Fiona Miller has been at Icon since 2017 and was recently promoted to the role of Senior Account Director. She will now be heading up the Melbourne PR team in support of Head of Department, Matt Thomas as he focuses on expanding the agency’s PR and content capabilities in Sydney and Canberra. We asked Fiona to share her thoughts on the current state of the industry and how she thinks things will change for PR after COVID.
1. You've been working in Australia for a number of years now - what do you think are some of the biggest differences between PR here and in the UK?
I think most PRs who make the move from the UK to Australia, do so because it looks like an easy swap. We share the same language, there’s a similar culture, similar brands etc. but when it comes to the media landscape, there are clear differences.
Before I moved, I made the assumption that more space meant more outlets but in reality, the pool to play in here is much smaller and more competitive than the UK.
What that means for a PR professional is, you have to be on your A-game with every pitch and make sure you actually know the publication you’re aiming for and whether your content is going to be relevant.
In the UK, it was standard to do a mass release of a story and get multiple pick-ups without a huge amount of chasing. It also felt far easier to get media to attend photo ops and press launches. Whereas in Australia, the targeted approach is far more important and having the tenacity to continue nurturing and strengthening relationships with journalists is key if you want anyone to turn up.
With the ownership of most outlets falling under just two or three big companies in Australia, there are some great benefits particularly with syndicated hits. However, this also has its downside as you can get stuck in a loop pitching to the same people all the time, which I’m sure is as much fun for them as it is for you.
Being a PR who still thrives on the feeling of landing a story, I have to say working on PR in Australia is definitely more enjoyable as they really make you work for it, which makes the reward that much sweeter.
Case in point, after three years of relentlessly trying to get a client up on The Project, crossing that threshold for Carers Victoria felt like a real career milestone.
While the challenge is tougher, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
2. In a world where news rooms are shrinking how do you think the contemporary PR should navigate earned coverage?
Securing earned coverage requires a deep understanding of what makes a genuinely interesting story or at least a story that will impact the majority of your target publication’s readers.
It’s not enough to send out releases or pitches because your client thinks it’s interesting, you have to challenge them and yourself to find the nugget that will make other people care.
I think it’s about being brave enough to shift the focus in a way that will get you in the door/on the phone with a journalist that then allows your client the platform to weave in their priorities.
Additionally, I think it’s becoming more and more about quality over quantity. Don’t create pitch plans with hundreds of different targets for one story but rather create a range of different ways into your main story and offer it to relevant individuals. Focus on a few great inclusions that get in front of the right audience and you won’t only improve your relationships with the media but deliver stronger engagement for your client.
3. You've got a real passion for both PR and social - what do you think are some of the most interesting emerging trends in social media?
There are two things that have really got me thinking:
Firstly, I’m enjoying seeing the continued shift of brands away from overly curated, polished video content towards more human-centric, relatable, “fast and dirty” style content. With the speed at which social moves, there isn’t time to invest in weeks and weeks of planning and refining, not if you want to stay current.
In order to “stay in the game”, I think it’s important to develop authentic feeling content that responds in real time. It always catches my eye when you see something from a business or brand that speaks to what is going on in that moment. It makes me feel like they’re investing in making sure they’re aware of their environment and not just got the blinkers on and sticking to the plan that was laid out six months ago.
Secondly, it’s the increasing inclusion of normal everyday people in campaigns for me.
Particularly throughout this year I’ve seen many brands forced to pivot to deal with the impact of COVID and start to introduce content from more normal people for their ads. By product seeding to fans, followers or micro-influencers clothing and at-home dining kits have done a great job of continually publishing fresh content without the need for location shooting or models. Not only does it serve the brand’s purpose but it also gives viewers a more realistic idea of what they will be buying into.
4. What advice would you share with PRs looking to build their career?
I think my advice would be to make sure you stay flexible. PR as a role is evolving and it’s going to be increasingly important to have more than just traditional media skills. Understanding how the integrated communications works is important and you need to think holistically about how ideas can work simultaneously across different platforms.
The other really important thing is to read as much as you can. News, lifestyle, thought leadership, business sections – get across it all. When I started out the whole team would spend the first half an hour of the day dissecting the papers and it was so helpful in learning writing styles, sections of the media and who does what. I think that’s been lost a bit and it’s impacting how we write and pitch.
And lastly, be helpful. Don’t be afraid to put forward ideas and solutions, when you’re learning, the best approach is trial and error, if you can build a reputation for being someone who identifies roadblocks but always has an idea of how to get around it you will become an important asset.
5. How to you think COVID-19 has changed PR and how do you recommend clients change in response to it?
The past eight months have been a challenging period for many media outlets with journalists across specialisms being made redundant. The knock-on impact of this has been a significant increase in competition for space and coverage. With fewer resources, media outlets are even more stretched than before. This means that to qualify for earned editorial space it’s now more important than ever to make sure you have a strong story or hook to share.
In order to navigate this, innovation and adaptability is the key. While things have been stabilising in the majority of Australian states, Victoria is forging a new path toward COVID-normal. Our state’s unique experience means we have developed a strong ability to pivot under restrictions but also an understanding that things can change quickly, and we have to be prepared to find alternative solutions.
Our success over the past few months has shown our strengths in creating integrated communications plans that leverage the strengths of the agency and the opportunities available to us. You can’t be too precious about losing or changing what you thought you were going to do, it’s about gauging the climate and providing the best outcome for the client.