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Hiring a public relations agency for your business can be a difficult decision. There’s no guarantee that a PR campaign will produce the desired results, and the costs can be quite high. Yet, a successful campaign can help you expand your business in ways you never could on your own.

With a new year ahead now is the time that previous activity is reviewed and new plans are drawn up. So how do you find a PR agency that is likely to benefit your business in 2017? Our Managing Director, Samantha Livingstone, believes there are five key points to consider:

  1. Budget
  2. Expectations
  3. Track Record
  4. Chemistry
  5. Measurement

PR practitioners will typically offer you a range of services based on your budget. Billing may be hourly, flat rates per project, or a blend of both hourly and project. Billing may also include a monthly retainer fee. Beware of hidden extras as well as being locked into a long-term contract. However, allow time for traction. Unlike advertising where you pay for an advert to appear on an exact date, PR is different.

PR requires the content to be engaging and for journalists to buy into the story; as a result, coverage is never guaranteed. Therefore, it can take some time to pull out the key messages, pitch to journalists and secure hits. Your billing will cover this period of pitching – the hours put in, in advance of any success. At Rumour Mill PR, we would recommend a company to allow at least one-two months, as a bedding in period. If we are not delivering after 60 days, then we will hold our hands up and speak with the client. There is no point barking into the wind…sometimes you need to step back and relook at the strategy.

The next question is, do you know what you want to achieve? What is your end goal? By having this clear in your mind, you will be able to ensure the agency is aware of your expectations and works to achieve them.

When PR firms pitch your business, they send in their best people. But sometimes you’ll probably be working most closely with lower-level employees. It’s important to find out who you will be working with day-to-day and spend time with them before deciding whether to hire the agency. Here at Rumour Mill PR, we pride ourselves on being small and perfectly formed. Our size allows us to be more intimate with our clients, to work collectively for the same goals. Who we put forward to pitch will ultimately be your day-to-day contact, because we understand that we need to be there from the start to understand the client and to build trust. After all, you are trusting us with your most valuable asset…. your brand.

Do they know your industry? What is their track record? You will probably benefit from hiring an agency that has experience with your type of business or sector. Ask to see results from past campaigns with clients in your industry. You should also find out if the people who managed those accounts are still with the agency because you may want to ask to work with them. Plus, why not speak directly to this client and get their feedback first-hand.

Finally, how does the agency measure success? Learning what metrics, they prefer will help gauge their PR measurement abilities. PR firms traditionally touted their media clips and advertising equivalency values (AVEs). However, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations warn that AVEs is a highly-flawed metric for measuring PR effectiveness. Instead, examine search engine rankings, inbound links, website traffic, leads and sales that PR campaigns produce. In addition, request timetables for reaching goals.

It’s an important decision. Choosing the wrong PR agency can at the very least waste your time and money, and at worst damage your reputation. We hope our tips will help you make the right choice.

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Five lucky children from across Northern Ireland are to have their festive wish, an appeal to help the homeless, granted by Phoenix Natural Gas.

Phoenix Natural Gas having called for children who had recently visited the MAC to cast their wish into its Phoenix Wishing Well, pledged to make one come true. Over 1000 wishes were received; some funny, some imaginative and some especially heartfelt. Having reviewed all the entries, it became evermore clear that the one selfless plea from the youngsters was to help the growing number of homeless people on our streets.

The winning wishes were received from Rosie Graham (10) from Ballyclare, Max Holden (6) from Newtownabbey, Rhiana Graham (11) from Armagh and siblings Abigail (9) and Ryan Love (12) from North Belfast, who were at the MAC along with their brother and sisters to present Phoenix Natural Gas’s donation to the Welcome Organisation.

Cathy Magovern, Marketing & Events Manager at Phoenix Natural Gas said, “We were overwhelmed by the number of wishes cast in aid of the homeless in Northern Ireland. Children visiting the MAC over Christmas had the opportunity to wish for anything they desired, yet many chose to sacrifice their wants in aid of those less fortunate – an entirely altruistic act.

“We reached out to the Welcome Organisation in Belfast to see how a donation on behalf of the children could be best utilised. From speaking with them, it became apparent that homelessness is about more than having a roof over your head. People become and stay homeless for a whole range of complex and coinciding reasons. That is why we are delighted to work with the organisation to provide those that visit their centre with essential lifestyle skills through a £1500 donation to help deliver 100 hours of cookery lessons.”

Kieran Hughes, from The Welcome Organisation, said: “The Welcome Organisation is delighted to be able to help the five winners fulfil their Christmas wish to help the homeless thanks to this wonderful initiative by Phoenix Natural Gas and the MAC.

“The £1500 will allow us to provide essential skills for some of the 1,400 homeless people who use our services every year. It will provide our service users with the chance to learn new skills and rediscover old skills that they may never have had the opportunity to do. These skills will help some of the most vulnerable people in our community to have a brighter future.

“We would like to thank Phoenix Natural Gas, the MAC and all the young people made who made their pledge in the Phoenix Wishing Well.”

Anne McReynolds, Chief Executive of the MAC adds: “We are delighted with the positive response to the Phoenix Wishing Well competition and inspired by the generosity of spirit shown by our young theatre goers.”




Creating a legacy for the local area and to mark the outstanding success of Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink in 2016, Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council has announced plans to collate and publish a book of locally inspired recipes. With the help of residents, the council is asking them to submit recipes, whether passed down from generation to generation or inspired by new culinary discoveries. All recipes must be submitted before Tuesday 31st January 2017.

The recipe book will also feature handy tips by true local home cooks and Michelin-star trained chef Chris McGowan – joint owner of the award-winning Wine and Brine in Moira –  will be lending his expert eye and taste buds to the process.

“What we’ll be looking for are recipes that have been passed down through local families over the years – the bread and butter, per se – that has fuelled Lisburn & Castlereagh and captures the essence of the council area’s favourite regional tastes,” commented Chris McGowan.

Cllr. Uel Mackin, Chair of Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council’s Development Committee, commented on the level of excitement around the creation of a locally inspired recipe book.

“The idea of a book containing recipes which have been passed down through families to feed Lisburn and Castlereagh residents for generations is an appetising prospect! Throughout 2016 we recognised the best in local producers and manufacturers, and in November specifically celebrated our food legacy and opportunities for learning. It’s important to us that we instil a love of the culinary arts for generations to come by taking pride in our past and present culinary accomplishments and using these to further progress interest in the food and drinks industry.”

Residents are now being called upon to submit their cherished recipes for consideration in the soon to be published Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council recipe book. To be considered, submitted recipes should be those which have been passed down through families over the years. All submissions must also include a short historical background to the recipe.

To put forward a recipe for consideration, simply submit your entry by Tuesday 31st January 2017 to LCCC Recipe Book, C/O Rumour Mill PR, First Floor Cranmore House, 611A Lisburn Road, Belfast, BT9 7GT or visit All winning submissions will be notified after this date and will need to be available for publicity shots. Terms & Conditions apply.





It may be premature to say the press release is dead but the idea that you can write it, mass distribute through your email…and expect results is no longer a given.

This year in Northern Ireland, not only have we witnessed the continued decline of circulation figures for our leading print publications; but more and more local newspapers have closed or merged, there has been a buy-out of our local television station, and a host of seasoned journalists laid-off. This has been accompanied by an unprecedented rise in contributors and online news platforms – with the PR world grappling to stay ahead of this new era of content driven media.

In this 24/7 media cycle, we find ourselves needing good content—and that can come in the form of something produced internally, so long as it’s targeted to the publication’s readers and is valuable enough for them to want to publish and share. If you have engaged social networks and can prove you are influential in your own right, media outlets will continue to want to work with you, if only for the sole reason that you’ve increased their page views and maybe even their audience base.

The Evolution of Digital

In the past, online coverage was often seen as the poor relation to print and broadcast media, but today it is paramount. Digital coverage allows us to reach audiences quickly and allows us to measure and track the effectiveness of an article against our clients’ website viewing figures, which is vital in helping to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the articles that we place.

Social media has allowed ‘word of mouth’ to move at a very rapid pace and, now more than ever, digitally savvy consumers are debunking traditional advertising methods and seeking the opinions of friends, industry experts and celebrities. PR managers must respond faster than ever to keep up with the increased demand for 24/7 news and social media output, and we now have many new platforms from which to communicate, including blogs, video and mobile platforms as well as a vast number of quality online magazines.

It’s the hit viral video that links to engaging Facebook and Twitter accounts with interesting articles, blogs, competitions and company endeavours that really make an impact.  The ability to easily use these sites to find a product, peruse user reviews and recommendations, or voice customer service concerns, is what fulfils the needs of the ever more demanding customer.

Creating a TV commercial that drives excitement over a new mobile app, and the mobile app that leads a customer to the nearest store location to make a purchase, is what is now considered PR ‘gold’.

The entire puzzle is a complicated one that demands calculated integration, and PR will most certainly continue to change and evolve as traditional media roles become outdated. Companies that have the most initiative to invest in integrated communications effectively will ultimately be the ones to reap the benefits and survive in the long term. PR professionals are experts in developing content but they now need to translate this across traditional as well as new online platforms.

I was once asked if PR was dead and digital is the new and only way to connect with target audiences. No. PR does exactly what it says on the tin (build relationships with the public) and will continue to do so. But one thing is clear PR managers are becoming content managers and marketing departments rely heavily on our ability to connect them with their target audiences.

For this reason, we have seen a lesser reliance on the traditional media release and the emergence of new roles being advertised in the sector for ‘Content Producers’, ‘Digital PR Executives’ and ‘Head of Content Development’ etc. However, at our first CIPR NI #CommsPRDigital conference in Belfast, Former Press Secretary to the Queen, Dickie Arbiter reminded us that nothing beats face to face communication. There is still a need to move away from the computer and talk direct to journalists and influencers, and build vital relationships.

With that all said, one thing that will remain a challenge in 2017, is the ability to bring clients up to speed with this new way of communicating. Clients always want to see their face in the paper…and when they get a call from their mum saying ‘oh I saw you in the local paper’ then they think we have achieved a result. This issue of educating clients to believe in the power of new forms of communication is a challenge we as PR professionals will encounter increasingly over time. Explaining to them that a tweet, a blog post by a thought leader or a content-driven campaign on an online media site is just as significant and is equal in value to what they have done in the past, means we still may have a job to do.

by Samantha Livingstone, NI Regional Chair of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Download the full report here and read what other practitioners, from across the UK have to say: