PR Wars Podcast: International public relations

When you engage in international public relations, what is lost in translation? On today’s PR Wars podcast, we talk to Nick Haigh with British-based BAE Systems Applied Intelligence about the differences of public relations across the pond.

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A.I. generated show transcript: 

Show open: “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “I have news for everybody. Get over it.”

Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here is your host… Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Hello, everyone and thanks for listening to PR Wars. I’m Chris Shigas. When you engage in international public relations, what is lost in translation? Even between the United States in the UK, we might speak the same language, but the European to American cultural divide, can change the way you shape perceptions and change beliefs. Today on PR Wars, fellow communications globetrotter, Brad Grantham, and I talked to the head of global external communications at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence. They’re based in England, and we talk about public relations across the pond, Nick Haigh, thanks for joining PR Wars today.

Nick Haigh
Thanks Chris for having me. Great speaking to you.

Chris Shigas
Today, we’re talking about international PR, and maybe some of the differences in the UK to the United States and you work for a great Corporation. That’s global with a big us presence, but also a huge UK company. So kind of off the bat, can you tell us some of the largest differences between US PR and UK PR?

Nick Haigh
I mean, it’s it’s a fascinating question, because for two countries that are so similar in terms of culture, and language, and all of the shamans same ideals that we share, there are an incredible amount of differences when it comes to PR. I mean, perhaps it perhaps if I start a little bit and just talk about England for a moment, and how PR generally works in England, our media is very London centric. So England, as I’m sure you know, compared to America is a tiny, tiny country, we only really have one or two large cities that we’ve compared to anything that you have. And as a result, our nation is very London centric. And this means that the media are all based out of London. I mean, there’s been a lot of efforts to try and diversify, but they are all based in London,

Chris Shigas
it helps for media tours, right? You go to one city.

Nick Haigh
Indeed, exactly. And as a result, you know, all the media is based there, as you saying it’s great. So if you have a London office, it is a lot easier to do media. And that’s one of the interesting things as well. So our media is set up in quite a, I don’t know, it’s a unique way. But in terms of our print media, you know, the traditional print media, we’ve got quite a rigid system, whether there are the Nationals there significant national newspapers, which are very well respected. Telegraph, The Guardian times, we have the tabloids along the lines of the Sun star there, the Daily Mail that is sent popular online. And then below that you sort of have the regional media, which doesn’t really have much of a foothold anymore. It’s pretty much all about on national media, you know, the tabloids and the broadsheets, as we call them their national newspapers. And then of course, I’m sure you’ve heard of the BBC, which is in his own independent category. It’s probably one of the things that England and the UK is most known for. And fascinatingly, with the BBC, they are our broadcaster chief broadcaster, but also probably the most popular news website. And the fascinating thing about them is they have to be politically neutral, they can’t favor one side or the other. And the best thing about it is if you are left leaning, you will be convinced that they favor the right. If you are right leaning, you’ll be sure that they favor the left because ultimately they serve like a governmental public goods service. Right. If that the position is effectively it’s a public charter, so they have a responsibility to inform their news in a non sensational way. They have to be honest, they’re, you know, very different to our tabloids, which are notoriously awful. And yeah, they have to be held to a very high regard. Very proper nuisance.

Chris Shigas
You know, Brad, what it sounds like when I was a news producer in Alabama, if I did five seconds more of Auburn coverage than University of Alabama, I was getting phone calls into the newsroom.

Brad Grantham
Yeah, yeah. And and to be fair, over the past 25 years, I would almost say with the addition of fox news to cable, you know, in the 90s we have seen you know, that erode years ago over the years. You know, I’m looking at a picture above my desk and as Walter Cronkite says, reelect the most trusted man in America. That was from the late 60s and You have three, you know, three networks, right? ABC, CBS, NBC, you took pretty much what they said to the bank back then. But yeah, I mean, I almost wish we could kind of go back in some sense to, you know, well, we can watch this, trust this, that they’ve done as much due diligence as they can, and they’re not partisan. So I do admire that about the BBC.

Chris Shigas
Absolutely. So when you’re putting together some some media pitches in the UK, and I guess the most basic form of PR is, is the press release, right? And so what kind of considerations do you have in the UK, when you’re putting together these press releases, and you’re blasting them out

Nick Haigh
in the press release is fascinating, because a lot of people say the press release is dead, it doesn’t work. And to an extent that, you know, there is some truth in that, but you the value of the press release is still significant. If you are announcing a contract, when you know your most traditional probably PR output contract, when you’ve got to do a press release is what will cut through the noise get shared the most. And another interesting thing about press releases these days are they have a lot of value, I think on social media, and particularly for marketing purposes. So whilst a lot of journalists in the UK are probably sick to death of preferent, press releases and may not pay that much attention, certainly to engage your external audience via social channels, they are quite well received and well regarded. But I mean, your main thing these days with getting press coverage is you’ve got to build those personal relationships with journalists, you’ve got to identify the outlets, you want to get into the right journalists in the right outlet. And you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the right story that we’ll be interested in. So it’s, it’s a lot about relationship building, and it’s taking a targeted approach to who you want to get into.

Brad Grantham
Well, we’ll get we’ll go into how you cut through the clutter, again, from a UK perspective, versus the US, because I’m sure there’s a lot of differences there. But what has been your biggest frustration in dealing with American media versus European media, like what has just left you either dumbfounded or you just go? Well, this normally doesn’t happen.

Nick Haigh
The first thing that I think surprises everyone in Britain, and this will sound stupid, is just how massive America is and how how different the media is like, you know, we’ve got the BBC, you know, the Telegraph, The Guardian, they’re read in the entire country, whereas in America, like I don’t have as many options to reach all of America. You know, I compare it to musicians, when they’re trying to crack America, they have to take it step by step. And I think we’ve got to take the same approach that we want to hit New York, we got to focus on the New York press. We want to hit California, we got to find the revised California impresses, it’s not like we can go to an a, an equivalent sort of publication, although, of course, in the, in the American times, New York Times sorry, New York Times,

sure. Your times, I assure that has the gravitas on a on a statewide level and others do as well, I’m sure but yeah, biggest challenge is taking that state approach rather than a national approach.

Chris Shigas
It’s like 50 countries, right? And you look at a paper, some of the papers, My hometown is Atlanta, Georgia, that’s circulation rate is is larger than a lot of country’s major newspaper. Or if you look in Texas, like the Houston Chronicle, same thing, huge hit huge circulations reaches very segmented. From a from a b2b standpoint, you can reach certain industries and certain cities because certain US cities, focus on industries, maybe Houston’s oil or gas, maybe Charlotte is banking. So I agree with you. I also think one of the challenges in your role as doing international comms is just some simple things like timing, at what time do you put out a press release? Because if you’re going to put it out London time in the morning, before the markets open, that really leaves California half a day behind. Right?

Nick Haigh
Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s so awkward. And then when you factor in, you know, if you want to hit Australia and Singapore as well, you just get stuck. It’s, it’s, it’s really hard. I mean, there’s, there’s just so many differences as well, like, if you know, in London, if we want to do a big press event to kick off a campaign, we might host them at our London office, or we may rent a nice venue in London and invite journalists along. And you know, they’ll generally turn up they don’t have to travel far they know they’re going to get some good news and good content, which they can write about. What we find is quite different in America. Like if I was to invite someone to our office, I don’t know if they’d turn up. Whereas I have to take a different approach, which we do in England as well. But you know, I have to hit the streets back to go directly to their offices with our spokesperson to talk to them and it’s a slightly different approach, but it’s it’s always interesting, and I think a lot of Brits will struggle when they try to do what they do.

In the UK and try and apply the exact same methodology to America, it just, it doesn’t always work. It’s very different. In your experience, who do you find to be the more determined reporter. And what I mean by that is a reporter who wants, you know, a large amount of data or a larger amount of proof points for whatever you’re talking about, Would you say that’s the American reporter, or the European reporter?

I mean, Europe is fascinating, because actually, each country in Europe is completely different. The French media, the German media, the British media, all completely different with different interests and approaches. So again, it’s hilarious to compare America and Europe is hard. Because it’s different. It’s a bit like comparing England and you know, all of the states of America. So it’s quite tricky.

Brad Grantham
So one of the differences I’ve noticed over the past couple of years is universities and America, Canada, have added a large amount of degreed programs in public relations, which is a shift from the journalism programs that you know, 20 years ago existed maybe at a marketing minor or even a public relations minor back then now it’s become fully specialized degree programs. Would you say that trend is continuing across the pond to the UK as a more general degrees that still exists, and you have to get like a special certificate or something in public relations?

Nick Haigh
Yeah, I think you’re ahead of us as America often is, unfortunately, I don’t think we have those specialist degrees in PR yet. I mean, it’s a long time since I went to university, I could be wrong. But in general, when you’re getting into PR, a lot of people will have marketing degrees, they will have English degrees, and a lot of journalism degrees as well. And of course, former journalists do flocked VR quite readily. But in general, we, yeah, you would, when you get into PR, you’re more likely to follow different training programs put on by organizations such as the Chartered Institute of VR, I don’t know if you have the same in America, but they are very respected and trusted bodies, you spend time with them, gaining qualifications, attending different conferences, to upskill yourself and learn the relevant tricks of the trade, you can then apply

Brad Grantham
to your job and your craft. It will be very similar to RP RSA, I would assume when you’re when you’re doing and here’s another difference between our countries. You know, and you’ve alluded to it a little bit earlier. But when you’re doing media training, for spokesperson for, you know, the BBC, versus a media training for, you know, let’s say msnbc over here or Bloomberg Television, talk about the difference in that approach, when you’re trying to prep that spokesperson for you know, vastly different mediums. Yeah,

Nick Haigh
that’s it’s a real challenge, because I find the key thing to all media training is preparation. And it sounds obvious, but you’ve got to know what you want to say before you go in. And that’s what we spend a lot of time doing in our media training sessions. It’s about making sure you’ve got the key messages lined up knowing what you want to achieve by doing an interview, not just going in and trying to wing

Chris Shigas
it, and hoping they ask good questions, right? Yeah,

Nick Haigh
you got to go in, you’ve got to know what you want to say what you want to get across and prepare for the awkward questions, particularly in the UK, and I’m sure in the States, if you’re not saying anything interesting, they will start the journalists will start asking harder, more probing questions. So you’ve got to know how to steer away from that and navigate away, spit back to your comfort zone and make sure that you’re actually giving them something that they can use, because it’s a two way conversation, right, you’ve got to be able to, they’ve got a job, they want to get some good content, to fill their website to fill their newspaper and to go on the television. And that’s what we’ve got to train our guys to make sure they can do make an interesting, short, snappy sound bites, you know, it’s all that good stuff.

Chris Shigas
One unique difference that I’ve seen in European journalists and us journalists. You know, obviously, the goal here is to build a relationship, right? You want to build a relationship with these journalists and and beyond just sending them emailing them a press release. Most mainstream, US outlets have very strict guidelines about what a PR person can pay for. So with the Wall Street Journal, I can’t buy them dinner. I can’t provide their travel to go to one of my locations to see a news story. really can’t give them anything. I found that there’s a lot of media in Europe, where they can go on a media tour, they can they can accept travel as part of the story. I think it’s changing a little bit in the us because we have more and more freelancers, and they’re writing for multiple outlets and they can actually Some of these things. So tell me about the UK? Are you able to buy dinner for a PR person? Are you able to give travel?

Nick Haigh
It’s so fascinating question. So speaking personally, I would be terrified about buying dinner for a journalist, not just because the journalists might not be able to accept it, but all of our own capital, the company you work for have a very strict rules on ethical behavior, and what is it spend with a supplier, and a journalist would probably fall under that, you know, finding things. So we have to be completely aboveboard. So you know, I might buy someone a cup of coffee, but I wouldn’t really want to do anything else. Again, you know, traditional press trips, you know, they’re not as common these days. I mean, some industries will still do a sports industry will do entertainment, you know, computer game industry, they will probably fly journalists around the world to do something exciting. But your traditional, you know, London based media, you’d probably expect them just to travel to your office or to the venue, you’re going to, you would put on like a bit of coffee, some food breakfast, if it’s a breakfast briefing lunch, if it’s over lunch, you’d be a good host. But certainly you’d I don’t think it wouldn’t be common to pay for someone to come to travel to your site. That would be very unusual. Okay.

Brad Grantham
I just I just hope you wouldn’t serve blood pudding or what is that? black pudding? Yeah, that’s that’s just rank. It’s a delicacy. But it’s the right one.

Chris Shigas
Yeah, but Louisiana doesn’t have any rank food right.

Brad Grantham
Now we just have we have alligator alligator don’t get mixed started on alligators. We’ve gone through a challenging year for all of us. I mean, we’ve all been affected in one way or COVID 19. What would you say has changed for you? And perhaps some of your colleagues or former colleagues? And the way they think of PR going forward? I mean, what will you do differently going forward?

Nick Haigh
I mean, not not really in terms of tactics, but the biggest impact is, is working from home. So I mean, then, I feel like that’s probably more common in the states already. But in the UK, it’s traditional, you go to the office, you do your hours you go home. So that’s been a really big change. And I think for journalists as well, then similar, though, I mean, again, journalists probably work from home a bit more than traditional office workers. But that’s been the biggest change. So finding ways to get a hold of journalists has been a bit harder, I found, I mean, you know, you have your normal check ins, you might catch up with people, invite them over to your office for a coffee, you can’t do any of that. So it’s harder to have those basic catch ups that you would have with your regular contacts. So that’s, that’s been a real challenge. So you got to work hard, again, to almost to create the news to find something that will be of interest to your contacts to share with them. So we spent a lot of time trying to develop thought leadership, which is a terrible buzzword that everyone uses. But we really focus a lot on thought leadership. So giving them something interesting to work with. An interesting idea. I thought leadership stuff is some of the things I’ve found that hasn’t really worked that great in America, I don’t know what you think, Brad, but I think in the UK, it won’t surprise you. We think it’s great. It’s brilliant, we’ve done something great. It’s gonna work everywhere. And we take it to the states doesn’t necessarily,

Brad Grantham
but let’s talk about that. You know, I think the thought leadership stuff in the UK and in Europe in general, I think the press is a little bit more. I say this relaxed, as, as opposed to the US because the US changes by the second, you’ve got all the competing stations and networks trying to one up each other. And that’s what they’re focused on. So almost from a US perspective, you know, if you really want to make an impression, you almost have to news jack, the coverage find a way how can we get in on this topic at this moment? Do we have something substantive to share? And can we get in that conversation?

Chris Shigas
I agree with you about the newsjacking comment for sure. And you know, the pace of the news cycle in the US is is fast pace. It’s it’s really dominated by US politics and some current events, whether it be things like Black Lives Matter and protests like that. And and the US News doesn’t is not interested at all in international, you do not see the way the BBC covers news. internationally. You don’t you do not see that in the US. And that, that leads to a perhaps some ignorance in the US part about what’s going on in the world. And the closest thing we may have to that, frankly, is the PBS news hour, right?

Brad Grantham
I mean, base to a compared to a BBC broadcast, potentially. So Nick,

Unknown Speaker
So Nick Haigh,

Chris Shigas
thank you so much for joining us on PR wars.

Nick Haigh
Thanks, Chris. And Brad is great spend time with you. Great to chat about PR.

Chris Shigas
You can listen to a new episode of PR wars every Sunday night at 8pm Eastern. On behalf of Brad Grantham and the entire PR wars team worldwide. I’d like to thank Nick Haigh, head of global external communications at BAE Systems Applied Intelligence. Do me a favor. When you’re reaching out to media internationally, play on their terms. Don’t expect them to adjust to your culture. Look at your timing, the relevance and don’t ignore the differences… embrace them. Now go get ’em.

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2021 by Feedspot.

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