We're thrilled to share that we've won an ongoing partnership with Hydro Wind Energy Global comms publication PRovoke covered the story here. (HWE), a London-based renewables energy company, is one of the World Economic Forum’s Top 100 Startups, backed by techstars. HWE’s ambition is to provide clean, fresh drinking water and low cost, clean energy across the world, delivered in a sustainable way using its disruptive technologies.

Our global team delivered a project in 2020 in the UK, US, France and Germany to promote HWE’s crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo for its first go-to-market product, QuenchSea. QuenchSea is the world’s first portable handheld desalination device which instantly turns seawater to freshwater, described as a “profoundly significant invention’ by the head of a leading water aid charity.

HWE intends to help solve the humanitarian crisis by donating 100m QuenchSea units by 2027, potentially giving up to one billion people access to clean drinking water. As well as the humanitarian aspect, the $60 product appeals to the adventurer market including sailors and campers. This manifold usage and applications generated huge interest and the QuenchSea campaign raised over £250,000.

Following a further successful crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs which raised almost £700,000, PRN has now been appointed to support HWE on an ongoing basis with a product, corporate and thought leadership PR programme. Our in-market teams are set to handle the Quenchsea product launch and product review programmes to drive awareness and sales. Separately, we are developing HWE’s broader corporate narrative and messaging across all the different business streams.

Lee King, CEO of HWE comments, “We’re a start up with a mission to get our products out into many markets at the same time and make a difference to people who need fresh water and low-cost energy. The PRN model allows us to run multinational campaigns cost-effectively, working with senior people who know how to reach the right contacts, coordinated by the PRN Hub in the UK.”

Our Client Services Director and head of consumer Katy Campbell says, “We were blown away by both the ambitions of Lee and his team and the potential of the HWE products to actually go some way towards solving some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian problems. Our global team is passionate about helping HWE meet its mission of becoming the world’s leading energy company.”

We're also planning thought leadership campaigns for later in the year around other complex and revolutionary HWE technologies. These include SubSea RO (large scale offshore desalination plants, which use wind and water power to desalinate the water and then kites to bring the water to shore), and OceanHydro, a hybrid energy system that harnesses offshore altitude wind using kites or vertical axis wind rotors, combined with subsea oceanic pressure, to provide reliable, low-cost clean electrical energy and grid scale energy storage.



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Nicky and I are lucky enough to be asked to judge lots of awards for industry programmes run by the PRCA, PRMoment, PRovoke and PRWeek. This year we’ve judged well over 100 entries between us across a broad range of categories, covering the UK and across the world (the SABRES).

Awards season is now pretty much all year round, and there are plenty of opportunities for PR and comms folk to demonstrate their value and celebrate their successes. We’ve judged everything from the inspiring and frankly, ego-damaging (how have these people achieved so much at such a young age?!?) PRWeek’s Young Professional of the Year and its 30 under 30, to EMEA’s creme de la creme of the comms landscape in the PRovoke SABRES. Last week saw our judging panel come together to review the PRCA’s National Awards. As these are focused on work delivered in the last 12 months, it’s even more encouraging to see how our industry has adapted - and helped clients adapt - to the COVID19 pandemic.

Some might see awards judging as a chore, but I absolutely love it and always look forward to it. I love meeting the other judges and hearing their perspective, but most of all I enjoy looking through each and every submission. There’s something really inspiring in seeing your peers do incredible things. I often learn about a new sector or discipline I’m not familiar with, but it spurs us on at The PR Network to push ourselves to strive for excellence in what we do in our own agency - we learn a lot in the process.

Reviewing award entries is not something that can be left to a Friday afternoon, or done in an evening - often you need to do 3 awards at a time and take a break. You can’t just whizz through each submission; you soon find your marking goes out of kilter and you just aren’t taking it all in. I’ve learnt I can do 25 submissions in a week, tackling 5 a day and then going back at the end and reviewing everyone again. I know it feels like a mammoth job creating the entry; I can assure you reviewing is also just as big a job to do justice to every entry.

So through all of this, what have I learned?

Make it easy for judges to mark your work against the given criteria. Check the judging criteria regularly. I always print out the criteria and make a point of checking through in detail to cross-reference. Use subheads that correspond, so judges don’t have to read through multiple times to find a piece of information. Often the judges are using a form, and grading out of 10. If you can make that a much easier process, you will definitely be helping your judge.

Clear and concise format, and attractive presentation (unless there’s a pro forma). There’s a particular agency whose entry I can guess immediately without reading their name. They use a nice, clear font, colourful graphics and a well designed one page PDF with corresponding image/video. I can instantly see the budget, the strategy, the KPIs and the results. It means I can grade them more easily, which goes a long way to building judges' goodwill. There are other agencies that like to use a particular tone of voice - that for me counts less, and can be grating! I prefer simple, easy to read language that tells a story and points to the facts.

Be transparent about your budget. It’s really hard to compare oranges with apples - one campaign was powered by a £150,000 fee, while another was based on only £1,000! It’s even harder to compare if you don’t have any idea of the fee (and costs), so please make sure you include your budget so your judge can benchmark. A bigger budget doesn’t always mean success - some of my favourite winners have been in the sub £10K category. I love seeing how creative people can be without the prop of a hefty budget to play with.

Metrics win out. You can no longer submit an entry without adequate measurement. We’ve moved on from coverage and reach - if you only look at success in these terms, you will always lose out. Those submissions that use the AMEC Framework are going to get extra special brownie points and I’m always interested to see a proven correlation between the company’s financial success, audience cut through and customer behaviour. I was pleased to see that this year, the PRCA allocated more marks to Results vs. the other criteria, in order to reward entries which could demonstrate and quantify success vs. objectives.

Sometimes success is about a killer idea from a leading brand, and often we'll see one campaign clean up across the board (just look at Iceland’s Rang Tan campaign of 2018/2019). However, hopefully these observations will help others to get the recognition they deserve.

If you’re applying for an award, best of luck to you and I hope we’re lucky enough to be wowed by your work and help to celebrate your success in November!

(PS... that's not Nicky Regazzoni and I hitting the karaoke, but a nod to the headline and a gratuitous link to ABBA's recent launch)

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Molly James of corporate comms trade magazine Communicate interviewed me recently about PRN outperforming the sector in 2020. The full article is on the site.

"How does the PR Network as a virtual agency differ from other traditional agencies? Can you explain a bit about the business model and how it works internationally?"

I set PRN up as virtual-by-design in 2005 with my business partner and friend, George Blizzard. We don’t have a traditional employee delivery model, or a central office. We build bespoke teams of independent partners who have the best experience for the brief in terms of experience, skills and location. Our clients include Hydro Wind Energy, Purplebricks, Soundcloud, Snapchat, Toyota and Western Digital.

Today we employ 8 staff in the UK and work with 250 associate partners all over the world, directed by our client service directors Eileen Boydell and Katy Campbell, who manage client budgets, plan team resources and ensure programme success. Our partners include freelancers as well as boutique agencies, as some of our clients have hired us to run global hubs with a variety of in-market solutions.

PRN also provides services to PR agencies, plugging gaps in strategic territories where they need to support key clients but don’t have boots on the ground. We have associate partners from Indonesia to Saudi to the Ukraine, to demonstrate the reach!

"The PR Network has seen incredible growth of 14% YOY, what do you think contributed to this success?"

Since 2018 we’ve had a clear focus on building our international proposition, rather than selling PR services in the UK, which is a very crowded market full of amazing agencies! This strategy really paid off during Covid. 75% of clients work with us in more than one market (our biggest account is 18 countries), so it means that when we win a client, we usually win multiple ‘accounts’ at once, through one sale.

With our model, clients can hire one agency and deal with a single point of contact via the PRN Hub, yet the programme is executed by local in-market experts. We’ve worked with US firms wanting to go into Europe from day one, but we’ve scaled the service to cover all continents and major business centres. We often launch a client in one or two countries and more markets come on board over time once we’ve proven ourselves. This organic growth has a significant net effect in terms of our total fee income, but it’s manageable from a resource perspective due to our hub-and-spoke model.

Also in terms of Covid, our exposure to the fortunes of any one sector was limited because we’re sector-agnostic. Our heartland is tech-enabled disruptor brands, but that stood in our favour as tech held its value. Thanks to the rich breadth of skills and experience within the network, we can potentially work with companies in most industries and in many countries, creating a large market opportunity.

To drive international sales and build on our reputation as a credible partner for international PR, in January this year we promoted our MD James Read to Chief Revenue Officer.

"As a business leader with over a decade of experience working virtually, what advice would you give to creative teams now adapting to a long-term remote working model?"

  1. Mix it up. While we’ve always been virtual, we love getting the team together f2f. Work out which aspects of work are best done in the same room (e.g. ideation, or problem solving). It’s about why teams need to be in the same room - not when, or for how long.

  2. Don’t have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Give people space to work in the way that suits them and offer as much flexibility as you can in terms of working hours & workplace. This is especially important for people who are neuro-diverse, but everyone works in a unique way.

  3. Invest in the best tech for communication and collaboration. We’ve recently promoted Russ Read-Barrow to Operations Director at PRN, and part of his role is building the right tech stack to give us a strong virtual infrastructure to support our global account teams.

"How do you see the business model for PR changing post-pandemic?"

This was the rationale for George and I setting the agency up as virtual; we were getting approached by big brands such as Sony and 3 from day one, and we knew we’d limit our ambitions if we could only service clients with a small number of permanent employees who could come to a central office every day. What was unheard of in 2005, and unusual even before the pandemic, is now accepted wisdom.

"What has been your biggest achievement at the PR Network over the past 16 years?"

Without a doubt, designing a flexible job share arrangement with George. In terms of a business marriage, surely 16 years is a record! We’ve been able to build a successful new model agency and work with some incredible clients. We’ve also offered exciting work opportunities to senior PR pros who also wanted more flexibility, allowing them to continue their careers instead of leaving the industry, so that feels good. However, most importantly, we’ve been able to work flexibly around our children. The success of PRN proves it’s possible to work part time without compromising your family, and we’re really proud of that.




#jobshares #flexibleworking #virtualagencies #entrepreneurlife

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