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Most Rated 2012: Spark Communications

Spark Communications is one of the journalists' favourite PR agencies. Kewal Varia, managing director, and Dominic Walsh, account director, explain their philosophy of media relations.

Most Rated: Dominic Walsh, account director
Most Rated: Dominic Walsh, account director

Age and ownership: Founded in 1999 by Lauren Richards, formerly an account director at Weber Shandwick. Now run by its board of directors Kewal Varia, Ana Williams and Richards.

Size: Turnover of approximately £1m and a team of 12 people.   

Location: London

Specialism: Tech

Key accounts: Many of the agency’s clients have been with it for over five years. Key accounts include Compuware (a client for over ten years), D-Link and Verizon.

Most Rated Agencies snapshot: Tech journalists rated Spark Communications amongst the top ten agencies for each of the four attributes (one of only a handful of agencies to have achieved this). Its highest rating is for story quality, probably the most important contributor to an agency’s reputation with the media. What really stands out about Spark’s rating is how the media rate this boutique agency higher than some of the established names in tech PR.



 

How I see it - by md Kewal Varia

 

What the journalists say

 
 

About the agency

"They always pitch their stories well to us, and are easy going enough to leave things be if the stuff they’re pitching really isn’t up our street. Have yet to meet one of their team that isn’t a delight to speak to, and are pretty good at steering their client’s conversations into some pretty juicy directions"

"Very on the ball, really very helpful and great at putting you in touch with the right people, promptly. Never pitch stories to you that are unrelated"

About Dominic Walsh, account director

"Funny, friendly and is always upfront if client is unlikely to meet a deadline"

About Gary O’Sullivan, account manager

"For someone who was relatively new to some of the clients, Gary hit the ground running in terms of the issues surrounding data security and regulation."

"Really easy to deal with and great at getting us good stories and info, quickly."

 

As we often say to clients, in many ways journalists and other influencers are as much our clients as they are.

Being rated by journalists is ultimately the reason why clients choose and retain an agency, so we put a lot of focus on media relations ‘best practice.’ 

Our team is fantastic at working with clients to develop a story that journalists will want to cover and as a result it isn’t uncommon for us to more than triple the quantity and quality of coverage that clients secure.  

We never go to journalists with a mediocre story and that’s why people enjoy media relations at Spark as they believe in what they are pitching.  Too often press materials in the tech sector are full of acronyms and wordy sentences about benefits and widgets that most journalists don’t care about and that is a major frustration for the media we deal with.

Media-handling tips - by account director Dominic Walsh

The most important things I’ve learned matter when dealing with journalists are honesty and a sense of perspective. Basically, it’s a lot easier to speak with journalists when you’re not trying to convince them that Product Update #5429B is the biggest game-changer since the 2001 Monolith.

I’m lucky that this has been easy at Spark: since everyone is still fully involved in the PR process, from the most junior AEs to the MDs, there’s less pressure to go out with a story before we know exactly what it is and who needs to hear about it. This also makes it easier to ensure the client knows the story’s potential and they aren’t lead to expect the moon on a stick. Essentially we target what we’re doing so that ideally nobody’s time is wasted: not the client’s, not ours and not the journalists’.

Honesty and perspective aren’t just about a noble grand strategy though: they also cover the relatively little things, like letting journalists know when arrangements slip; being aware of workloads and press deadlines so we’re not ruining a journalist’s week; and making sure clients are properly briefed. After all, while the clients pay us, we kind of need journalists to trust us too in order to succeed.

Admittedly, I’ve also learned that if you have a story about, for example, RFID chips in dairy herds, then an email header along the lines of "Breaking Moos: Dairy Farmers Milk Resources With RFID tracking" can’t possibly hurt.


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