G’day! An upside down look at consumer PR

Lorna O’Neill is a highly regarded PR who has worked at some of the best agencies in the North of England before carving an enviable reputation for herself Down Under. In this guest blog she casts an eye over the different challenges facing consumer PR agencies compared to back home. And, unbelievably, she manages to avoid discussing her beloved Liverpool FC:
When I moved to the other side of the world to pursue my career in PR I thought, new media to learn, contacts to make but how different can it be, right? Wrong! Moving to Sydney Australia has been a learning curve from start to finish.

I am an account director for a leading consumer PR agency in Sydney, Polkadot PR with clients across a spectrum of sectors including beauty, fashion, health & wellbeing, food & drink and leisure/lifestyle.
Ok, of course, some things remain the same – clients work with us because they want us to manage their reputation, build their brands and get people talking about them. And we do it very well.
The challenge has been carefully adapting what tactics I might have employed back in the competitive UK news media landscape to the Aussie one. The changes are often minor but nonetheless important.  Here are a couple of insights into the life of an Aussie PR consultant….
I always knew that selling in to the media at home was tough – if your story doesn’t have ‘legs’, forget it, but I realised just how tough when I moved away from it and came here two years ago. For a country of such a vast size, you would be amazed how few newspapers have a ‘national’ scope to sell your story in to. With only one, true national newspaper in ‘The Australian’ it is extremely business, hard news and political in content. You can forget your consumer survey story on how we are a nation of secret snackers or 1 in 3 of us think about a famous person when we are having sex!
Next is what we call the ‘metro’ publications which cover the states (New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and alike). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), The Herald Sun (Melbourne), are all examples of these and are slightly ‘softer’ in content but still very much cover the harder news with a mixture of both national and metro focus. I would say that I see on average, just two or three PR-led stories per week in these daily newspapers. Wow.
In light of tragic storms, floods and cyclones over here in the last two months, all of the newspapers have been very much doom and gloom, not the time to sell in light PR stories. That’s where there is no difference between here and the UK. To be a strong consultant you have to be across the media agenda and know when the time is right for your story.
The best bet for PR in the newspapers here is mX – this is the free daily newspaper handed out on the buses and trains and a great read (exactly like the Metro). They love a good picture story, stunt or quirky consumer survey. mX is tailored for Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane once again but with the majority of content syndicated across all three, giving us PR’s that much needed national scope. Get your client in mX and they’re delighted!
Then you have your regional and suburban newspapers. The best reference in UK terms is your Manchester Evening News (regional) and Ormskirk Advertiser (suburban – had to get that one in being my beloved home town and all). Now you must put this in perspective, the MEN is how far from the Bolton News or Liverpool Echo…30 min to one hour drive max? Here down under, you’re talking anything up to 8 hours’ drive between towns. I still find it hard to comprehend, so unless your story or product is truly as local as it gets, it can be tough to get in, as essentially, many of these suburban towns (with one post office, one pub and a corner shop), no disrespect intended – would have no idea what you’re on about.
To be a great consultant in the UK, and why Smoking Gun gets such great results for its clients, is because they know the media inside-out. They know where you fit, where you don’t and if you don’t how to make it happen. Here down under it’s no different and the biggest challenge when you first move here is not having the luxury of having grown up as a child reading the Sunday newspapers with your Dad. As well as learning the media for your job, you can’t undervalue how much it being part of your whole life makes you ‘know it’. Here it’s like starting from scratch and where I take pride from my experience is how much I personally threw myself into this area, ensuring I was strong offering to a potential employer. It was refreshing too – still is. I LOVE the media, so learning a whole load of newspapers, magazines and websites was a joy.
Even across such a small range of ‘national’ newspapers, one thing here is very prevalent. You just can’t be too shocking or risqué. Forget survey stories that lead with a quirky sex angle or pictures of women with their breasts out. I have a 19 year old colleague here, starting his career having moved 8 hours from his tiny village in the West to big bad Sydney. He has never been to the UK or in fact anywhere outside of Australia and literally cannot fathom that more than one of our national newspapers has a daily ‘page 3’ girl practically naked. Hilarious.
A good client example I want to share is a memory foam bra with NASA technology, so when it heats up it boosts your cleavage. They approached Polkadot PR to launch the bra in Australia to buy online after a successful launch in the UK. Well, my UK PR-head switches on and I’m in the brainstorm having a field day, “3,2,1 LIFT OFF??? or “Get Horny and bigger boobs???, or asking the Sun girls if they fancy a photo shoot wearing it while rubbing each other in oil – you get the idea. Well you can forget even entertaining the word horny here or such imagery! The UK agency sent over a plethora of coverage from the UK and it was impressive to say the least, but I wasn’t surprised – of course the tabloids loved it!
So, what did we do? We crafted a really clever campaign to suit the media landscape here. A tasteful photoshoot in a space centre in Sydney for the NASA link, sexy but not, dare I say ‘page 3’ looking model, skirts with their bras rather than thongs (or a hand covering their modesty!).
The press release headline read ‘NASA TECHNOLOGY TAKES AUSSIE WOMEN’S BREASTS TO NEW HEIGHTS’ with line one utilising the ‘lift off’ tag….and it worked. A story was sold into the number one primetime evening TV show (magazine-style, like Granada Reports) called TODAY TONIGHT and a full feature on the bra’s arrival in Australia, interview with the brains behind the scientific invention and it catapulted the brand here and sales are going well. Check it out
One thing’s for sure, working over here has without doubt has been a great decision in terms of my career development and expanding my skill set. The more you experience, the more you grow and improve….but my guilty pleasure…. I can’t say I don’t miss reading about Wayne Rooney’s latest affair on a Sunday morning or daily updates on the X Factor house and its contestants. Sigh…(and thank god for the internet!)