Banishing the Grey – a 26-year PR Mantra

March 18th, 2024

Banishing the Grey – a 26-year PR Mantra

It’s hard to believe this but Catapult PR has just marked 26 years as a leading Lancashire and smaller UK PR agency, having started to trade in March 1998.  With 65 top PR awards in the trophy cabinet and over 80 short-listings/finalist positions in awards, we’ve not done too badly – and the locomotive keeps running!

What I can honestly tell you is that, from day one, we’ve been ‘banishing the grey’.

What does this mean?  Well, it’s the strap-line that I’ve used for our insurance PR credentials document, largely because financial services is so associated with grey and boring PR and marketing.  However, having thought it through, it’s what we do for all our clients, no matter what sector they are in.

Lack of creativity in financial services and other PR

I’ve been increasingly amazed by just how little creativity there is in the PR sector.  I’ve heard some consultants talk about an idea as if it’s rocket-science, whilst I’ve been left thinking that it’s absolutely obvious and what they should be doing at a very core level.  I don’t know where much of the creativity has gone in the profession; sometimes it seems like there’s been a brain-drain of creatives and people able to link ideas to strategic goals. And don’t get me started on writing skills!

So, ‘banishing the grey’ seems appropriate for all situations here at Catapult PR, as once we get our hands on a brief, there’s never anything dull about it.  I am, after all, a woman with a mug that says ‘Today, I did not wake up to be mediocre’.  I nearly fell off my chair recently when I went to a pitch and was told that my role would be to issue their press releases!  Not in this lifetime. I’m not an administrator, for one, but I’m also not going to be touting someone else’s material around.  But why would anyone want to appoint an award-winning, creative agency and then just ask them to issue releases?

It’s a bad obsession

But does ‘banishing the grey’ pay off?  Well, let’s look at the evidence.  We are undoubtedly the most award-winning PR consultancy of our size in the UK – so much so that there’s been a definite decision to cut back on PR awards this year.  In the words of the genius that is Axl Rose, it’s a bit of a ‘bad obsession’ and it eats into the time and budget, whether that’s down to creating award entries, attending events or having to find a frock!

Add to that the fact that I literally have no physical space left for any awards and would have to start putting them outside somewhere, and it doesn’t make sense to keep going for them.  And, dare I say it, I’m a little bored with it all!  It’s all now just a bit like déjà vu.

I am, however, having to wean myself off the whole process and go awards cold turkey.  I’ve not done too badly so far.  Actually, having taken the decision to be highly selective (at best) about awards in our 26th year, it’s all been made a bit easier, as the CIPR has decided to just shelve its PRide Awards in the NW this year.  That’s actually not a great motivation for any agency that had been working towards one of these annual accolades and, in my opinion, a very poor decision, but that’s how it is.  No reward for results and professionalism this year. Rather unfair, if every other CIPR region is managing to stage awards but that’s life in the NW for you!  We need some levelling up!

Or, might I suggest, perhaps there’s been far too much ‘grey’ submitted in award entries and there’s a need for a breather, in the hope that creativity returns.

Award entry writing

Awards are not off the agenda entirely though.  I’ve found myself writing an awful lot of award entries for clients instead – not to mention their funding applications!  I’m now losing count of how many awards our clients are winning!

But again, that’s because we banish the grey in award entries. If a client is simply putting forward things like ‘we’ve got great customer service’, there’s a fair bit of rolling of the eyes this end and a subtle suggestion that perhaps we should wait a year and let Catapult loose on some PR initiatives that will liven up the next entry.

Creative PR for corporate growth

But does banishing the grey work for clients?  We’ve been doing it for 10 years for our largest client and the growth and development of their business has been incredible to see.  When I think where they were at the start, to where they are now, it’s hugely satisfying.  We’ve actually seen an increase in fees on their account, so are now able to create even more vibrant content – for SEO, for online download and information purposes, for social media (particularly LinkedIn articles) and as the basis of sales collateral for a sales team.

I attended one of the client’s three conferences last week and was touched to hear one of the managers explaining to an employee that I had been introduced to the company 10 years ago “and that was a very good day for the business, as Jane’s a bit of a star.” That made me very proud.  Grey banished: tick. Tangible business benefit as a result: tick.

Ideas-led PR for heritage businesses

We are also hard at work in the heritage sector, planning another year’s campaign for Levens Hall and Gardens, another business that has expressed its appreciation for what we have done to build profile and help add new elements to the business over the past 3 years.  Watch this space but there’s an exciting initiative about to go across Europe, as a result of our ideas, to make year 4 just as exciting.  With six awards for campaigns that have banished the grey to date for this client, it’s another example of how thinking differently pays off.

Travel PR, insurance PR and financial services PR

Beyond this, I am very much focusing on some key areas, to try to extend the benefits of our creative approach and knowledge to new clients, in specific sectors.  These sectors are tourism and travel on the one hand, including heritage and stately homes, and insurance, on the other.  For the insurance PR side, we are particularly looking at personal lines and specifically pet insurance, as well as very niche insurance products, both commercial and personal.

We’re also looking to handle more financial PR in other areas – those in which we’ve had great success in the past as a financial services PR agency, when promoting products such as mortgages, savings plans, children’s bonds, pensions and more.  Once again, our financial services PR campaigns have been interesting, ideas-filled and not ‘the norm’.

Having worked in-house as a PR manager for Swinton Insurance and then having launched Privilege Insurance, I’ve also decades of experience in the insurance sector.  This could be better utilised, to the benefit of many insurance marketing departments.  With the track-record including campaigns for very large, household-name banks, building societies and financial services companies, there’s lots of expertise to leverage and creating another award-winning pet insurance PR campaign is high on my agenda (did I say award-winning?)

The wish – tourism PR for Italy, Canada or Sri Lanka

We also have a fair amount of collateral that demonstrates our expertise in insurance, travel and heritage, so that’s where I am focusing outbound efforts.  Of course, I’m happy to consider anything coming in-bound and will offer an honest assessment as to whether I can help with it, or not.  One thing I’d love to do is some PR for an international destination or city, particularly an Italian tourism destination or other countries that I love, such as Canada and Sri Lanka.  Again though, we’d do it all with our twist on it.  There are a lot of destinations and you need to stand out in travel PR for a destination.

Pro-active thought leadership

Thought leadership is another huge area for us and it’s an area in which we have a lot of success – because we use our brain and infuse creativity in this area too!  B2B – and consumer brand  thought leadership – can also be a ‘grey’ area, if everyone is trotting out the same things.  We banish the grey by finding the different angle – usually based on extensive desk research!   We then ensure that a strong voice infuses all that our clients say about the subject matter.  We create lots of value from our thought-leadership articles, using them in the press, on LinkedIn and in news/blog areas of clients’ websites.

Giving people the right voice and brand image is second nature to us, so it always leaves me baffled when people ask whether it’s the sort of thing we can do.  But, the older I get, the more I realise that a lot of the PR being done today really doesn’t extend across the brand reputation mix and is just dabbling here and there with the bits that the individual consultant wants to do.  There’s a lot to be said for having had an old-school grounding and training. You really can tackle anything.  And, please don’t have the notion that digital comms is different.  If you’ve got the grounding and wordsmithery, you’re just using your skills in a different way, down different channels.

Content writing and copywriting

Banishing the grey isn’t confined to PR here.  As my client announced at his conference last week.  “We have some great strap lines and we can thank Jane for that.”  Content writing needs to be compelling and/or vibrant, dependent on the required tone.  You name it, we can write it, whether it’s a website, brochure, content download, blog, LinkedIn article or leaflet.  But again, it’s interesting, whether it’s informative or designed to be entertaining.

Once we’ve done this sort of thing for a client, they quickly realise that we could also be a huge help on the brand reputation and PR side too, so we can wrap a holistic communications approach around everything.  That’s the journey that has underpinned the acquisition of our latest client, news of which shall be issued soon.

Brand reputation and image rebuilds – stop being estranged!

So, guess what?  In 2026, we shall continue to banish the grey and inject client personality into everything.  In this way, we shall keep clients on the front foot, ensuring they are continually in the media or attracting the eye via social media or content.  If they need a crisis plan, it too will be a pro-active one – overcoming the immediate crisis and then moving forward with a rebuild of brand reputation. Nobody should have to hibernate, if they’ve done nothing wrong and are merely the victim of public ‘opinion’ and a fair degree of misunderstanding or prejudice.  How I’d love to work with one individual and change perceptions of them …

So, as we move through our 26th year, ‘banishing the grey’ continues to be a mantra and it’s one that’s always worked.  Many years ago, a competitor actually admitted and uttered out loud the words, “You can always guess who’s a Catapult PR client, as you ‘see’ them everywhere.”  What greater endorsement of our approach do you need?

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