How PR has changed: An interview with Managing Director Duncan Hopwood and Account Manager Alex Shah

  1. How has the emergence of social media changed the PR industry?

MD: The big difference is that it has made us much more interested in real engagement and conversations with our target audiences, rather than simply putting out messages to them in a largely one-way fashion. Before social media, if you wanted to reach people in a particular location, no matter who they were, if you could get your release or interview into their local newspaper, it was job done. Now those newspapers, like a lot of other publications, are a shadow of their former selves. Instead we have a number of different channels that we can target, and we can do things like Facebook advertising to target segmented audiences for example.

AM: The press release is now a news release, which can be used across a number of different channels, some that we control such as the client’s website and social media channels, and all sorts of different outlets. It is not just a press release for a specific publication or section of the conventional media.

  1. In what ways have client briefs changed? (Do clients now request things that they maybe wouldn’t have 10 years ago?)

MD: In areas like PR, marketing, and advertising, there used to be a feeling that ‘the advertising people know what they’re talking about so we’ll just hand it over to them and we’ll take their recommendation’. However, people question everything nowadays, and I think that client briefs and the process of winning new clients are more detailed. The brief has changed from often being ‘can you get my name into the paper’ to ‘how can we reach our target audiences and generate new sales or convince people to consider our argument and change their opinion about a particular issue’.

AM: People feel that they have more experience now, because they might have their own social media channels or a personal blog or website. It makes them more interested to know the details and specifics behind strategies and campaigns before engaging with PR.

  1. Are clients now more interested in gaining an online presence, rather than featuring in print news?

AM: I think it depends on the company and the sector. In property, they still value print news, especially the trades. But I think any company still values national newspaper coverage. I think that will always be valuable.

MD: Some are, it depends on their objectives, the industry that they are in and their understanding of the value of their online presence. I was presenting to a client group recently who needed a lot of convincing that they should be investing in digital, and I had to show them charts of national newspaper circulations plummeting while people’s use of social media is rocketing up, to convince them that we should be investing time and effort into this area, as well as in the national news print scene. The younger generation of business people in, for example, Leicester don’t read the local paper in print but they do read its website. Generally, the more important trade and professional magazines do still hold sway, and people do want to be in those, in their print or online editions, especially when it’s a business to business environment.

  1. Has the relationship between journalists and PR professionals changed in any way?

AM: I used to spend a lot of time building relationships with journalists, meeting them for lunches etc. I do less of that now because they move around a lot, they’re stretched for time and resources and they just want quick, easy wins. I don’t even speak on the phone to them as much as I used to. With respectable publications and the nationals, you have to show that you have solid new research or a really strong story that is reliable to win their attention.

MD: They have to fill their newspapers and websites every day, so they rely on the PR industry to generate content and ideas. Most publications would not be able to function without input from the PR industry. When I was a journalist I was always going to events and press conferences, going out to do interviews, but they don’t do that now. I wouldn’t recommend having a press conference now, unless it was to manage a crisis situation where a lot of journalists were clawing for information. It works much more effectively if you develop a relationship, which may be by email or twitter, and fulfil the individual journalist’s actual requirements. We’ve had much more coverage in the nationals by responding to stories that journalists wanted to write, rather than us trying to convince them to do a story that they didn’t already have.

  1. How has the decline in print newspapers affected the PR industry?

AM: I think that we now have to focus on different things, and focus on channels that target audiences will be reading or accessing in a different way such as YouTube. So I’d say there has been a change in tactics.

MD: We are now much more likely to generate content for clients in newspapers than we were because they rely more on us as an industry for content. But on the other hand that coverage is going to be seen by fewer readers. So as Alex said, we now have to use different ways of engaging with audiences.

  1. Has the demand for PR work increased over time?

AM: No company can just ignore their online presence like websites and social media. They need it for winning new business and also for recruitment. The younger generation look on websites and social media for information about a company. So I think it’s foolish for any company to ignore that. It’s a full time, every day thing that you need to be constantly on top of.

MD: I think it’s quite complicated because what PR is now is different to what it was. Has demand for conventional media relations increased significantly? No. Is there more demand for PR agencies that can effectively communicate as part of a marketing programme? Yes, and there are also growth areas that incorporate social responsibility. It’s about arguments and changing people’s minds. Carrying out public consultations, engaging with stakeholders, working with charities and volunteering – areas that are not specifically focused on sales and marketing, and may not even be commissioned by a commercial business, have definitely grown.

  1. Has it been difficult to adapt to changes in the PR industry?

MD: It has required a lot of time and energy, but I haven’t found it difficult. As a member of the CIPR and the PRCA, I have access to the latest thinking about how PR, communications and social media work together. I’ve spent a lot of time reading about that, looking at case studies, seeing how what’s happening in consumer markets might apply to business in the property sector in particular. I wouldn’t say it has been difficult, more of an enjoyable challenge!

AM: I only started about ten years ago when people were already using the internet. It’s only social media that has changed dramatically for me.

  1. Despite PR changing over time, what key things have stayed the same over your career?

MD: Journalists still think that they are better writers than PR people. Largely, I would say that is true (speaking as a former journalist!). A good story idea well told, which could be in video format, or even an infographic, still beats everything else. Good ideas still help to set you apart. Social media isn’t actually a million times different to the real pre-digital world. I always say that LinkedIn always reminds me of how the property sector works, in that you can look at what your peers are doing, you can make connections, you can join groups together, and you can message each other. All of that existed before, it just wasn’t done on LinkedIn, so in many ways, things haven’t changed as much as it sometimes seems. We had an interesting conversation with one client in the property sector about how business was generally won and large projects brought to fruition by people knowing each other, having lunch with each other, beers after work and breakfast meetings etc. The next generation will need to make those same connections too but they may do more of it online, and it’s interesting to see the rise of BIM in the sector which is a way that different disciplines in the sector work collaboratively online.

AM: Journalists still want good quality, exclusive if possible, relevant things to them. And for you to have read their publication and previous articles and know what they want. Because they receive hundreds of calls about things that aren’t relevant and because they are under-resourced, you need to be able to pitch a story idea succinctly.


Tips from our Writing Workshop

After developing a compelling story idea, good writing often makes the difference between an article that makes the media and one that disappears. Here are some tips from our internal writing workshop.

  1. Start with the end in mind

You have to have a clear goal for each piece that you write. What effect do you want this piece to have on the reader? Is it to make them do something, like sign up for a mailing list or attend an event? Whatever your ultimate goal, have it front of mind throughout the writing process.

  1. Visuals are important

The first things that a reader or journalist will see of your piece is your headline and the pictures you use. The eye is naturally drawn to colour and bold headlines, so it is crucial that these are original and good quality. In newspapers and magazines, people read headlines, photo captions and the first one or two sentences of articles.

  1. Be straightforward

You need to write in a way that people will be able to understand. Avoid overly complicated language and be as clear as possible. You can still be engaging without being unnecessarily fancy. Alongside your goal, have your audience in your mind when you write, and use language appropriate to them.

  1. Know your angle

Whether you are writing about a current news topic or something more specialist, it is important to develop your own angle before you try and interest journalists. This is especially true if you are commenting on a breaking news story. You must have an interesting take on the subject to differentiate your article from the competition’s.

  1. Do your research

In order to write with authority, do your research. Be up to date on the latest information about your subject so that you can deliver information in context. You need to stay current with the news to do this. Conduct interviews with people who are specialists in the subject, or were present and have a first-hand account of what you are writing about. You can also conduct surveys to generate new information.

  1. Don’t forget technique

There are a number of writing techniques you can use to add life to your article, such as using alliteration, metaphors and three-part-lists. Strong comparisons and contrasts will paint a clear picture of the subject in the mind of the reader. Combining lists with repetition can create a build-up of excitement and deliver impact, especially if you happen to be writing a speech or presentation but that’s a writing genre for another occasion.



When a star footballer admitted what many people think, namely that Premiership salaries are obscene, it set us thinking. Our construction training client DTL had told us how a chronic skills shortage was leading to spiraling wage inflation in the utilities. We wondered if the problem wasn’t tackled, would construction workers one day earn footballer salaries.

The idea captured the attention of the media. Our release earned coverage for DTL in influential national titles including Recruitment International, HR Director and FM World where it ranked in the top ten ‘most read’ league table.

In total, the story was used by 20 media outlets with a combined readership of more than 300,000 prime target audience members for our client.

The goal of the month award goes to the Derby Telegraph for its mock-up of England captain Wayne Rooney as a construction worker.

Of course, in football, you don’t always get what you pay for. There is still a warm glow in our Leicester office after the rags to riches story of Leicester City. Manchester United has spent more on players in the last two years than Leicester has in its entire 132-year history.


dtl football coverage 1


How to use LinkedIn for business

We see LinkedIn as a natural extension of the face-to-face networking that property professionals do so well. But most people are barely scratching the surface of what it has to offer. To help you make the most of this powerful business-to-business channel, here are a few ideas.

  • Connect to your company – Ensure that you link your personal profile to your company page (you do have a company page right?) and encourage as many staff as possible to do the same. The more employees link their profiles to your company page, the more visible it will be online, boosting your chances of attracting new readers and prospects.
  • Join 50 groups – Many people only join a couple of groups or none at all. With more than 1.8 million groups on offer, you can do much better. Once you’re in a group, the number of prospects you can contact via LinkedIn increases so you can send direct messages to potentially hundreds of people who are not in your direct network.
  • Connect with your current clients and contacts – LinkedIn is an unobtrusive way to keep in touch so you are front of mind when clients and prospects are developing new opportunities. Just a brief note, preferably personalised, and a request to connect will suffice. These connections could well be your best source of referrals, so keep in touch online sufficiently frequently and with fresh content.
  • Share a status update between 11 AM and 3 PM each workday – Don’t miss this easy opportunity to share helpful information and remain front of mind within your network during the hours when they are most likely to be active on LinkedIn.
  • Find your most relevant group and get involved – Choose one group that is the visited most frequently by clients and prospects, and focus your efforts on that one. Post your own discussion or get involved in one that is generating good interest.
  • Download your network database – It’s wise to safeguard information, and this list of names, titles, companies, and email addresses may also prove to be helpful for your marketing efforts outside of LinkedIn.
  • Save your best advanced people searches – LinkedIn will send you a periodic email containing a list of people who meet your specific search criteria.
  • Maximize your professional gallery – This is a great place to showcase your best work but very few users use it to its full potential or even at all. You can make your profile stand out with video, audio, presentations, documents and links to your marketing collateral.
  • Pursue recommendations – While the endorsements feature is easy to use, well-written recommendations are probably a better way to build your reputation for expertise and ability. Don’t be afraid to ask clients for them.

Discover how digital content, PR and marketing communications work together to increase your visibility. Call a member of our team on 0116 204 4862.


How to prepare for London MIPIM

MIPIM UK – a spin-off from MIPIM, the largest property event in Europe, which descends on Cannes in the south of France every March – was held for the first time in 2014. Ahead of this year’s event on 19th-21st October at London Olympia, here’s our quick guide to getting the most of your time at this or indeed any other property event or trade show.

Plan your time
If you’re already in the habit of planning ahead of attending a show or conference, this will seem like an obvious one but you’re probably in a minority. It’s a crucial element to be able to make the most of your attendance. Check the MIPIM online database to see who’s going to be attending and don’t delay in setting up networking opportunities. Book meetings well in advance, and be sure to confirm exactly when and where your meetings will take place. Highlight any workshops or talks you want to attend, and plan your time around those. The programme schedule can be downloaded on the MIPIM UK website so you can find out exactly when everything will be going on. This will help you decide how many days you will attend and how much time you will spend at the show on each day. Be sure to leave plenty of time for organic networking.

Business cards
…and plenty of them! Again it may sound like an obvious thing to bring with you to a networking event but you want to make sure that you’re going to have them to hand at all times to be able to successfully make as many new connections as possible. When you’re there, don’t just give them out but collect them from new contacts. As soon as possible, scribble a note on the business card or in the show guide to remind you about the discussion you had and any ideas you have to follow up later.

If you have any meetings with journalists scheduled, make sure you have an exact plan of what you want to say and what you’re promoting. Consider putting together some press packs to give out to media. A specialist PR consultancy such as Hopwood PR can set up meetings with journalists as well as making sure your media messages and collateral are in top shape.

Check everything is in order
From your accommodation to your badges, check that everything is set to run smoothly. If you’re in need of accommodation while at this London based event, the MIPIM UK website has a link to hundreds of hotels as well as information on how to get there based on the form of transport you’ll be taking.

Make sure your registration is fully completed ahead of time to avoid any complications upon arrival, and make sure you know how you’re receiving your badge. You can choose to get your badge via post, as an e-ticket (both should get to you approximately one week before the event) or upon arrival at the registration area (you’ll need to have a valid photo ID with you for this).

Get to know your surroundings
This includes both inside and outside of the venue, especially if you’re exhibiting at the show. Before you arrive at the venue, be sure to know where your stand is to make setting up an easier and less stressful process. Find out where your key clients and any potential new business targets are exhibiting. Being in London means there are a multitude of restaurants and other locations available for meeting contacts so networking doesn’t have to be confined to the show venue. See when you can schedule some off-site coffee, lunches, drinks or dinners into your days.

As soon as possible, plan what your agendas will be while at the event. You can the post them on the ‘exhibit’ section on the official MIPIM website, so that other attendees can see them. This will help to help promote your projects.

If you’re a Twitter user, find out what hashtags are being used for the event and when you should be using them, and raise your visibility before, during and after the show with plenty of online activity and interactions. You can schedule a lot of this in advance. Your PR agency or in-house marketing communications team can help.

Put in place a plan for following up with the new contacts you’ve made during the event. Invite people to meet for a coffee and make sure you have something interesting and compelling to show them. At Hopwood PR, we can help you put together a presentation. Not everyone will take you up on this offer straight away of course. So put in place a programme of communications with all your new contacts. We’ll help you to produce interesting content such as e newsletters and white papers as a means of maintaining contact and keeping you in the minds of prospects and intermediaries you’ve met at the show.


Don’t get left behind: the importance of communication

Why do some property and regeneration projects succeed while others fail? According to analysts Gartner, the main reason for a failed architecture project is lack of communication. Projects sank as stakeholders misinterpreted the designers’ ideas, and the vision was not successfully communicated to the potential buyers.

For those projects that do get off the ground, lack of communication often leads to trouble down the line (see our blog on the subject).

So communication – internal as well as external – has a critical role to play.

To get a project off of the ground takes effective communication between everyone involved: developers, contractors, engineers, planning consultants, agents, environmental consultants, the list goes on. If the project is to be a commercial success, there are the end users to think about, as well as the wider stakeholder groups, including the site’s neighbours and, of course, the planning authorities.

Ideally, everyone involved will be united behind a clear vision.

One crucial aspect of this is in the management of public relations and marketing communications around property developments and regeneration projects. There are often issues with individual parties doing their own thing and minor partners in projects often feel they are left behind when the lead partners go public. This is not only unfair, it’s bad for business. Just as you should want to encourage and promote the people who work for you, so it makes sense to give everyone involved in a project their moment in the sun. Do this well, and the reach of the overall PR and marketing effort can be extended across a wider variety of media and other channels than is the case when one partner goes it alone.

So how do you coordinate PR around a property or regeneration project?

There needs to be an initial briefing stage at the beginning of the project, for everyone involved. For this to be effective, you need to establish who will lead on PR. Good PR means that everyone will be represented, from those in charge of the project to those playing a supporting role. A stumbling block that many new projects face is getting approval for press releases and other content, and keeping track of what has been published. A system must be put in place whereby all draft content can be approved quickly and efficiently. There also needs to be a crisis plan for dealing with any negative situations that may arise.

Consider involving a PR and communications agency. We are experts at communication. We know how to communicate with people at all levels to keep them informed and win support. A lead agency for your project can coordinate with all the partners’ own PR teams to ensure messages are consistent and everyone has an opportunity to benefit from the success of the project.

From the initial consultation, through the planning process and into the marketing of the finished development, a good PR agency takes the pressure off you, keeps stakeholders together and smooths the path to a successful outcome.

If you need help getting your project off of the ground, give us a call today on 0116 254 4472.