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Disappointed with MWC coverage? Timing is everything in getting interest from press
10 March 2014
In a personal view, GTB editor Alan Burkitt-Gray wonders why so many companies mishandled their press and analyst relations at Mobile World Congress — when some thought and planning would have helped
Mobile World Congress
There were 3,800 journalists and analysts at MWC this year, yet
some companies exhibiting there failed to secure any
Were you happy with the press and analyst coverage your
company’s PR person gained at Mobile World
Congress? "I haven’t managed to book a single
meeting for any of my clients," muttered one freelance PR
consultant on the way to Barcelona in February, on the same
flight as two of the Global Telecoms Business team.
But others succeeded — perhaps by managing the
clients’ aspirations, persuading them to listen to
their advice on what would work and how to make it work, and by
getting the right invitations out early enough.
This is mainly a very personal view, from one editor among
3,800 journalists and analysts, of life in the weeks before
Mobile World Congress each year, and of life in those four very
hectic days in Barcelona. Four, did I say? Five, more like:
this year Alcatel-Lucent held its press briefing on Sunday
afternoon. NSN followed in the evening, with Ericsson holding
on to its usual slot at 08.30 on Monday.
Timing is everything. A journalist trying to get the most out
of Mobile World Congress has to plan his or her timetable
carefully. And that gets filled quickly, though it can be
changed if something more interesting comes along.
Here’s a meeting pitch that didn’t
work, in a phone call the week before MWC started. A junior PR
person, who shouldn’t be entirely blamed, said:
"I’m phoning about Company X, who are new in this
Editor: "I know them. We interviewed their CEO about five years
PR junior: "I didn’t realise they’d
been around that long."
Editor (clicking on Google): "According to the website, they
were founded in 1999."
PR junior: "I’m new here."
Editor: "It took me five seconds to find that information on
the company’s website, while we were on the
I took part in 25 MWC meetings — mostly one-to-one
interviews with senior executives, but also a few press
conferences. I had to allow time to write — mainly in
the media centre, excellently run as usual by UK PR company
Liberty Communications — and time to travel from hall
one, near the entrance, to hall six at the far end of the site,
or anywhere in between.
Too late: week beginning 17 February, the last week before MWC,
was the peak for
invitations. Some PRs were still offering meetings when the
show was nearly over
My diary was fully booked by Tuesday of the week before MWC
started. The last pitch I accepted was for the launch of the
partnership for 5G research at a press conference on day one
with European commissioner Neelie Kroes along with the CTOs of
Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and NSN, plus the CTO of Orange.
That was the only one invitation I accepted of 135 I received
in the week before MWC — yet that was the busiest week
for new pitches. Why do so many leave it so long?
In all, I received nearly 550 from 6 January onwards, and the
last was sent by a rather optimistic PR person at 10.00 on the
third day of MWC, when most of us were already looking forward
to our flights home. That’s a success rate of
And what did they say, those rejected invitations? Some of them
were way off-beam. Global Telecoms Business does not do new
product announcements, so all those requests to come and talk
about launches of new phones or new equipment or software
didn’t get a glance.
|Lisa Wilson, VisiTech PR: Bad
PR sends mass emails to
distribution lists. Media lists are
just the starting point. They are
useless tools to annoy media if
not used properly
|Brian Dolby, Proactive PR: My
advice to anyone going to MWC
is that you can never start early
enough. We advise our clients to
get their news and invitations
Lisa Wilson, founder and CEO of US agency VisiTech PR, points
out: "Bad PR sends mass emails to distribution lists. Media
lists are just the starting point. They are useless tools to
annoy media if not used properly. Each news item should be
analysed and matched to the appropriate media contacts."
Some invites merely invited GTB to "catch up" with a CEO,
without really explaining why. One world-renowned PR company
that ought to know better listed the 10 of its clients that
would be at MWC "and if you would like to speak with any of the
companies listed, either before or during MWC, please
don’t hesitate to get in touch". Thanks.
What did get a positive response? The 5G press conference with
Kroes; Alcatel-Lucent’s press conference with new
CEO Michel Combes, followed by a round-table; a meeting with
Cisco’s CEO, John Chambers; Deutsche
Telekom’s press conference;
Telia-Sonera’s press briefing, with new CEO Johan
Dennelind, at which GTB arranged to follow up with a one-to-one
There were other one-to-one interviews with a number of senior
people, including Andy Geisse of AT&T; Allan Chan,
president of global carrier solutions at Tata Communications;
Marc Rouanne, head of mobile broadband at NSN; Sean Cai, VP of
wireless at ZTE; and Per Borgklint, president of
Ericsson’s software business unit.
The Ericsson invitation came as early as 13 January;
Alcatel-Lucent’s a few days later;
ZTE’s at the very start of February. It pays to
get in early.
And that’s what the professionals say. "My advice
to anyone going to MWC is that you can never start early
enough," says Brian Dolby, founder and CEO of UK-based
Proactive PR. "We always advise our clients to get their news
— and their invitations — out early. This is
particularly true at the smaller and medium sized end of the
market, where whatever they are announcing is very likely to be
swamped by the big boys.
"By getting news out early, companies get a chance for valuable
exposure which may actually increase their visitor numbers
— which is what they really want. If they hold back,
they will struggle for attention and even if they achieve
coverage it will only happen when it is too late for interested
parties — when they have gone home."
Laura Borgstede, CEO of US-based Calysto Communications,
agrees: "So many companies don’t take timing
seriously," she says. The good ones "start in October, a
realistic date, for planning out their shows, their themes,
But in general, planning is "all over the board. We literally
had three companies come to us the week before the show
— Tuesday and Wednesday — and ask for
representation at the show. We had some bigger, more strategic
companies want to do some over-the-top media relations
— also at the last minute."
Dolby offers some background as to why this can happen: "In my
experience event planning in all aspects is much more short
term. This means even if we are screaming to get something out
there during January this is probably causing utter chaos
internally as the marketing teams fight with the technical
boffins for precise details."
Borgstede adds: "A properly prepared company should begin
planning for MWC as early as possible. Having a plan for the
show is integral and can start realistically in October or
early November." Start active PR "eight weeks in advance of the
show", she says, and social media work should start six weeks
before the event opens.
Rarely, it can be done quickly. Bridget Fishleigh, managing
director of UK-based Telecoms PR Africa, recommended to a
client a couple of years ago that "rather than do something
before or after [MWC] that we be a bit more aggressive and hold
a press conference at the show". Fishleigh pointed out to her
client the publicity benefits, including a likely article in
the show daily.
The CEO agreed. "In the end, about 150 journalists attended and
we got some good stories and contacts."
Wilson at VisiTech PR points out: "Doing it right takes
resources — time and money. It’s hard.
Good PR is not for the lazy or cheap. If your company only
gives you the time and budget to do a quick email blast for
news items, fed up journalists is the ultimate result.
Unfortunately, many agencies don’t stick to
retainer minimums and therefore have no possible way to deliver
quality for the money."
Richard Fogg, managing director of the UK’s
CCgroup PR agency, agrees, recalling the sales
manager’s phrase "smile and dial". This, he adds,
is "the worst kind of PR humanly possible and rears its head
every MWC as a response to agencies trying to fulfil
ill-advised SLAs. It’s like taking a team of
juniors on a jolly jaunt through no man’s land to
be cut down by machine gun fire. They never stood a chance."
That, perhaps, is the background to that call from a PR junior
at the top of this article.
Why is all this happening? Says Wilson: "The PR industry has
allowed itself to be sold to the big agency conglomerates that
are interested in the bottom line and not the professional
integrity of the PR industry. Agencies under financial
constraints delegate to junior, less expensive professionals
and pull in pitch teams to get the account without any
intention of those impressive staff members being involved.
They rely too heavily on their big brands. The result is our
industry’s bad rap."
More from Richard Fogg: see Five engagement lessons from Mobile World