, Twitter YouTube and WeChat are the primary social media platforms for maritime professionals. Most of you will be increasing your posts, shares, tweets and building up your social media position. But if you don’t have a social media platform yet, what are you thinking? Now is the time to really start looking at this medium as a way of directly reaching out to your customer base.

ADVERTISING

Revise your marketing plans and spend a fraction of this year's conferencing and tradeshow budget on print, digital and online advertising. When you are unable to position your brand at trade shows and conferences, you can ensure you remain to be seen with some clever and impacting advertising copy.

Many online media platforms now offer video content which adds a new dimension. You may also be able to tie in a webinar or two to the overall advertising package.

CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS

In exceptional circumstances, you may be faced with a media crisis. Should this occur, identify the crisis, risks and teams capable of dealing with the media. Create a hierarchy for sharing information on the crisis and identify and appoint one person to act as the company spokesperson.
Ensure everyone understands who is fronting the incident media relations focus on the facts and not speculation.  Make sure you have all the facts relating to the incident before media contact and decide whether to make a proactive or reative statement. No matter what questions are asked, get your points across calmly and accurately. Stick to the facts.

If fatalities are involved show compassion and condolence. 

Do not treat the press as the enemy - they have a job to do and can help you. But never engage with the media without preparation.

Remember you are ALWAYS ‘on the record’.


Seaborne Communications can advise on all of the above and we would be happy to offer our thoughts and recommendations to help your business better position itself in these challenging times.

Ivy Ledbetter Lee should really be up there with the likes of Claude Chappe, Alexander Graham Bell, Shiva Ayyadurai, Mark Zuckerberg and other visionaries that have changed the way in which we communicate. But he’s largely forgotten, despite his invention being in frequent use to this day by millions the world over.

A former newspaperman turned publicist for Standard Oil and the Rockefellers, Lee convinced the Pennsylvania Railroad to deliver a written press statement to journalists before they learned from other sources about a fatal train crash that left 50 dead. It was 28 October 1906 and the first ever press release was issued.

It was not well received. Journalists considered it an advert and accused Lee of trying to manipulate the press, leading the PR guru to issue his Declaration of Principles, which forms the basis of the code of practice used by PR professionals to this day.

110 years have passed since that first press release but journalists still pretty much consider them in the same way they did then - with disdain - although due to the immediacy of news and the fact that most journalists are critically under-resourced, the press release is now a ‘necessary evil’.

Indeed many stories in the press have their origins in a press release, since they provide leads for further investigation, a new angle to an old story, a hook,  an additional quotable source, and, if they're good, they can give the journalist a scoop that leads the news agenda for a bit.

But those are the good ones. There’s an infinitesimal number of crap ones clogging the journalists’ mailbox with irrelevant twaddle. According to research published at www.inconvenientprtruth.com/research it is estimated that 1.7 billion irrelevant press release emails are received by UK and US journalists each year, with 55% of the recipients blocking the sender from submitting future unsolicited rubbish.

This suggests that some communications folk just don't understand their market or what the media in that market wants. You hear PR horror stories about executives admonishing their press officers for failing to get the news about the promotion of Mavis in accounts on to the front pages of the FT or for not having "brand leading, best thing since sliced bread,” in the first line of the release. But journalism just doesn't work that way. 

As Alex Singleton points out  in his excellent book The PR Masterclass: “Corporate waffle, especially at the opening of a press release kills a journalist’s attention.... Such clichéd diarrhoea damages the chances of press coverage [but] unfortunately in the PR world it is endemic.”

Some companies and to a lesser extent PR agencies still believe that writing a press release is a simple exercise that takes a matter of minutes. This maybe true. But one that is opened and used by journalists, raises issues or creates awareness is a skill that takes years of practice. You have to know your market, study your readership, understand what journalists want and how they like it. And then it's got to grab their attention. Journalists want a news story.

As Ivy Lee once said: “We aim to supply news. This is not an advertising agency. If you think any of our matter ought properly to go to your business office, do not use it. Our matter is accurate. Further details on any subject treated will be supplied promptly, and any editor will be assisted most carefully in verifying directly any statement of fact. ... In brief, our plan is frankly, and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and public prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about."

While larger, multi-national companies understand the value of keeping the media informed with a constant stream of press information and updated content on their websites, small to medium sized companies operating in the maritime industries could really do more to encourage greater awareness of their organisation, products and services.

Many SMEs, particularly equipment and service providers, are really missing a PR trick or two, simply because they don’t keep their websites updated or know how to present their stories in a way that whets the journalist’s appetite.

It never ceases to amaze when researching a story or looking for content ideas that so many SMEs still do not have a ‘media’ page on their websites or, if they do, they appear to have so little to say, with the ‘latest news’ dated the 3rd September 2012 or something. But there is news in everything; it’s knowing where and what the story is and how to deliver it, that’s the key.

Editorially, most maritime monthlies these days operate with just an editor and, if they’re lucky, a deputy. Even the dailies and weeklies no longer have the banks of editors, section editors, journalists and subs they once had. But while publishers have scaled back their in-house editorial teams, the workload’s increased fourfold; the journalist/editor now has to write for the print editions, report daily news for the website, pen social media feeds and blogs, put weekly newsletters together, source photos, proof the copy, then pass for press, send to bed and tuck the baby in. 

This workload, together with the immediacy of news, means that developing an investigative story or venturing out of the office to interview sources is a luxury journalists and editors simply don’t have these days. As a result, many have to rely on information generated by PR agencies and a company’s corporate communications team for leads, new angles and background information. So if you are not proactively providing information, raising issues, raising awareness, then not only will the media be unaware of your existence but so too will your target market.

The six simple steps below will, hopefully, encourage SMEs to include a media section on their websites, generate more content and compete more favourably with the big boys without incurring costs or taxing resources. You never know, it might just lead to a call from a journalist or new customer interested in learning more.

Add a ‘media’ page to your website

For those companies that do not have one, what are you thinking? This is one of the most important pages on a website, not only for PR purposes but potential customers will be looking for this page to see what you have been up to lately. If they don’t see you making a song and dance about your business activities or if they are unable to easily find the information they’re looking for, they will just Google your competitor.

Media folk will regularly trawl through company websites looking for news leads and if your story is of interest it could be shared, tweeted or reported on in the press. If there’s nothing there, they won’t come back to your site for a second look. 

Update your website regularly

Okay, so you’ve got the web designer to add a ‘media’ page and you have uploaded a White Paper and a news story or two. That’s a good start but this has to be updated on a regular basis with attention-grabbing, page-clicking content if your website is to move up the Google rankings. Weekly updates are optimum, but at the very least make sure you have something new to say on a monthly basis. And if the content is good and updated regularly, news outlets will automatically link your news to their RSS feeds.

If you do not update your content it is best not to have a media page at all since you don’t want potential customers thinking the last great thing you did was 3rd September 2012. 

Date the news and press releases you upload

Dating each press release or news item you upload is crucial. If a journalist on deadline is looking for a quick filler story but can’t verify the story as current, he/she will move on. You could have the greatest story ever told, but if there’s no date you won’t get a call asking for more information and you’ll have missed a potential opportunity for editorial coverage. 

Write your news

Whether it’s a new contract, product, service, appointment, acquisition, expansion, financial report, research, installation, charitable deed, factory opening, regulation or an issue you feel strongly about, it’s all news worthy; there’s news in everything you do. So write about it, get it on the web, share and tweet. What you should not put up as ‘news’ in your media section is just a headline with no further details or stuff that is clearly corporate puff.

Often you come across ‘news’ that reveals nothing more than an organisation’s attendance at a trade show. This is not valuable information for journalists or customers as they would expect you to be there anyway. It’s what you do there that’s potentially interesting. The important thing to remember when writing a story for the press is to give the journalists what they want – a good story.

Once you have finalised your story, checked for grammar, spelling and syntax and are happy that the headline and all-important introduction says what you actually want to say, make sure it can be downloaded as a word document or easily copied. This saves the journalist a lot of time.

Do also bear in mind that writing and distributing content for journalists is a skill that should not be undertaken by junior staff. If you don’t have capable in-house resources there are numerous writers and PR agencies that can provide this service at reasonable cost. 

Include photos and graphics

These days a photo or other graphic to accompany the story is essential and will earn you brownie points from journalists, especially those writing for web-based news outlets. So make sure you include a downloadable low-resolution version of 72dpi for on-line publishers and a higher-resolution of at least 250dpi for printed matter. 

Who to contact?

Lastly, but by no means least, always include the contact email and phone number of the person capable of providing further information. This will save the journalist looking to find out more considerable time trying to find the right person to speak with. Again, if the journalist can’t easily reach you for a bespoke quote, he/she will move on and any media coverage opportunity missed.

The story about the shipping industry suffering an image problem is as perennial as the bindweed in my garden.

Yet while a lot more can be done to put forward shipping’s positive and, indeed, undervalued contribution to society at large, is the industry beginning to understand how beneficial effective PR campaigns can be?

Let’s rewind a few decades.  Sixty years or so ago most national and regional daily newspapers had a shipping correspondent, if not a shipping column. But in those days there was more of a direct connection with the sea than there is now.

The UK, for example, was still the maritime centre of the world; its workhorses built on the great rivers of the north; Britannia ruled the waves and all that jazz. Everyone knew of someone who’d been to sea. And there was always someone who knew someone who knew a sailor selling something he’d smuggled out of the docks: some eggs for mum, silk stockings for the missus, an LP record for the boy. Goodness. There would have been no Beatles without an entrepreneurial seafarer returning home with a stack of 78s from America to shift.

Growing up in Hull during the late 60s early 70s there was still that direct connection with the sea. The unmistakable stench of fish on the wind as the great trawler fleets landed their catch to be eaten that evening in yesterday’s news. Tales of herring and derring-do being passed down from my paternal and maternal great-grandfathers, both of whom served in the merchant navy during the Great War; the death of an Uncle, a cook, who went down with the Gaul. For me shipping stories were everywhere. I went to sea.

Now they form an oft forgotten aspect of the transport journalists’ beat or, if a shipping company has stock, it might feature in the financial pages. But outside the maritime press – still an important and influential organ of talented scribes – the nearest shipping comes to achieving any wider publicity is usually, and sadly, on the back of tragedy or an oil spill.  All the negative stuff, often put into pictorial perspective with a cormorant trapped in a sea of thick black goo.

Rarely is it mentioned that shipping is still the safest, cleanest, cheapest way of transporting everything the modern world needs to keep it ticking over. Even the popular journalism in Rose George’s very readable Ninety Percent of Everything has failed to make shipping sexy again, given the lack of young talent considering shipping as a viable career choice. And still all the man-in-the-street sees is that cormorant and a dirty, opaque shipping world in which its practitioners are perceived as murky as the harbour in which their magnificent beasts load and unload their cargoes. Why?

Of course containerisation, changes in crewing demographics and shipbuilding’s move east have all played their part in creating a disconnect between the public and shipping. And unless we look hard, we don’t see it in our day-to-day lives anymore. Ports, docks, terminals and yards are closed-off, miles away from anyone and anything – much to the chagrin of the sailor – and the great European rivers are devoid of life; so it's out of sight, out of mind.

But perhaps there’s more to it. Perhaps the industry's traditionally conservative, modest demeanour combined with a lack of media awareness and understanding has prevented the wider public from appreciating just how important and relevant shipping is to them.

Things are moving in the right direction. Not so long ago, to say Danish shipping conglomerate Maersk Group was publicity shy would be an understatement. Today, though, the company is as open as a smile, embracing social media, with a culture of transparency that has resulted in over 650,000 Facebook friends, 129,688 followers on LinkedIn and 44,300 followers on Twitter, many of whom have re-tweeted the 4000 tweets Maersk has posted since the account was set up in September 2011. More shipping companies are following suit and now have a social media presence.

Certainly, the emergence of a number of new maritime focused PR consultancies – a consequence of the entry of experienced journalists on to the market following recent changes in traditional maritime publishing – is indicative of an industry beginning to embrace the media. And certainly the PR company has a role to play in making shipping attractive again to the wider national and regional media, not just the trades, if we are to find tomorrow’s designers, engineers, shipping lawyers, brokers, etc.

One shipping organisation that has fully understood what effective marketing and communications can achieve is the Women's International Shipping & Trading Association. WISTA is doing an absolutely excellent job in creating awareness of the shipping industry among school children with its Came By Ship writing and photography competition. Get your kids to enter at www.camebyship.com.

Companies looking to make shipping attractive to the young would be wise to get involved with the campaign or follow its lead; but collectively, the industry must find a way of re-establishing that connection between the sea and the wider public.

Anyway, my fish and chips supper beckons!