Disappointed with MWC coverage? Timing is everything in getting interest from press

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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

There were 3,800 journalists and analysts at MWC this year, yet
some companies exhibiting there failed to secure any meetings 
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 business.”

Editor: “I know them. We interviewed their CEO about five years ago.”
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 phone.”

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 

Fully booked

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 about 4.5%.

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
out early

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 interview.

One-to-one interviews

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, their announcements”.

Last minute

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.”

PR juniors

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 Congress