The Evolution of PR – Industry Change Episode 4

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In this episode of Industry Change Richard talks with the founder of The Comms Department, Bec Brown. They chat all about what is happening in the online space and how PR can help your business.

Bec Brown launched The Comms Department in 2012, which quickly grew into a team of experienced and respected PR professionals with an established client base, including the Wiggles, iHeart Radio and Universal Music Australia.

Bec’s years of experience as a stage performer, and working with leading PR agencies and record labels has given her an edge in her industry to know what’s coming up next.

Bec talks with Richard about how the PR industry has had to adapt to the changes in traditional media and especially the rise of Social Media. Watch the video to find out more about how your business can adapt to the changes in the online space.

Bec will be joining COM at the upcoming Digital Marketing Business Summit on the 20th and 21st of July at Sydney’s Doltone House to help attendees craft the perfect marketing piece to go to mainstream media.

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Video Transcription

Richard T.:       Welcome back to Industry Change. It’s Richard Toutounji, and today we’re talking all about PR, social media and where that is going in the future. I got on the show today, a really, really important guest, special guest, Bec Brown. Bec Brown runs The Coms Department. Now, The Coms Department is going for approximately five years, and in that time Bec has re-innovated that entire industries to work with top major players such as The Wiggles, the Australian Radio Network and Universal Music, just to name a few. I wanna find out how she has being able to innovate that industry and work with these players in such a short, short time. Welcome Bec.

Bec Brown:     Thank you.

Richard T.:       You’ve gone from different stages and really innovated to where you are today. Maybe we can share with us a little bit of context around who Bec Brown is?

Bec Brown:     Okay, some context is good.

Richard T.:       Because you’re always behind the scenes, aren’t you?

Bec Brown:     Most of the time.

Richard T.:       You are always putting people in the right places.

Bec Brown:     That’s very funny, and it wasn’t always the case. Actually, when I was a little kid, I wanted to be a singer. I wanted on the stage, and so I studied music and I went to the Conservatorium, and I worked with opera companies and with music theatre companies, and I had my own band, and I got to about 24, 25 and I had what I now refer to as my quarter-life crisis.

Richard T.:       Right.

Bec Brown:     I just realised at that time, that that lifestyle and that career wasn’t fulfilling me, and it wasn’t making me very happy. I had to have a big think about what I wanted to do next. I thought I really like to problem solve. I like to read. I like to write, and I still liked the entertainment industry. The media was kinda of calling me, so I thought about, perhaps I should be a journalist, but then I couldn’t see myself sitting in a news room or sitting working sort of on TV or radio, so I thought PR might be a great mix between them both.

I actually went back to uni and studied media and communications and slowly but surely started working. I’ve doing that for 15 years now, and I had a five year stint working as a PR director at Universal Music Australia, which was a huge great learning curve, and great experience to again start working with really big names. Learning how to deal with very big name talent and making sure that they have what they needed, what they need, but also learning exactly what the media needs in order to turn around a great story.

Richard T.:       Right. Yep.

Bec Brown:     Five years ago I went out on my own, and set up what was at the time called Bec Brown Communications, and I honestly thought it would just be a little consulting business, just me. I was originally gonna be working from home and I was gonna work out what I was gonna do from there.

Richard T.:       Right.

Bec Brown:     Now, very quickly or very lucky …

Richard T.:       Like most do when they get into business. They get their name and they see how we go.

Bec Brown:     Yeah. That was it. That was it. I will be the first to say that I was a business without a business plan. There was no business plan when I started-

Richard T.:       Sure.

Bec Brown:     Which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend. It’s so much. What I did do, I read so many books. I researched.

Richard T.:       Okay.

Bec Brown:     I didn’t just go into it blindly thinking what I’m I gonna do here.

Richard T.:       Sure.

Bec Brown:     My husband also gave me an ultimatum. He said, “Babe, you got six months for this to work, and if it doesn’t work you gotta go find a job.”

Richard T.:       Right, oh the pressure.

Bec Brown:     Exactly. Somebody gave me some great advice. It was a manager of quite big name international artist, who I probably shouldn’t name, but he said to me at the start, “When you do go into PR, it’s very easy sometimes to just take a job for the money.” He said, “Be very selective about what you take on. You have to absolutely believe in it, and be passionate about it, and love everything about it, so that sell it. If you don’t have those things you probably aren’t the right person for that particular brand.”

Two things happened. One, I was so passionate about the things I did choose. I did a really great job on them, and the other one was because I was very careful about what I selected, I was then very careful about what I would take to the media, so that I got a reputation with the media for not taking them rubbish.

Richard T.:       I think when you are talking about, like you rejected clients in that first year, and I know you have rejected some big brands over your time, and I go, “Wow.” That takes such authority to say, “Yep, I’m not working for that brand,” like conviction to know where you really are going, and obviously that’s one of the keys to your success right there.

Bec Brown:     I think you do, and you do get a name or a reputation for delivering good work, and the more good work that you deliver the people talk. Word of mouth in that very first year can be very, very, very powerful. I had in the back of my mind as well, you are only as good as your last job.

Richard T.:       When we talk about PR or getting our brand or our message out there, most people now would just go, “Okay, I’ll just go to my phone. I’ll go to social media,” and would that be the easiest way to go or why won’t I use an influence? Tell me how that’s kind of that … Is that a plus or a minus, now for let’s say for traditional PR firms and even yours, and how have you been able then to use that because we kind of ignore that now?

Bec Brown:     Not at all.

Richard T.:       How are you able to use that to continue your work?

Bec Brown:     Personally I love it because …

Richard T.:       I know you love social media. I know you love Instagram, yeah.

Bec Brown:     I love it for our brands and our clients.

Richard T.:       Sure.

Bec Brown:     Because, it is so powerful. It is so powerful, but for us we also just see it as another platform.

Richard T.:       Okay.

Bec Brown:     Traditionally, it’s not a platform for us to play with. Before we just had TV, we had radio, we had newspapers and we had magazines, and that was kind of it. Then we have onlines, so we had all the online websites that came through, and then suddenly we have social media as well.

I think when you talk about innovation and companies that do well, you need to be agile, and you need to be able to adapt, so we have adapted our services. In our first year of business, we were probably focusing a lot more on just on traditional publicity, servicing those four plus online as well of course.

Now, five years down the track we look after social media. We do a lot of content creation for our clients as well, because at the end of the day, one of the things, which traditional media are very good at as well. They are fantastic at creating content and you need to … There is a fantastic company called Tribe, and they’re a fantastic service for connecting with brands with influences.

I was having a chat with their … Jules Lund is the CEO of that company. Having a chat with him and one of the things he says is, it’s called a social media feed for a reason, because you have to feed it. You constantly have to be feeding this thing that has this voracious appetite all the time, and you be feeding it with crap, because that going to affect your brand.

People are gonna see that and start to think that’s who you are, and if you are a company you can’t afford to be doing that. You need sort of expert or just very highly-skilled professionals to be able to help to create that content, and that’s something that we do, but it’s also something the traditional media outlet is starting to do as well.

Richard T.:       We had a chat before about your working environment, and I think that’s something I’d like to hear a little bit more about, because you have really taken something that probably hasn’t been used in that world, definitely, and you have spanned that around as well.

Bec Brown:     Definitely.

Richard T.:       Talk about the working crisis that your team does.

Bec Brown:     We are a team six, and we have three people in Sydney, two people in Melbourne and one person in Brisbane, and we all work remotely. When people say, “Where is your office?” I say, “It’s at my house.”

Richard T.:       Did you say that in the early days?

Bec Brown:     No, of course. Isn’t that interesting? At the start I kind of thought, that’s pretty embarrassing, like people are gonna think I’m not very professional, and it’s not very … yeah, it wasn’t the standard.

Richard T.:       Not back then, no.

Bec Brown:     I don’t know exactly, and I didn’t shy away from it, but I would tell people. I didn’t try and pretend that I had an office.

Richard T.:       Sure.

Bec Brown:     It wasn’t as … certainly at the forefront now. Now, we use it as one of our key selling points.

Richard T.:       Interesting.

Bec Brown:     The fact that we all work remotely, mean we are available sort of anytime, anywhere. We can literally work from anywhere, but it means several things. One, it means that we spend more time in our clients’ offices.

Richard T.:       Yep.

Bec Brown:     Immersing ourselves in their brands, immersing themselves in their day-to-day actions. We know them very, very thoroughly, so they get all that love and attention. What is great though, is if we were in there full-time, you can get catch up with all the office politics, you start to become part of furniture.

We are in and out enough to know exactly what’s going on to the point where we really know what’s going on. HR will come and talk to us to find out what’s going on, as opposed to … Then we are out again and back, and not distracted and we can easily do the work. We look at things with a big picture view and we can the wood for the trees, so that’s really one great part of it.

The other great part about it, it’s just productivity, so the amount of hours that we get out of our day is unbelievable, so if you look at commute. The average person particularly on the eastern states, I would say would spend, let’s say, 45 minutes, morning and evening on a commute.

Richard T.:       Sure.

Bec Brown:     Between our team of six if you added up all of those hours over a year, that’s over 2,000 hours. That’s 270 days.

Richard T.:       That’s huge.

Bec Brown:     That’s like having an extra person in our team.

Richard T.:       Extra person, yeah.

Bec Brown:     We use that time to benefit our clients, because we are working longer on their projects. We can also be a bit more flexible about the time, because we look after Australian Radio Network. We look after their 11 stations around the country, which have breakfast shifts and drive shifts, and if I had to be driving into an office I would be missing all of that breakfast show action, and I need to be on call sometimes at 5.30 in the morning. We filled a need for Australian Radio Network, for example and helped out them on that one.

The other thing is, yes, we have all those extra hours to be productive for our clients and to grow with the business, but it also allows us all to have a bit of a personal life. We can go to the gym. We can go to yoga. We can hang out with our families. We can sit down and cook a good, healthy breakfast, and that makes us healthier and happier, and that in turn makes us a lot more productive as well.

Richard T.:       How do you make it easy for someone to say yes? That’s won us a lot of contracts, a lot of work, a lot of fun stuff that we have done, and I’d to hear your opinion on that fact. How do you actually get chosen out of the vast majority of stories and articles out there, and how does someone say, “Yes, I want your story.” What’s that secret recipe?

Bec Brown:     Do you know, ’cause a good PR has two things. Yes, they have contacts that they have built up over years in the industry, absolutely. The other thing they have is they know how to service the media, to like exactly what you said.

Richard T.:       Service the media. Okay, I like that.

Bec Brown:     Yes, but you said to make it easy for somebody to say yes. That’s our job. Your job is to learn what a journalist wants, what they need, and then you make it happen for them. That’s basically what we are doing. Okay, if you don’t have the funds to hire a PR professional, which I completely understand, although sometimes you can’t get packages that are much better and tailored to your fit, do have a chat around. Many don’t, particularly now. It’s a very competitive environment. There are so many PR companies who will work small budgets.

Richard T.:       I think there is a lot more now that are doing that. Yeah.

Bec Brown:     Absolutely, so a journalist is looking for two things. They want a good story, and a good story is something that entertains. It’s either gonna be entertaining or it’s gotta be informative.

Richard T.:       Great.

Bec Brown:     Has to be those two things. Preferably both, that’d be great, or the other thing, sorry, it has be to be emotive. That might be another one. It something that might target the heart strings and make people fear.

Richard T.:       If you can put the three in one, that will be great?

Bec Brown:     Oh, amazing, perfect, great. The trifecta would be excellent. Have a look at you … The other thing is sort of, if you are doing a world first or an industry first or if you are trying to do something for the first time, that becomes quite news worthy.

Richard T.:       Great.

Bec Brown:     Have a look within your business, see if there is something that fits any of those things and then start deciding what to do about it. You do have kind of have a very clear head with it maybe. Try it with people who aren’t in the business, because there is never gonna be anybody as passionate about your business and the thing that you are talking about as you are, so give it to somebody and just say, “What do you think about this as a great news angle?” What you need them to look at, is they might just go, so, so and every time they say so, you need to have an answer for them.

Richard T.:       Right and that’s where I think maybe people go wrong. They go to an out, and then they can’t over that so, like what’s next kind of thing.

Bec Brown:     Exactly, exactly, you just have to make sure that you answer the question of why is this important, why is this relevant to that person, that reader, that viewer, that listener, in that demographic.

Richard T.:       Yeah, great.

Bec Brown:     Those media want stories.

Richard T.:       They need stories. They need stories, right.

Bec Brown:     They need stories.

Richard T.:       I think that really sums things up, because if you are going with the mindset … Listen, if you’ve got article, a great story, great angle, they need to run stuff. That’s their job. They need content, right.

Bec Brown:     Yeah, so if you keep that in mind. If we are literally here to help you, but on the flip side you do need to know they are not there to do you a favour at all, at all.

Richard T.:       Sure. Sure.

Bec Brown:     At all, so they are doing you a favour, running your story, but you’ll help them.

Richard T.:       Is that the perception because they have got the paper, they have got the radio? Do they still feel in control?

Bec Brown:     Yeah, and I think that there will probably always be a little element of, “Well this is our publication and we need to …” They sit there. They don’t sit there and do it on purpose. They just sit there going, “We need to service our readers and we need to service our viewers.”

Richard T.:       Yeah, sure. It’s the same now with blogs and if you are a big influencer or social media, you are always gonna choose who you are gonna push and promote or do a shout-out for.

Bec Brown:     Exactly, exactly. Everybody wants to sort of look after somebody. They are trying to service their audience, and you are trying to service the journalist, but make sure that you completely get your opinions in.

Richard T.:       It’s like anything. It’s like any business relationship, any business dealing. Both parties are gonna have to win, and you have to make sure that you get those both parties winning.

Bec Brown:     Absolutely. If you get a win-win that’s just the best scenario ever.

Richard T.:       Let’s talk about … Just quickly, let’s talk about maybe some random fun things, like I see social media going crazy and then some people have millions and millions of fans, and I go, wow. Today we need a social media kinda company or person, and I was looking at … Was just The Rock the other day. He did a movie, and he was just kind of promoting when he was filming and was almost like … Well, he has got I think some ridiculous amount of followers, millions and millions. I think it’s 70, no. I don’t know how many millions he’s got, and I felt, well, hey that is so like already organically promoting.

Bec Brown:     It’s huge.

Richard T.:       Do you reckon any other ways? Will features gonna go with movies and kinda major celebrities? Is it just like shout-out? Is that what we need?

Bec Brown:     When you have got followers, you then have currency, so you can then trade that for various things.

Richard T.:       Sure.

Bec Brown:     That’s the other thing to keep in mind. When media are running stories, let’s say, they run a story on Comm, and Comm then goes fantastic, thanks so much. You share that with all of your social media followers. The media outlet’s gotta get more clicks on their things because you have shared it with all of your database as well. The media are happy because they are getting a lot of clicks on their story. Their editor is going, “You are amazing. That’s great.” Then the journalist goes, “Great, what else have you got. Let’s work together more.”

Richard T.:       All right, Bec, I just wanna ask you one more question. I would love to know as a trend setter I see in your industry. You have set trends after trends and you see what’s happening and you are being agile enough and fast enough to get to that, and to work it and to move to the next process before even people get out of bed. I would love to know where do you see this industry, PR, social media, social branding, let’s say in the next 10 years? Let’s go down there.

Bec Brown:     Oh. 10 years. I can’t even look 10 years.

Richard T.:       Can you even predict it?

Bec Brown:     No, honestly.

Richard T.:       Give me five years then.

Bec Brown:     I’ll predict five years and it’s still going to be very hazy, I’m afraid. Because what we have seen is there is a huge fragmentation of audiences, so they are everywhere. They’re across all of the different platforms. They are online. They are on TV. They are on social media. They are on radio. There is a few things that will happen. Let’s just look as social media for example. Which platform is gonna be around? Is it gonna Facebook? Is it gonna be Twitter? Is it gonna be Instagram? Is it gonna be Snapchat? Is it gonna be something completely different? We actually don’t know that yet. That’s one thing that we don’t know where they are gonna be. If we look at what other tech is coming up, so we’ve got artificial intelligence, which are bots, stealing a a lot of the chatting stuff. I mean that’s extra ordinary.

Richard T.:       Bots are very cool.

Bec Brown:     Oh, they are so cool. They are so cool.

Richard T.:       Amazing.

Bec Brown:     I wonder … It depends on the development of how good they become and how reliable they gonna become.

Richard T.:       Otherwise, they’re gonna be like, “Spare me.”

Bec Brown:     Yeah, exactly, so we’ve got that as well. Then there is the virtual reality and augmented reality. We have already started to use those already, but at the moment nobody’s quite knowing what to do with them. They have trialled them in lots of … I’ve seen great press kits for particularly movies are great, but for holiday destinations where they’ll put it on, put your VR kit on, and they can see it and they can be there. Apparently, I’ve heard it’s good in the travel industry. They are getting a lot of sales people. They’ll go around and put the kit on and go, “Well, this is the destination.” Then they take it off and they are like I can feel that. That’s amazing.

Richard T.:       That’s great.

Bec Brown:     At the moment that what’s it is, but it’s a bit clumsy, ’cause they’re kits and they make people feel a bit sick and it’s still kind of working. We’re at the mercy of the tech there to figure out where that’s gonna land. I’m predicting that that’s gonna move somewhere really cool.

Then in terms of print and radio and TV. I think radio and TV are in a great place in that we’ve talked about there is big personalities, and they are adapting across to online as social media as well. With streaming, with Netflix and Stan and all the other programmes coming through, free-to-air TVs, it really has to start thinking about what they are doing. I know they are thinking about what they are doing but they have got to really act on it.

Richard T.:       Really act on it.

Bec Brown:     It is hard. They are big ships and to steer and change the course on a big ship is very, very difficult. Print again, I mean there will not be newspapers in five years time. I highly, highly doubt. That is my bold prediction.

Richard T.:       That’s the bold prediction, right. We got something locked down.

Bec Brown:     I do think it will be online only.

Richard T.:       Okay, yeah.

Bec Brown:     I think that the work itself … They are very skilled journalists and they are very skilled content creators who will be doing all that work as well. Again, I don’t know where those rooms are gonna be. The news room are shrinking a lot at the moment, so that will certainly remain to be seen.

From a PR industry, I think gone are the days where you have these big, big PR agencies with 600 people working there and they just look after big clients. I think that a lot of them are already doing it. They are almost like an umbrella company for a whole bunch of smaller companies that are all about niche and looking after a particular industry.

Richard T.:       Industries, great, okay.

Bec Brown:     I think that’s the way the future is to figure out how you can service a niche really, really well. I just thought of one last tip as well, that you were mentioning about when you have a business, and it’s actually really crucial for PR. That is, in everything you’re doing you need to as much as you possibly can, remove your own ego from the situation. The reason why I’m saying that is, there are so many egos in the room when you are dealing with talent, if you are dealing with CEOs, if you are dealing with big business. To have one more in the room that’s another agenda. When you actually remove that and you retain all the professionalism and all of the advice it’s just so much easier to work amongst that level.

Richard T.:       I love that advice. Yes, just work the whole process for much more control.

Bec Brown:     Absolutely, and you don’t … that doesn’t mean that you are a doormat. It doesn’t mean letting people walk all over you or anything like that, but it does mean just sitting back and going I’m not the important one here. The work is important, so let’s make the work important.

Richard T.:       Love it. With that I think we gotta wrap it up. Thank you so much Bec.

Bec Brown:     Thank you, Richard.

Richard T.:       I really appreciate your time and your valuable insights and your prediction as well.

Bec Brown:     Oh gosh. Well I don’t … Personally I don’t really want it to come true. I quite love reading a newspaper.

Richard T.:       Great. Thanks so much. I’ll see you next time on Industry Change.

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