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'PR is much more than quantifiable metrics and coverage'

As part of our interview series with PR professionals, we chat with Vince Dinga today, PR Manager at The Next Web. Vince talks to us about effective PR strategies and why building long-term media relationships and brand positioning is more valuable than focusing on short-term metrics.

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Vince, please introduce yourself to our readers

TNW enables people and companies to improve the world with technology, by inspiring and connecting Generation T through media, intelligence, events and spaces. As the PR Manager of TNW, I work with all the different teams to tell their great stories to the world.

You have a global role at TNW: What differentiates the Dutch PR market from other markets? How do you manage these differences?

PR has been on the upswing in the past few years and you can also tell that by looking at the Dutch market. There are more PR agencies than there were five years ago and companies are hiring more specialised publicists to handle their reputation management. In the past, marketers mainly handled this or it was left as an afterthought whenever a new project was in the works.

The Dutch PR market is also responding to the growing number of startups that are looking to communicate with their potential customers not just through advertising and paid for means, but also through earned media – thought leadership, speaking opportunities and so on.

So while the Dutch PR market has perhaps been catching up in the past, I’d say it is now leading by example, with locally renowned PR men and women doing an outstanding job and effectively putting the Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular, on the world PR map.

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Why do you work in PR?

PR was sort of a natural progression after going through various roles within the communications industry for the past 7-8 years. I first started working as a technology editor during my bachelor’s degree (just around the time the TNW blog started, as I remember reading it back then). I then went into event management and later social media marketing for various companies. I also did a bit of copywriting and academic new media research.

In a way, PR was about coming full circle and allowing me to use everything I’ve learnt up until that point: writing, researching, managing reputation, connecting with the media and ultimately telling stories. I was lucky enough to cut my PR teeth at a leading agency where I got to work with international clients of all sorts, which was thrilling. But tech was my first love, so I decided I’d go back to my roots and focus on this particular area.

What role do blogs & vlogs play for current PR strategies? How do you work with bloggers/vloggers?

Bloggers and, in recent years, vloggers have been immensely valuable to publicists all over the world. And with a lot of people switching from doing journalism to blogging and that content tends to be more accessible and appeals to a larger audience, this is obviously an important category that can’t be ignored by PR pros. At TNW, we have a contributor platform where writers and bloggers can submit and publish their stories. We also offer discounted blogger passes for our events and, sometimes, we work with world-renowned vloggers to come up with PR stunts and create great viral content ;) .

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What newspaper, magazines and blogs do you read personally?

I still believe in print and I love winding down with a magazine every now and then. So I spend a small fortune on those each month. My favourites include Monocle, Wired, Harvard Business Review, but also Heritage Post or Esquire.

That said, I do most of my reading online and then there’s a wide spectrum of publications I’m following, such as FastCompany, The New Yorker, VICE, The Drum, a lot of tech blogs and, sometimes, industry-specific ones such as PR Daily or Spin Sucks.

How do you demonstrate PR ROI?

There are lots of ways to do it and it doesn’t always require expensive PR monitoring software. First and foremost, I make sure my work ticks all the essential boxes, such as a positive tone and media outlet relevancy if we’re talking about an editorial placement. What’s the point of getting coverage if it’s negative or if your target audience doesn’t get to read it? Then of course you can look at quantifiable metrics like circulation numbers, referral traffic or social media shares, but I think a lot of people don’t realise that PR is so much more than just plain old coverage.

It’s also building your brand identity and awareness, keeping an eye on what the competition is doing, forming valuable media relationships, positioning the brand in a better way within the market and lots of other long-term outcomes that are far more important than mathematic formulas and dollar-for-dollar ROI.

"PR is so much more than quantifiable metrics and coverage."

Vince Dinga, PR Manager, TheNextWeb

What kind of PR strategies work?

There is no simple recipe for success. Any PR strategy depends on the industry you’re in and the goals you’re trying to reach. That’s also a plus, since you get to be creative and the possibilities are pretty much endless: you get to choose a particular angle on which you're going to build the story, and then do research into where you’d like that story to be told and how.

That said, there are good practices that apply to any kind of PR: try to think like a journalist and not spam people with lots of irrelevant or uninteresting stories; in my (unpopular) opinion, most things within a company aren’t even worthy of PR, worthy of earned media. It can be difficult to say no to your colleagues or your client, but that’s what you’re there for (among other things).

Furthermore, don’t cast your net far and wide when it comes to announcements and press releases, but rather target your efforts and initially focus on a few top-tier media that would be likely to cover your story. Finally, be smart about the way you do your work, stand out from the rest by alternating methods (not everything should be getting a press release!) and set a good example amongst your peers – we all know there are many bad examples out there that drag the industry down.

Personally, I determine my work to be successful and effective when people don’t consider that the really good article they read this morning and shared with their friends on social media was actually the result of a PR pitch. In that sense, if my work is really good then it will never be talked about, which I guess is my own fun way to look at things from behind the curtain.

"I determine my work to be successful and effective when people don’t consider that the really good article they read this morning and shared with their friends on social media was actually the result of a PR pitch." 

Vince Dinga, PR Manager, TheNextWeb

What PR trends do you see having an industry impact in 2017?

I think (and hope) that more PR professionals will abandon the overused press release format in favour of more novel and creative ways to tell a story. If we’re to move forward as an industry and be seen in a better light, we need to leave some old practices behind and build something new and better.

I also think more people will take advantage of the new ways to distribute content by using various social media features like live video and the now famous ‘stories’. These will blur the lines between social media, content marketing and PR, which in turn means PR people need to know a bit of everything to really succeed.

Also, PR is now expected to be more real-time than ever before. Gone are the days when PR pros had days to react to something, but now people are used to expecting instant replies from brands, and this is yet another thing that social media has been pioneering. It’s sink or swim, so PR also needs to adapt and act faster.

"Gone are the days when PR pros had days to react, now people expect instant replies from brands. It’s sink or swim and PR needs to adapt and act faster."

Vince Dinga, PR Manager, TheNextWeb

What challenges - apart from gender pay gap and lack of diversity - does the PR industry face today?

Ironically or not, the PR industry has its own PR problems that it needs to work on. Sometimes, ‘PR’ is used to describe a piece of information that is untrue or nonsense, which can be hurtful for people who do their job in an ethical manner. It’s why PR professionals really need to take a good look in the mirror, or in that press release they’re writing, and decide if the content is good and relevant enough to be sent out into the world. 

Fake news are a substantial challenge for the political discourse in our societies - what does this mean for PR?

If you’re a PR pro and are surprised by fake news, you haven’t been paying attention. Dodgy news sources have been around for a long time, and as a publicist you’re taught to avoid them. But before we place all the blame on the media, we should first clean up our own PR backyard: bad PR practices have also led to dishonest and unreliable pieces of information in the past. The same goes for advertising. The only difference is that now you also have political figures, activists and all kinds of people abusing the powers of free speech and social media for their own agenda. But is that really a shocker? Not if you’ve been in the influencer and communication business for a while.

What do you think of PR software providers such as pr.co?

I think they fill an important gap in the market. There are lots of small startups out there that can’t afford to hire a big PR agency or simply don’t produce enough content / news in order to justify having one. That’s where a software provider comes in, which allows you to do everything from writing your story, publishing and distributing it to measuring your results. You don’t need a whole lot of experience or a big database of contacts, but just the right tool. Top of the line software providers like pr.co can also appeal to PR pros or agencies who just want to use one tool for all their work and not have to deal with a whole bunch of others.

How has PR changed, particularly in the face of developing technology, media consumption habits and social networks?

They've all had a huge impact on the way publicists do their work and how that is perceived. It’s made our lives better, as it's a lot easier to send a press release now than it was some years ago, but that has also led to a lot of spam and has actually made it more difficult for a good story to rise up from the pile of emails and pitches that journalists receive every day. Nowadays, a good story can go viral in a matter of hours rather than days, but it also means that a negative story can spin out of control in no time, as lots of people will pick up bad press and escalate it.

Personally, I'm very grateful for the tools I get to use to do my work – following relevant journalists on Twitter means it's easier to see what sort of stories they're working on and whether I can contribute in any way. It also means that newsjacking (something we also play with sometimes) is a lot more accessible and immediate, sometimes resulting in tons of media coverage and public awareness. Every new development is simply part of the game and all we can do is adapt, keep up with the trends or, even better, invent them.

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The pr.co team thanks Vince wholeheartedly for this interview.

You can connect with Vince on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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Disclosure: TNW and pr.co share some of the same shareholders.

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