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PR Guru Richard McCaan Talks About Himself & His Agency Friday's PR


Written by Laura Monks

Features writer Laura Monks interviews PR guru Richard McCann about his agency, Fridays PR.

What industry sectors does the agency specialise in?

It was mostly about B2B in the early days, especially banking and the hotels and leisure sector. But that was long ago. Business came mostly from referrals which took us to places we’d never have gone alone. We enjoy working with CEOs and boards and Crisis Management became an important area of expertise. And then our ‘early adopter’ digital and social media work brought a lot of B2C clients to our door.



What is special about the agency’s approach to PR?

I used to think it was our outstanding team, great contacts, terrific creativity, our results-driven culture, our outstanding ROI… in fact when I ask clients they say they love us because we still get results without being a burden on their time. They enjoy working with us, which helps, plus we’re straight-talking and we invoice very simply! Oh – and we still find time to do plenty of clever work too once in a while. It’s honest and it works.



How do you ensure your clients get the right coverage in the press?

Big topic, quick answer: One-size-fits-all approaches to media are lazy. Decide the channels and the targets, then decide the messages to suit. Be prepared to adapt messaging fast to fit the breaking news agenda. Knowing the clients’ industries, knowing the journalists and developing ideas that will work for them are ‘givens’. Oh yes, and don’t ask ‘Where can I place my client’ – get a great list and then ask ‘Why can’t my client be in all of these.’



In your opinion, what are the main challenges facing PR today?

Bullshit! Oh no, not your question. Bullshit from PRs. In this modern world of metrics the puffer, the flanneller and the liar are soon exposed. But not before a bit of their grubbiness has tarnished our industry.



Can you list some of your most well-known, or respected clients?

As you can imagine, after 12 years it’s a lot. Top motor racers and teams, Infiniti/Nissan, Experian, De Vere, Greenalls, Reebok, Liverpool FC, Bolton Wanderers FC, Paragon, Tyrrells, Cabinet Office, Royal stuff I won’t go into, internationals such as Shell, PRGX, Randstad, IMC Group, Keep-It Group, Four Seasons, IBDG, Mr Smith, Moonfish, Bigfoot, Bell Design, KSB Law, Greg Secker’s Knowledge to Action, Sledge, TAG, e-Lites, GA Corporate, Loewy. My daughter is profoundly mentally and physically handicapped so we’ve often helped in the third sector too.



Friday’s Video News Service allows clients to create and distribute professional videos. How important is digital and online PR as opposed to more traditional methods?

Traditional is a vital part of the toolkit. But we don’t see any channel in isolation. Friday’s offered digital well before the clients wanted it! That was initially disappointing. But we kept investing and we kept the faith. And by the time clients started demanding digital expertise we were very proficient. That was a big boost for us. When our social media and reputation management services followed the same curve we were more relaxed about being early adopters; we knew the demand would follow.

The FridaysVideoNews.com business was simply prompted by recognising a trend; requests from web writers via Response Source started to include requirements for streaming video as well as traditional releases. It was infrequent but it got us thinking about how we could satisfy that demand at a cost our clients would be comfortable with. Digital production allowed us to keep the cost to hundreds instead of the thousands of pounds people anticipated the product costing. Again, last year hardly anybody agreed with us, but now it’s racing on mostly thanks to my dynamic colleague Tony Lockwood.

And in 2011 the team is busy with Word-of-Mouth PR and Sentiment Analysis which I personally find very exciting even though most clients don’t want it. Yet.



Tell us about one of your clients you are working with at the moment. What campaign do you have planned?

My colleague and director Jane Da Costa, fresh from Princes Trust and St James’s Palace projects, is now involved in Royal Jubilee merchandising. Far too tasteful for someone ‘umble like me but quite lovely I admit. That’s the merchandise, not Jane. Maybe.



What is the best coverage you’ve achieved for a client?

The surveys on small budgets that go national; and even international when Piers Moron took offence at our findings. I was pleased when my account team, headed by director Nick Henderson, placed the same clients on two major TV shows in the same week very recently. The demand almost blew up their e-commerce site! And I was happy with our recent Royal work and glad to be chosen for more.

But for pure client reward, the stream of major press features that resulted in a small HR client being sold to a massive firm and making the directors multimillionaires in the process was fun. So we’ve repeated that trick for other clients. The latest three we’re doing right now will take us to the baker’s dozen!



What can you offer to journalists seeking a story on one of your clients?

If you want rubbish coverage, make it difficult for writers. If you want great coverage make it easy. Obvious? So why do PRs get that wrong so often? If you HAVE to hold an event somewhere inaccessible, arrange to collect and return writers – by helicopter if necessary. Fuss-free travel will boost your attendance – and hence coverage - at a stroke.

Or your client wants a review piece without offering a sample? Explain why this is simply not sensible. Be firm if necessary. Champion the journalist, don’t regard them as an obstacle to overcome.



How do you build and maintain strong relationships with journalists?

We always explain to new staff (at ANY level!) that Friday’s philosophy is to treat journalists as our customers. It helps that most of us are ex-journalists. If you have great relationships with writers you will always have clients. Forget the writers and you’re finished. And you deserve to be, too.



What do you think about the relationship between journalists and PRs?

It’s like a Latin marriage; we have our ups and downs, sometimes we even sleep in separate beds, but ultimately we can’t live without one another.



How did you get into PR?

I was fired from the strip club where I was working as a pianist. I was disappointed but realised I needed to lower my career expectations. So I became corporate comms director of a couple of international PLCs, employing PRs and forming strong views about how I thought it should be done. I eventually crossed to the dark side but I retained my ‘tough client’ viewpoint and made sure our service was robust enough to satisfy our toughest critic – me.



Are you involved in any projects outside of Friday’s?

I was asked to be founding chair of a national health sector charity a couple of years ago and I developed Cameron’s Big Society concept into something I called LeanCo-production which … bored? Thought so – I’ll get my coat.



Do you attend networking events? If so, which are you attending soon?

I was elected to the Whitefriars Club a while ago. It’s one of the world’s oldest media clubs having been started in 1867 by Crawford Wilson and Dr. Samuel Johnson who said ‘When a man is tired of PR he’s found a life.’ Sadly he was subsequently misquoted. We get a good number of Cabinet Ministers attending and I’ve learned a lot. I particularly enjoyed a wonderfully indiscrete evening with Sir Bernard Ingham – what a great PR. I also have lunch most months with a group of friends at The Caledonian Club – people from many professions but a good proportion of international corporate financiers who consider lending me the price of a drink.



What is the best bit of business advice you’ve ever been given?

‘Before you get into a legal battle, assess how much money you won’t make while you’re distracted’. Oh yes, also ‘You can travel so much further by sliding around obstacles than by digging your heels in.’


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