How drilling for resources will create the next frontier

Drilling has long been an integral part in expanding the US frontier. In the 1850s, it enabled the California Gold Rush and bought about the Texas oil boom in the mid-nineteenth century. The ability to extract valuable resources encouraged mass […]


10 Oct
by Aspectus PR

1015-water-moon-more-than-thought_full_600Drilling has long been an integral part in expanding the US frontier. In the 1850s, it enabled the California Gold Rush and bought about the Texas oil boom in the mid-nineteenth century. The ability to extract valuable resources encouraged mass migration, as US citizens moved to seek their fortune from these resources. Now, the pursuit of new resources and usable lands has moved into space.

This week NASA announced that it has established a set of projects to study how to mine resources from the moon. The projects – aptly named Lunar Flashlight and Resource Prospector Mission – are due to commence in late 2017 and will assess the possibility of drilling resources from the moon to establish a sustainable outpost on the satellite.

The projects will first assess the locations of water on the moon. Then, NASA intends to design a model for how an outpost could be put on the moon, which will host the drills that will extract the water. The water will be used for both consumption and separating hydrogen and oxygen for the creation of rocket fuel. But NASA is not the only institution eyeing up the moon’s resources; a number of private enterprises – such as Moon Express and Shackleton Energy Co. – have set their sights on mining and using the moon’s water sources to create fuel.

This is exciting news and will undoubtedly be the next step in the hollowing out of the state. But why are we in PR excited? A project as large as trying to mine the moon for energy resources, and the establishment of an outpost, requires a huge public relations campaign to garner civilian support and taxpayer money. At the same time, it creates yet another new frontier for an energy industry so rapidly breaking with the conventional.


Tower blocks, heritage and the art of persuasion

How do you make a horse that is good for glue seem like a stallion? As with most conversations about the use of language and perception, the majority of people would say: by employing the art of persuasion. And this […]


08 Oct
by Aspectus PR

Balfron Tower beforeHow do you make a horse that is good for glue seem like a stallion? As with most conversations about the use of language and perception, the majority of people would say: by employing the art of persuasion. And this is exactly what the National Trust has done with a 1960s tower block in London’s Tower Hamlets. The concrete tower is getting a new lease of life as tourists are told that it is an architectural marvel, symbolic of the glass-plate designs of the yesteryear.

As odd as it might seem for a heritage institution such as the National Trust to try and protect something that many people would think is best forgotten, it is actually quite common. The United Kingdom is littered with impractical, outdated, and physically unsymmetrical buildings that have been deemed beautiful and wonderful because of how certain institutions believe they reflect an era. A nation so obsessed with its history has its understanding of the past defined by what powerful and wealthy bodies consider worthy of being preserved and remembered (or forgotten and abandoned).

Some great examples of beautiful buildings that have historical importance and yet have been forgotten because heritage institutions did not think they are worth restoration include Canterbury Castle, Wilton’s Music Hall, and BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. On the other hand, the Barbican Centre and the Lloyd’s building have been granted listed status by English Heritage.

Thus it rings true that buildings do not have a guaranteed longevity because they are beautiful or historical. They have a ring-fenced future if a body of individuals think that it is worth protecting and promoting to people. This is the PR side of engineering and architecture coming through. Selling people a marvel does not rely upon beauty or importance alone, but an idea and a campaign to promote it.

Due to the paradox of many important and beautiful buildings being left to ruin whilst unimportant and aesthetically lacking constructions gain protection, it is hard to tell the difference between a dead horse and a show jumper. And such, I conclude that PR does not make a horse that is good for glue seem like a stallion, for there are no standard measures for what determines beauty and importance in architecture. Instead, PR defines whether a building remains a mere construction, or if it gains legs and the chance to be revered as a thoroughbred.


#CPC14: A lesson in sticking to your core messages from an Aussie

Tim Focas explains how B2B agencies can take a leaf out of the book of the political comms world when it comes to articulating key messages From TV interviews, to fringe meetings, and booze fuelled evening events, the presence of […]


07 Oct
by Aspectus PR

Tim Focas explains how B2B agencies can take a leaf out of the book of the political comms world when it comes to articulating key messages

From TV interviews, to fringe meetings, and booze fuelled evening events, the presence of a certain Australian communications strategist loomed over Symphony Hall in Birmingham last week. “Securing Britain’s economic recovery” was the buzz phrase at #CPC14, and it is the brain child of one man, Lynton Crosby, AKA David Cameron’s answer to Alastair Campbell.

While only a Conservative majority will justify the Crosby way in the eyes of disgruntled backbenchers, from an agency comms perspective, it was fascinating to see his plan in action. The Cabinet stuck rigorously to his brief, regardless of the questions thrown at them, and the art of bridging was very much on show. It was easy to lose count of the number of times Cabinet ministers would deflect tricky questions around sex scandals and party defectors, and get back on to the “long term economic plan”. But this wasn’t just in evidence when the camera was rolling. From Twitter to the blogosphere, the economic message was front and centre of everything.

The Crosby approach reinforces the importance of clients focusing on just a few key messages. This advice seems obvious, but is often forgotten during the interview pre-briefing process. It never does any harm to spend that extra time ensuring that briefing documents explain points such as when and how to bridge, and that thought is given to exactly what the message should be. Also, that all important pre-brief call to a client before he speaks to the Financial Times. For this alone, comms professionals – regardless of the sector they work in – could do worse than take a few tips from Cameron’s wizard of Oz.


The UK trade in political insults

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, was obviously deeply angered by David Cameron’s accusation of hypocrisy. Certainly it was personal. In his Conservative Party Conference speech, the prime minister suggested that Mr Hunt had had a privileged upbringing and was […]


06 Oct
by Aspectus PR

conservative-party-conferenceTristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, was obviously deeply angered by David Cameron’s accusation of hypocrisy.

Certainly it was personal. In his Conservative Party Conference speech, the prime minister suggested that Mr Hunt had had a privileged upbringing and was therefore being hypocritical by opposing the government’s free school policy.

Cue one understandably furious Tristram Hunt.

But it took him several days to come up with a suitably savage riposte. He obviously gave a great deal of thought to the matter. After all, he needed an insult so foul that it would breach the prime minister’s notoriously thick skin and really hit the man where it hurt.

But on Sunday, when Mr Hunt’s devastating reply was finally delivered, it was a little baffling.

Mr Cameron, he said, was just a “low-rent PR man.”

Well, speaking as a reasonable-rent PR man of some experience, I have to say that I never realised that my occupation could be deployed as a term of abuse. Low-rent politician, however, does have rather a good ring to it.


What the future of written content means for PR

A recent article in The New Yorker touched on a new piece of academic research into the psychology of the reading process. Two groups of students were given an identical text to read, the only difference being that one group read the text […]


03 Oct
by Aspectus PR

pr-communications-contentA recent article in The New Yorker touched on a new piece of academic research into the psychology of the reading process. Two groups of students were given an identical text to read, the only difference being that one group read the text on a computer screen. The results – anecdotal as they were – showed that those who read online remembered far less than their book-bound counterparts.

Of course, the written word is a fundamental cornerstone of the PR and communications industry. Arguably, it always will be.

In the last decade however, content has become increasingly diversified. From videos and webinars to infographics and presentations, the PR industry has more tools at its disposal now than ever before. How this new wave of content can be used to its optimal potential is cause for much industry debate.

But while a picture may paint a thousand words, the actual message is often clearer in print. This is of particular relevance in the financial services industry, where the messages we’re communicating comprise complex concepts that must be disseminated to an (albeit highly-sophisticated) audience.

Written content – at least in the financial world – isn’t going anywhere. Yet the radical changes in its form are changing the ways in which writers work.

Think back to the turn of the century. Older heads can still remember when press packs were distributed by post and coverage was tracked by going out and buying the newspaper with your fingers crossed. Fast forward to today and those practices are almost impossible to relate to – the world of PR is moving much, much faster.

This speed is accompanied by increased volume. The amount of material distributed and the number of outlets through which that distribution takes place has risen – and continues to rise – at an astronomical rate. The advent of Twitter is a case in point, as is the development of speed-reading technologies such as Spritz. With the increased speed and volume, the nature of written content has also changed dramatically. Tweeting forces the user into unbending, 140-character concision, while Spritz, which prioritises efficiency over all else, could reduce reading to a rapid download of information – and as such make writers forget their stylistic verve.

The experiment outlined in The New Yorker shows that how we read – and the way in which we digest what we read – changes dramatically from print to online.

As the divide between book and screen is examined more closely, certain trends will emerge – trends that PR can use to get its message across more effectively. Eventually, it will come down – in part – to science. We’ll know what size print to use, which font is the most appealing statistically, and how long lines should be to keep the reader reading.

But – and writers can breathe a sigh of relief – the development won’t all be scientific. What will matter in equal measure, as indeed it matters today, are the ideas behind the words and the skill with which they’re harnessed. As more media channels emerge, so the volume of written content will increase. Part of the writer’s – and the PR team’s – skill is getting their content to stand out. And it’s only going to get more difficult.


Skills versus attributes: What Aspectus PR’s head of tech looks for in her team

Written by Sophie Hodgson A client recently asked me to give a training session to the wider business on PR. As part of that training, she asked me to outline the skills needed. This part was trickier than I thought. […]


02 Oct
by Aspectus PR

pr-careers-skills-attributesWritten by Sophie Hodgson

A client recently asked me to give a training session to the wider business on PR. As part of that training, she asked me to outline the skills needed.

This part was trickier than I thought. After all, I don’t head home and think ‘what a lot of skills I’ve used today’. It is much more likely that my thought process revolves around where and when I might be able to get my hands on some wine.

So, to get some pointers, I turned to everyone’s friend: Google. There were lots of ‘PR is the career for you if X, Y or Z’ type articles. The main points seemed to relate to being a good communicator. Well, who’d have thought it? Plus, I would argue that good communication is vital in any job, not just PR.

And that is when I realised that I don’t interview people and think about their skills. I am much more concerned about their attributes as a person and whether these can be applied within the team. As someone succinctly put it: “hire for attitude, train for skill”.

So, rather than the ‘good organisational skills’ fluff these career lists reel off, here are some of the attributes that, in my opinion, you need to succeed in PR:

  • Patience – they say it is a virtue and whoever ‘they’ are is bang on.
  • Diplomacy – oh the spats I’ve had to sort out, egos I’ve smoothed and disasters I’ve attempted to divert.
  • Tenacity – you get told ‘no’ a lot in PR. Whether that is a client saying no to an idea you were sure they were going to love, a journalist saying no to a story and so on and so forth. But if you actually accepted no for an answer, you’d never get anywhere.
  • Skin thicker than a rhino’s hind – this is in relation to the point above, but people can often view the PR pro as the whipping bod. Accept that you are never going to win and be sure that you can have a laugh at your own expense.
  • Genuine enthusiasm – if you aren’t sold on the idea, then why would your client, journalist or wider online community be?
  • Smarts – you’ve got to know when you are boring someone to death, when to push back, and when to push harder. You can call it emotional intelligence if you like, but for me it’s all about having the right instincts.
  • A nose for a story – like a good French fromage, you need to be able to whiff a potential story and whip it into shape pronto. We are, after all, the authors of our clients’ stories.

No doubt there are many more that I have missed off, but they’re what I’m looking for in my team. If you think you’ve got what it takes, let me know as I am always on the lookout for great PR talent  –  sophie.hodgson@aspectuspr.com.


Brands and reputation build bridges in London

Bridges are a big deal for London and always have been. Without the bridges to connect and hold London together, we would not have a full metropolis. We would be cut in two. They are physical monuments of London’s wealth […]


26 Sep
by Aspectus PR

london-bridges-engineering-prBridges are a big deal for London and always have been. Without the bridges to connect and hold London together, we would not have a full metropolis. We would be cut in two. They are physical monuments of London’s wealth and ingenuity; ever since 1176 and the creation of a lavish bridge to connect the north of the river to the road to Canterbury, they have symbolised the British pursuit of opulence and efficiency.

Today, bridges are just as important as they have ever been, and they need to retain their efficiency and good looks. With a mix of modern art represented with the Millennium Bridge, Victorian heritage with Hammersmith Bridge, and world renowned design with Tower Bridge, competition to be the most lavish is ripe. The high standards on the Thames pose a particular challenge and opportunity for Britain’s engineering firms. A company wanting to leave its mark on London will undoubtedly fight tooth and nail to be the next to erect a crossing.

With a need for a new bridge across the Thames, London-based news outlets have been assessing and stressing their opinions on the designs submitted by various engineers and architects. A wide and healthy variety of ideas has been posed since the late 1990s, and now it seems that the clear winner is Thomas Heatherwick’s garden bridge. But it has not been an easy journey for the design.

Heatherwick’s design has been in circulation since the early 2000s, and has ridden on the reputations of several patrons to get it pushed along. First off, it was going to be dedicated to Princess Diana. Then it had Joanna Lumley garnering its support. Recently, Heatherwick – the architect who designed the Olympic Cauldron for London 2012 – was recruited for the project. It seems that public support has not been generated by how it will be built, but rather who is going to back its construction.

Ultimately, building bridges is now a question of PR. Yes, there is the practicality and need to have a new crossing, but selling this need requires a trustworthy image, name and idea behind it. An engineering company cannot sell a bridge to Londoners if it is not beautiful, backed by high profile individuals, and buys into pre-constructed ideas of the values within London.

Just as a new bridge will connect the southern and northern sides of the Thames, it will also link the gap between engineering and the masses. A bridge cannot be made without the expertise of the engineering industry, and the engineering industry cannot sell its expertise without public endorsement.


And our survey says: Be careful with the PR polls

Writing for the BBC this week, Anthony Reuben recounts how he received a press release recently that said, with no hint of irony, “A third of people in the UK will not give truthful answers about themselves when asked questions by pollsters, […]


24 Sep
by Aspectus PR

surveys-polls-pr-communicationsWriting for the BBC this week, Anthony Reuben recounts how he received a press release recently that said, with no hint of irony, “A third of people in the UK will not give truthful answers about themselves when asked questions by pollsters, according to a new survey.”

The result is irrelevant. After all, we all know that 78% of all statistics are made up. But the paradox is staggering, and all the more so given how it was completely missed by the author of the release. Above all, it’s embarrassing for the PR profession.

PR’s propensity for a choice poll or survey is well known. A keen-eyed PR pro will spot the average PR-commissioned poll in a news story from a hundred paces, and the bad ones are even more painfully transparent. Look no further than the bathroom retailer whose survey suggests that couples who spend more time in the bathroom together have healthier relationships. What a coincidence.

Done well though, PR-commissioned surveys can be effective – both for the client and the reader. For example, a recent survey conducted jointly by The Times and Boots Opticians included a number of interesting statistics breaking down eye health and habits by factors such as age and region. Not only did this mean coverage in one of the UK’s broadsheets for Boots, it is of interest to the reader and could even have a positive societal effect as it encourages more people to book in regular eye examinations – some of which will undoubtedly be at Boots. Kerching!

Success boils down to rigorous commitment to best practice. Anything less and the survey rings hollow and could end up on a blog such as BadPR. So here are some top tips to get high quality coverage from surveys – both for the client and reader:

  • Be totally honest: The campaign and the client may expect a certain set of results to come out of their polling. If the answers are something different, either tell a different story or focus on other results. Don’t lie and twist the statistics as you won’t get away with it. You might even be surprised where honesty gets you. With one of our clients, an impromptu event poll revealed some interesting results but on a very low sample size. We subsequently chatted with some journalists about it as background information, and this led to coverage in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Don’t be too self-serving: There’s a balance to strike as PR must support business goals. Of course, it’s legitimate for your client to be commenting on their area of expertise, but it’s transparently self-serving and reader-repellant to nakedly engineer a result that calls for the immediate purchase of the product.
  • Get good stats: PR isn’t out to replace the Office for National Statistics, but there are a few basic rules practitioners should adhere to. Good sample sizes and avoidance of inappropriate selection bias, for example.
  • Get help: Most PR surveys can be conducted and analysed in-house. However, if the size and scope of the research becomes substantial, there are dedicated companies who specialise in designing and conducting polls and surveys for PR purposes, many of which belong to independent industry bodies and subscribe to their quality standards. Enlisting such help where appropriate should ensure a good survey – and a good story!

Other approaches can also deliver good results. Focus groups can bring together a small number of interested, relevant people to discuss pertinent issues. They don’t pretend to have statistically significant sample sizes and are taken at face value. Yet they can still yield interesting results that make great headlines for clients.

So what do you think? Is there still a place for a poll in PR? Or are you tired of self-serving surveys?

Please send your answers to info@aspectuspr.com, or tweet us at @AspectusPR. We’ll then put out a press release with the results*.

*Most likely not.


Hollowing out the state: Will PR be final frontier in private space travel as NASA ends Federal controlled space shuttle production?

Rejoice! The US Federal Government no longer has a monopoly on the production of space shuttles. In the latest step in the hollowing out of the state by the hiring of sub-contracted companies, NASA is relying on private industries to provide […]


22 Sep
by Aspectus PR

space-travel-technologyRejoice! The US Federal Government no longer has a monopoly on the production of space shuttles. In the latest step in the hollowing out of the state by the hiring of sub-contracted companies, NASA is relying on private industries to provide it with all future space shuttle technology.

Why should you rejoice? Because this is the most exciting news since Apple created a button to remove U2’s latest album from your iTunes library. It has a huge impact on the world marketplace and is the first step towards a full-blown revolution for the way in which we think about travel.

That’s right. We’re talking about space travel: the first or final frontier? With NASA offering contracts to private technology companies to design and construct space shuttles, we are seeing this technology move from the top secret and confidential Federal confines to the competitive, privatised marketplace. In fact, since NASA announced the end of its last space shuttle launch in 2011, the market has shot into orbit.

As of 2012, Boeing, SpaceX, Space Adventures, and Excalibur Almaz have been working on the creation of new space shuttle technology. There have also been plans for new space hotels, with motel tycoon Robert Bigelow and Space Island Group putting forward their designs with ambitions for initial prototypes by 2020. Let us also not forget the current boom in the sub-orbital flight industry, which includes the industry leader, Richard Branson, and his appropriately named Virgin Galactic.

Space is set to become the new fascination. Soon people will be clamouring to trade in their swimwear for space wear. Why? Because today a sub-orbital flight would cost you between $250,000 and $1,000,000, but this will drop dramatically. As free market economics has shown time and time again, no single company can sustain an unrivalled hold on the marketplace. In the same way that Southwest Airlines crept up and undercut its largest competitors in 1967, the current hold on the market will be disrupted.

The engineering team here at Aspectus PR is incredibly excited about this latest development. And you should be too. Not only will we soon see cheaper space travel, but we will also see new attention to space-proof technology. We will see changes that affect our everyday life, and technology that challenges all the limitations that we have put on our existence.

Now the emphasis will be placed on PR and communications to push for an increase in the marketplace and to sell space as ‘sexy’, rather than ‘inhospitable and deadly’. Rest assured, it may take 50 or even 100 years, but eventually space will be both exotic and more affordable for the consumer. And once it is exotic, the industry will establish a new frontier, and perhaps we will see the first tourists to Mars.

The ball is already rolling, the monopoly has been defeated, and the demand is there. The only question left is who is going to sell space?


Communications can help you diversify without being defensive

Many companies look to diversify their business as part of their growth strategy, or as a matter of maintaining market share or survival. But in the energy sector, acting on this natural business instinct can present a unique set of […]


16 Sep
by Aspectus PR

diversification-energy-pr

Many companies look to diversify their business as part of their growth strategy, or as a matter of maintaining market share or survival. But in the energy sector, acting on this natural business instinct can present a unique set of challenges.

For example, you might have a wealth of experience in traditional fossil fuel generation and want to turn your expertise to a fresh offering for the low carbon future. The fear is that current customers will view this as a dilution of your core business and expertise. What’s more, the market you are moving into might view your credentials as a conflict of interest.

In theory, most other businesses will understand the need for diversification. They should also recognise the value of transferable knowledge and skills. But the key to this tricky business dilemma is transparent messaging around the new offering.

Any company embarking on a diversification strategy should have a solid business plan behind it. The challenge is translating that business plan into a rational and transparent message for the wider market. It must reflect your reasons for diversification and resonate across all your markets. Without crystal clear messaging, your communications efforts might weaken your brand.

Moreover, your messaging needs to recognise the synergies between your new and existing sectors. It must also respect both the heritage of your business, and the heritage of the market you are entering.

If you are planning to enter a new sector in the energy industry, contact Aspectus PR. We’ll help you to create and define the most effective narrative that resonates with current clients as well as the prospects you are trying to reach.

We’ll be at The Energy Event in Birmingham on Tuesday 16th and Wednesday 17th September. Drop us a line to arrange a meeting.