Rachel O'Connor, Siren Communications - Escape the economic blues

Capitalise on your specialist knowledge and transfer those skills to other markets.

Double-dip recession, the eurozone crisis, banks involved in money laundering ... the economic miasma seems never-ending. There's no denying that it is tough out there - consumers want a better bang for their buck, while clients want a demonstrable return on investment.

But what does this mean for a comms company with its roots in traditional travel PR?

Siren began as a travel industry specialist and we have been lucky enough, and worked extremely hard, to retain our original travel clients.

For the past ten years we have been effectively running busy press offices for a number of sector-specific clients, grabbing the headlines with innovative product launches, fostering relationships with media and consumers alike, winning industry awards, working through crises such as Eyjafjallajokull (just pronouncing it was the first challenge), developing innovative brand partnerships and creating memorable social media campaigns and online content for them.

Through capitalising on this specialist knowledge, we have been able to flex our muscles and transfer our skills to other sectors. In fact, one could argue that we are now equally as known for our leisure and hospitality consumer division as for our traditional travel background.

But how did we do it? By adapting with the times and seizing on the most basic tenet of all: identifying what makes people tick.

The way we see it, a director of tourism knows everything they possibly could know about their particular destination: its USPs, the audience segmentation and how to pitch to each demographic, the particular promotions that will capture the imagination and, at the most fundamental, the stories that will stick. In fact, the director of tourism is the metaphoric pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

At Siren, we know what makes people book a particular holiday or airline, or why one holiday cottage might win over another. Travel and tourism is about selling the benefits and increasing the numbers, and we have translated this expertise into online and offline campaigns and revenue driving initiatives for our clients. With our director of tourism hats on, we have found our skills work equally well in the FMCG field, whether we are promoting a new ecological cleaning product, a particular alcoholic drink or a consumer show.

When you go on holiday, there will always be a camera or a videocam nearby. What better way to capture memories and spread the word - it is an instant moment in time saved for posterity and used to share stories and experiences. Early on we used this technique to advise clients on their social media strategy, working with them on their online content and digital activity. Social networks have become the front line to responding to a crisis and we work hard with our clients on how to avoid a #fail, recommending the most appropriate language to use with a particular audience, through to designing a campaign for Facebook and running interactive blogger events.

We see video as the most important content thread on the internet and we are constantly working with marketers and sales teams on how to best use this platform.

The truth is, we do not know what the future holds for the comms industry. But our guess is that by extracting everything that is useful, both the good and bad, from a specialist skill and adapting that learning to benefit a new sector, that is how the miasma will begin to clear.


- What is the biggest challenge in producing PR campaigns in your sector?

Demonstrating the commercial value of what we do to a business' bottom line. We spend a lot of time trying to get a decent brief or identify business objectives for our work to prove this value. Overturning the 'fluffy bunny' reputation PR has and getting clients to see that PR is more than media relations is a big time absorber.

- If you did not work in PR what would you be doing?

I would probably work outside. Something physical like a gardener, or something that would get me to the sea. I love fresh air and the elements.

Rachel O'Connor is CEO of Siren Communications.

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