PR Profile: Crisis communication and finding a hook with former journalist Tony Nicholls
Tony Nicholls is the Founder and Director of Good Talent Media. He has recently been selected as a finalist for 'Leader of the Year' in the Public Relations Institute of Australia's 2021 Golden Target Award.
You started out in broadcast media before moving into PR — can you give a little background about this part of your career?
I did tours of duty through a lot of different newsrooms, as most journos do. Prior to getting into metropolitan media I worked in regional radio… then the ABC, SBS, Network 10. I was a specialist live cross journalist. I was at News 24
when it launched, so I'd run around with the satellite truck and camera guy and we'd run from political presser, the James Hird peptide scandal, homicide, the opening of an envelope, and everything in between. So I had a wonderful time working in broadcast media. It was an absolute privilege to be in the middle of state elections, federal elections, and to see all the big decisions made and to help dissect those decisions.
What prompted your move to PR?
I got to the point where I didn't need the rush of adrenaline anymore, I didn't need to be on live TV anymore. I probably had more of an eye on my family, my little boys as they were getting bigger, and I just wanted to be a better dad, and to be home more often. So I started media training back in 2015, but I was in front of all these CEOs and all these boardrooms, and I learnt pretty quickly that they had media aspirations but they were absolutely clueless when it came to the media. They wanted to be in the media but they didn't know what a story was. So I quickly turned Good Talent Media Training into Good Talent Media, and we've been helping get organisations in the media ever since. We're a full service PR agency, and we help organisations get their message across in the media, we help protect and promote brands. So, we protect brands if they're in the middle of a Covid cluster or reputation management drama. And we promote brands by helping leaders of organisations become industry leaders and industry commentators.
How does being a former journalist inform your PR work?
I think it's just all about knowing what a story is. You've got a PR industry filled with people who mostly didn't work in newsrooms, and therefore probably don't inherently know what a story is, because they haven't been in newsrooms punching out the headlines every half hour, or they haven't had to have a news deadline and work out the angle and present it under all of that pressure. I can be in a one-minute conversation and work out a news angle, a five minute conversation and I've got 12 news angles, because I'm just wired to find the angle. So I think when you're working with clients who've got aspirations to be in the press, you're doing them a service if you can work out news angles that will get them in. I think you're doing them a disservice when they come to you with their marketing ideas and you tell them 'oh yeah we can get that in the media' when you can't.
What’s your advice for helping brands find an angle or hook to generate PR?
I think the paradigm shift to get a lot of media for yourself is to stop selling. I think the reason why most organisations don't get any media is because they approach it firstly as selling themselves — 'here I am, I've got a new product or service'. So they approach PR or media like marketing, they're return-on-investment focused, they're focussed on themselves, and they think 'Oh I'm great I'm offering this new thing or I've got this new innovation, I should be in the media'.
It just doesn't work. You've got to stop focusing on you and you've got to start thinking about your whole industry. If you go to the press talking about your industry, concerned about your industry, highlighting problems in the industry but you happen to have solutions in mind, highlighting trends and your predictions for the industry, highlighting things in the industry that no one is talking about.... Now you're on the highway to getting a lot of media. Because the media don't want to talk to people who want to promote themselves or make more money. The media want to talk to people who have really interesting insights into their industry, who are portals into knowledge into their industry. That's what I call the 'industry leadership journey'. You're still getting interviewed, you're still getting national coverage, your brand's everywhere, your names everywhere, but you're not selling anything, that's the difference.
How about crisis management, another speciality of Good Talent Media… Do you have any tips for navigating this area?
I think we're living in an era where crisis is the new normal. So we've got a world pandemic and it's clearly a crisis, and it's really exacerbated by social media and digital media influence and the emotion cycle that is the 24/7 news cycle. Whether you're a local cafe getting your five staff ready for the day, or whether you're an international company leading 300 staff, I think your leadership in times of crisis is really essential. So now Melbourne and Sydney have opened up and we've all got much higher baseline levels of stress, I think it's exceptional leaders that will do really well right now and navigate the crisis that we're facing.
The reason I start with leadership first before I talk about communication is because if you don't have good leadership, your communication is always going to be very poor. So it's funny working in crisis media management people ask us: 'what do we say when we're in all this trouble?'. But I'm more interested in what you are doing as a leader, so how as a leader are you caring for everyone? How as a leader are you putting things in place to support your staff right now, let's say, or putting things in place to support your clients right now? If you happen to be a really good leader in times of crisis, your comms are going to be very simple, because they're going to be heart centred and filled with lots of actions about how you're supporting people.