Marion Williams-Bennett is a professional PR/Communication woman with clients in the printing industry. In this ‘Over the Skype’ session, we talk about the role of PR- and how companies can benefit from working with a professional communications person.
As with all our ‘Over the Skype’ interviews, quality is limited to bandwidth, web-cams, and ability to literally LIVE mix the conversations. However, it works, and with Over the Skype, we will bring you more than 20 exciting people, and angles on the industry as it is right now.
This is Morten from a INKISH.TV and this is yet another episode Over the Skype and as most of you probably know at this time, this is the time and place where you talk to some of the most exciting people in the global printing industry. And this time we are going to the U.S., to be more precise to just in the area of Boston. And I’m going to talk to a good friend, Marion Williams-Bennett. So welcome to my show Marion.
Thank you so much Morten. It is wonderful to see you and to be with you.
And likewise. And for those who don’t know you, you are a professional community communication person, a PR person. Before we talk a little bit more in details about that, can you just explain what does a PR person actually do?
Yeah, it’s always a mystery-
Even for PR people?
Yeah, we like to keep it secret. We’re kind of behind the scenes, which is actually part of what we do. But in my work in PR I cover the areas of PR and sort of corporate communications. And so what I do is I work with clients primarily in the graphic arts industry to help them define what their story is. And when we say story, it’s really like what is it about the company that makes them unique? What is it about them that is different, that is compelling and really what is it that helps move our industry forward. So part of what I do is to really start with that piece, which is to, sorry about the dog, is to really help them define their story and then find ways of which … Compelling ways to tell the story.
So in some cases that may be a press release and that’s like a new product announcement or a customer announcement or that might be how to create blog posts that can talk about the services that you offer in an interesting way and one that really resonates with the audience. So I think of myself really as a storyteller, and defining the story, but then also finding ways of telling the story.
One of the reasons why I’m asking you is also because maybe you can prove me wrong here. Because I’m sometimes thinking that PR people and the role of PR people is a bit different from both from company to company, from the PR agency side. But also from what’s going on in the U.S. and what’s going on in Europe. Is that something that you recognize?
Yes, absolutely. And what I think is interesting about that is that depending … So first of all, let’s start with the company. Some companies I think have a more kind of mature kind of product or especially in our industry that I’ve worked with companies that have maybe a technology that has been used for a long time that has a large user base. So their story would be different than a company that say is an up and coming kind of company. Someone who is introducing something to the market for the first time. So there’s kind of variations in sort of where the company is in their own growth and their own history.
Sorry to interrupt you, but I was more thinking of not so much your customer stories in this perspective. I’m thinking of the PR companies and their value proposition is different from company to company. And maybe from the U.S. to the Europe. I would like to talk about the company stories in a second, but I would like to hear if you agree with me on that and maybe just elaborate on it. I can tell you that what I see in for example at trade shows in the U.S. it’s very often that the communication people, like PR people are attending your panel debates or actually being more like a spokesperson for the company. Where in Europe I think they are way more behind the scenes than what you see here in the U.S.
Yep. I think that’s an interesting distinction. And I think in some ways I think there are different ways in which I can support a company. And some companies really like to have their spokespeople out in front of an audience. And I think in some ways those are the best for them. They’re the best person to tell a story. But for me, I am a communicator and so I’m trained in telling stories and that’s really what I do. And so I’ve done presentations for customers, for my clients. Sat on panel discussions, so it kind of depends on the organization. I think you’re right though that in many … In Europe it is a bit more behind the scenes. It’s a bit, our job I think in general for PR is really to help get the company recognized. And so we are a bit more behind the scenes. We want an article to be written, sort of authored by the company, or we want the company to be presenting. But what we do behind the scenes is really shape what gets said in those different communication channels.
And if you look at from that perspective, it must be, I would say that it must sometimes be a bit challenging. Because I mean, you have to know a lot about the company and you have to get into the DNA of the company. Is that possible with all the clients to get under the skin of the DNA or into the company and understanding that culture that your story telling needs to be circled around?
That’s such a great question. And I think that that for any company listening, I say, “Be willing to open up to your PR person.” Because there are many companies who want to share a bit of information but not too much information. And I think the most important thing you can do is to find a trusted advisor for your communications, for your PR. And tell them everything, tell them the good, but also tell them the bad. Tell them what’s working and what’s not working or where you feel like your company is failing. And trust that they’re not going to share what’s going wrong, but they are going to help you shape your message around your strengths and your weaknesses. I’ve been lucky to work with some great clients that are really open to that message, but it’s not something that every company does. And I’m really passionate about the fact that your communications person should be a really trusted advisor and you should be able to share things with them in a very open and candid way.
And that also kind of require that when you enter into relationship with a peer person, or peer company, that is a long-term relationship, right? Because some something you can grasp from being told how it is and something you experience by experience how people are at a trade show, how the management is communicating to the staff and all these kinds of things. So I think that it’s an important perspective is to have to build a long-term relationship.
I agree with that. And I feel like the work that I do, I have clients that I work with that I’ve worked with for years now and what’s been really gratifying for me is to be able to see, shape how they can communicate their message both from where they were four years ago and where they are today. And there was for both of the clients that I’ve worked with on a long-term basis, there really has been a lot of growth. And so I’ve been able to grow their message right alongside their growth, which is wonderful.
And it’s wonderful to have I think the historic knowledge about working with a client and being able to kind of bring that into their message. I’ve also worked with clients sort of on a project basis and it’s, whether it’s writing an article for them or doing some PR campaign for them and that can work well too. But it’s definitely a different kind of engagement and it requires I think for me to do a lot more fact finding and a lot more interviewing of the client to get really an understanding of what they’re trying to say and what their goals are and shaping their message.
And when you get to that, let’s say position with a client, where you get the confidence and you get the insights and you get the historical things, maybe you can’t, or maybe you won’t answer this question. But I was just wondering, advantages, disadvantages of being an employee versus being an external advisor? How would you look upon that?
That’s a very good question because I obviously work on a consulting basis. I’ve actually done both. So I’ve been a consultant for about five years now. And before that was in charge of communications for a company. And so I’ve had kind of both. And what I took from the experience of working in-house was I brought to my consulting practice, which is I’m not in the organization every day and I don’t know kind of the ins and outs. I’m not getting coffee with my co-workers and finding the inside story.
So it requires a lot more relationship building, a lot more conversations, and really making the most of, well now online communication. But also the in-person opportunities when we have to meet. A really kind of trying to gain that insight and that building on the relationship. I think it goes back to what I was saying earlier about trust. I want them to think of me as a trusted advisor. And that’s my job. Part of my job is really creating that relationship and helping the client feel like, “Well, I’m not an employee. I am an integral part of their team.”
When I look at, I also wrote an article about that on INKISH.NEWS was, what happens in crisis times. Because one of the things that I think that a lot of us in the media see is that money spent on media is something that you can quite easily reduce during crisis times. Do you see, I mean, is that something that is also a perspective when you work with PR, because I mean you are also part of the crisis communication and both the good and bad stories. But are you seeing as something that is expendable from a company or during a crisis?
I think that’s a great question. And there is no doubt that this, everybody is impacted by this crisis and also in different ways. So for some of us we’re continuing to work as is and we’re continuing to go along remotely from our houses. But obviously for other businesses this is a much more significant immediate impact. What I’m seeing so far and what I’ve been pleased to see is that the businesses that I work with are still seeing communications as a really important part of what they’re doing right now. It’s kind of their effort right now.
It’s definitely taking a different shape. So for some that means that they’re not doing as much advertising or obviously trade shows, all of that kind of activity has just gone away. But they are doing more in terms of their social media outreach, their blog posts and articles. So they’re doing, excuse me, a lot more educational kind of content. And so what has changed is the nature of the content that we’re creating. A lot more educational, a lot more, “This is where we are in the crisis.” So I think there’s a different type of communication that is going on right now, so fortunately I have not been impacted.
Amazing and great. One of the things that I find important to talk about as well is also that the relationship PR person have with the media. Can you explain how you see that role? Because, I mean it’s both a tied relationship because you need to have a communication platform with the stories that you tell. And at the same time the media might also sometimes think that it’s a little bit cannibalizing their potential stories and revenue or free advertising, all these kinds of things. What is your thoughts about that?
I think that there is no question that over the last 10 years really there’s been an evolution. When I first started in PR it was a very clear distinction between editorial and advertising. And they were existed in different sides of the house. And then today it’s much more intertwined and obviously publications need to find revenue when they can. And that is, that’s just the nature of what we do today. But so there are kind of advertising opportunities that clients that I work with will pay for.
But there is also I think stories that editors are working on there that are part of their publication. And I think this is where I think a PR person who is … A good PR person can really get into those publications. Be reading the publications, look at the trends that they’re following, look at the opportunities for what kinds of articles that they are writing. So whether it’s in printing publication or graphic arts publication. What is the really important thing that they’re looking at, and where does my client story fit within that overall message? So I think there’s opportunity for both sides to exist, both the promotional side and also supporting the education side, the editorial side with some content as well.
One of the things that I have as we spoke about just before we turned on the camera here, was the fact that I think that a lot of media, on all circumstances we have experienced that almost everything got canceled and we have now existed five weeks with zero revenue to be honest. And you could lie down and just die. That’s one option. But we chose to say that, “Okay, we do these Over the Skype kind of sessions where we talk to a lot of different people to get at least a chance to communicate bot stories and products and insight.” A lot of these kinds of things.
And I was just wondering, because I think that one of the things that I’ve been wondering a little bit about is that a lot of the media, not just in the trade media, in the printing industry, but in the media in general have been either 100% focused on the COVID-19 or almost nothing else. And I’m a little bit, I think that we have got a lot of new audiences to INKISH and our channels in the past two weeks because we’d been so consequent publishing stories all the time.
Yeah, yeah. I think what’s been interesting is to see, so for some publications have, especially the printed publications have a longer lead time. So what you’re seeing is a lot of the printed publications have come out from before the COVID-19 crisis.
With drupa news.
Yeah, the drupa issue, which is just heartbreaking and is [inaudible 00:15:24]. But what I have been impressed by, and I think in general it’s just for INKISH, for other publications and some of the professional industry groups really coming together as a community. I’ve seen a lot of really good groups form around us. And so if printers are sort of working together to say, “I can’t produce this job, is there someone else can help me produce it?” Or, “How are sharing stories of survival or growth or opportunity?” And I applaud the whole community, especially media organizations like you and some of the other publications that just are helping. I think that there is many of us feel at a loss for how to kind of help people through this. And I think providing valuable content that people can use to help survive during this crisis is a really important part.
Yeah, I must say that I have been truly impressed by the what the NAPCO and PR world and those with the COVID and coronavirus initiative websites and information. Because I think that especially in America, you are very dependent on how do I apply for loans? And how do I secure my things, and how do I secure? I mean, because with big countries it’s sometimes maybe … I think maybe it’s sometimes more difficult to find your way through the jungle. So I think that the NAPCO has given a great initiative to support the industry by putting the resources into building this website. So I think that’s what you’re talking about, right?
Yes, absolutely. I think that one is one. Because there’s so many different facets to this crisis and there’s about how to keep your employees safe. There is how to apply for business loans, how to apply for federal aid. There’s so many different pieces that need to be pulled together. And I think NAPCO is a great example of, both NAPCO and the industry organization that works-
Yeah, of course.
… with just have been able to really provide one central spot for that, which is just a critical resource right now.
Yeah, yeah. So, okay. So I get it, we have now established that PR and the media they of course need each other. Maybe you didn’t say that word, but of course that is evident. But you also say that there’s a space for both the commercial sites and the editorial sites. Do you think that it sometimes is mixed too much? I mean, if you are a storyteller and I guess that, now I’m putting words in your mouth, but for me at least part of being a storyteller is also being trustworthy as being an unbiased source. So you think that the find balance between editorial and commercial is clear and easy to understand for the readers and the viewers?
I think it’s, I’ll say this, from my standpoint, when I create content, I’ve created, I just wrote an article that’s just a whole educational kind of article and it’s about ink, and I worked with my client to develop it. It doesn’t just talk about my client’s solution and what they do. It talks about the whole picture. So some of that will include their information and some of it is just industry information that is important for a reader to know. So it’s definitely an informative article, and there are times when I create content that is more for an advertising or an advertorial opportunity. And that is definitely written in a different way with a different slant. It’s more focused on my client and what my client offers and there are … So those are two different kinds of content. I think that for organizations, for media companies, it’s often difficult to sort of share content. Because they’re just revenue driven and they obviously need to find new sources of revenue and advertising revenue. They need to get creative about that.
And so I think sometimes content is offered in a way that isn’t always clear to the end user if this is a paid promotion or clear editorial opportunity. I think the good publications do it well and they have this sponsored by this, or they’ll attribute the source of the information. But like every online communication, I think the reader really needs to be very smart about what they’re reading and what the source of what they’re reading is, even when it’s one of our trusted media sources.
Yeah, because I think that what you touches upon is also that since the last election in the U.S. I think that all these things about fake news and about how news are spread, of course that doesn’t relate directly to what we’re talking about here, but maybe anyway. Because maybe we end up in a situation where some of the content that we were supposed to trust, we have maybe a less, maybe we’re concerned whether we can trust all the sources that we are used to. Because we have maybe a little bit more speculative, no I can’t say the words. Damn difficult word.
It is a difficult word. It’s difficult for a native English speaker to say.
Why did I even tried to go that path, right?
Exactly. It’s like a different path.
Yeah, but did you get my point that-
I mean after the fake news of the last election, I’m just wondering if audiences in general are becoming less … Do they trust the media in general a little bit less than they used to, right?
I think you’re right. One thing I really hate is when politicians call news that they don’t like fake news. And I just find it just, it infuriates me because as a PR person, I’ve worked with journalists all my life and I believe that they are doing some really important work. And I think in our industry especially, there’s a lot of news that they need to share that isn’t always positive, and especially now it’s just a really difficult time. So to me journalists do an incredible job for our community, our world, and-
… coping with fake news is just beyond to me. I take your point though that there is a blending of content that’s created now where it is unclear what is the source of this content. Is it paid, is it not? I mean we look at our social media feeds and we wonder like, “Why am I seeing this?” It’s not just that it’s just getting presented in a random way. There’s a whole algorithm of why it’s getting presented. And so I do think that consumers of information just in general need to be much more circumspect about where the information is coming from and why it’s being presented to them.
And to be honest, is that also one of the value proposition you as a PR person can help your clients with to judge media and judge the social media and the channels and the groups and how to get through? Because I mean, with more and more information available, I think it becomes more and more difficult to find relevant information. Is that part of your work as well to help-
… I wouldn’t say to digest things, but to help to figure out how to get content and get your message into the right channels?
That’s right. That’s exactly part of what I do. And it’s helping I think, I have this, I remember when I went to Florence once and we had this guide who told me like just … Because I was telling him my whole plan of every museum I wanted to see and he said, “Don’t do that because you’ll get overwhelmed.” I think it’s called Stendhal syndrome where you actually get physically overwhelmed because you’re just taking in so much. And I think the way we consume information is like that now. It’s just like where so much is coming at us, we don’t end up processing it. And so I think it goes back to connecting the work that I do with my clients is helping them to say, “What is your story?” And then say, “Why would people care about that? Why do they need to know about that?” And so it’s like, “Can they do their job better? Can they improve their business? Can they make an impact?”
And those are really important questions to ask the client. But it’s also important to deliver that content to the user in a way so they can understand this is educational content for you, or this is a promotional content that could lead to more information. So I feel that it’s very important for me as the PR person to find places where they can tell the story most effectively and reach the customer. But also be clear about where that source is coming from. So if it’s a sponsored post, that’s, I hope that people will understand that. And when it’s clear editorial, I hope they can be clear about that too. But it’s easy.
And that is, I think that is maybe an extremely important point you have there, because the source of information and how you make sure that it is accurate information. I can tell you one of the things that I have been working a bit on in the past couple of weeks. Because I have more time since I’m not traveling so much, is also the nature of press releases. Because I can give you an example. I got a press release from Canon about the new iX-series printer a couple of weeks ago. And it was a little bit frustrating to me, because when I saw it was kind of delivered, published, almost unedited in a lot of different media, not even saying that it was a press release, but pretending it to be more or less an editorial, right? I decided, “Okay, since we don’t bring press releases,” because people can do that on their own on INKISH.NEWS. I thought that, “Okay, let me try to work this press release as if I was a gear editor and try to see if I could put it into perspective.”
And I don’t know what the normal clicks are on articles from other media, but we got within a week we got more than 6,000 people that clicked on that and read that article, or at least clicked into INKISH.NEWS to watch that article. And I was just like, “Wow.” And I know from Canon that they were really positive about the level of engagement. And then I’m just wondering from a PR perspective, I know that you are professional in your storytelling. I know that you also have a job where you need to make sure that the communication with the press is delivered to the professional extent that you do. But do you think that sometimes the press is not really working the press releases enough to get more content. Asking the suppliers about details to make sure that you get an even higher level of knowledge than the ones that just shared in the press release?
I think that you again raised a really important point. And one of the, probably I don’t know how many years ago, I can sound so old. It wasn’t seven years ago, maybe 10 years ago you’d probably you’d send an editor a press release and they would consider it and they think about, “Okay, this is a product launch. This is how it fits into this story or this how it fits into an article I’m writing on this topic. Or this is big enough news for me to create a article just about this.” There were different ways in which the editor would make most of that news. I think as you know, online communication and social media has sped up the way in which we share information. It is publications now think about the important thing to do is get this out and publish it as soon as possible. I think-
Is that because everything then becomes almost like breaking news and that is important to have the speed of it, or?
I think there’s two reasons for that. I think one is the speed becomes important, because then everyone’s publishing it at the same time. So you could see for that Canon press release, that press release was being published everywhere as is. But I think the other part of it is as publications have kind of shifted from being more print driven, at least in the U.S. I think in Europe there’s still a lot of really good printed publications. But resources are smaller, they have smaller newsrooms, smaller editorial staffs. And so they just don’t have the resources to editorialize in the way that they used to. But I think that that was an important service that they did, those publications did. And I think one thing that is disappointing about not having drupa or not having some of these events that have been scheduled for the spring is that that’s where I think you could see where editors really would shine. Because they would go to the event, see what it need-
And see the machines and talk to the specialist and make sure that they get that content delivered in a way that is way beyond just a press release. That’s what you mean, right?
Right. And it would be like the biggest trends coming from drupa are this. This drupa. That would be more of a synthesis of the trends. And that’s where you really got to see some of the editorial really come through. And I miss that. And I think as an industry we miss that, but it will come back and we’ll be back.
Yeah, that’s great. Last subject that we are going to talk about before we end this really nice conversation with you, Marion, is that you have chosen to be your own company, your own PR person to the industry. And I would like to know, without making this sound like too much of an advertising of your company. But I would like to, if people want to engage with you, what is it that you believe is the value proposition and how should people get … How should they approach you basically?
That’s a great question. I really appreciate your asking that. I’m really passionate about this industry and I’m really passionate about communications. And so I love working with clients and especially now, because it’s not an easy time right now. I think people are looking for ways of standing out but they’re not really sure how to make it happen. So I’m on LinkedIn and I’m happy to just have conversation with if someone is thinking about doing more in the area of communications but they’re not sure what to say or how to say it or where to say it. I can guide you into that conversation. I can talk to you about what you’re trying to accomplish and how to create a communication strategy that really can help you build on your goals.
I mean, I couldn’t have said it better myself I think. So Marion, it was a pleasure to talk to here Over the Skype, so thank you for your time and I think you gave some really great insights and perspectives of the role of communication. So thank you very much.
I really appreciate it Morten. It was such a wonderful opportunity to visit with you in isolation.
It was definitely wonderful. Thank you. And good luck with everything coming up.
And sooner or later we will see each other live, right?
I look forward to it.
Yeah, okay. Bye-bye.
Thank you Morten.