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There’s no need to define PR — we must do different things.

From Max’s recent piece for Influence, the official publication of the CIPR:

Augur exists to focus on strategic plans and implementation – above all else.

Everything we do is designed, and redesigned toward that priority. For us, it’s a more important core competency than any specific hands on skill or specialism, and that means there are many types of work and projects we choose not to do.

That means, despite the fact I’ve written for all sorts of publications and our team includes members trained by the BBC, we choose not to sell our time writing. Instead, we use that experience to be a great editor, and consider how an editor would generate great material.

That’s the thinking behind Augur Edits – instead of developing ideas that imitate journalists, we brief them and invite ideas they would normally pitch to top tier editors.

Similarly, we don’t believe the future of this industry is in high-pressure ‘sell-ins’ where you claim your value is being able to smash your way into the news agenda and justify every call and ‘did you get my press release?’ Instead, Augur Unbound is a programme by which we will pitch good stories to influencers, for free, from anyone who really needs it.”

How Augur Works: Pitching vs Planning

We get it. Everyone in our business wants to be Don Draper.

Big pitch day. Stand up, leaf through the cards, standing ovation.

But then reality strikes. You do the kick off meetings and start trying to implement things, only to find that the “big idea” in your strategy isn’t possible for another year (if at all.) Or that the founders’ real passion isn’t “OPPORTUNALISING ENTERPRISE SOLUTION BEST EXCELLENCE”, but something rooted in the reality of their industry and experience.

For a couple of years now, we’ve been trying a different approach to the traditional pitch. And it’s based around a simple question:

How can a company who hasn’t spent any time with you write a realistic plan that reflects your true strength accurately?

So here’s what we do.

Phase 1: Discovery

After gathering a few top line details, we’ll talk on Zoom or Skype. Having written up interviews for places like tech.eu and Wired, we like to think we know how to ask the right questions.

The idea is to really listen carefully, pin down the specifics of the next challenge and determine what we think might conquer it. It often gives you an opportunity to learn more about us and our experience too.

If we don’t think it’s a match, we can help you find someone who is. Remember, Augur is designed for one thing: companies at Series A upwards, in “Unsexy” tech categories, looking for integrated comms against business challenges.

Alternatively, we might suggest we help out with Augur Unbound, our free service to share great stories from younger companies with key media.

Once we have what we need, we’ll start on the Strategic Spec document.

Phase 2: The Strategic Spec

This is a very simple one pager, designed to take the minimum time possible to create a first outline of what we might recommend, based on our previous experience.

It’s a starting point for you to provide feedback, to start the conversation going, instead of disappearing for weeks in Powerpoint with only the occasional question.

It includes:

  • Diagnosis — what is the problem, as we see it?
  • Guiding Strategy — what is our topline mechanism to tackle it?
  • Example Objectives and Key Results — what’s the goal and deliverables?
  • Estimated Timelines & Resourcing — how long will it take, and cost?
  • Next steps

Beat it up, tell us what you love or hate, tell us what you think of our measurement and evaluation suggestions, or how it may need to fit into other plans.

The result is designed to give you an estimate of how the plan might look, at the top level, if we start working together.

It establishes an agreed rough outline, so you know what to expect if you go ahead with the next step: The Planning Project.

Phase 3: The Planning Project

Now this is the big difference.

Augur will come to your office, spend time with you, interview key members of the team and really dig into what makes your company great. It’s about finding what you believe, holding a mirror up to your most talented people, helping identify the insights you may not even quite be aware of.

We try to find the signal in the noise.

Instead of going away and making up ideas by ourselves, we look to your strenths to build our plan. And we work with your team to identify what’s practical and possible for the first phase and further down the line.

We worth together, with just a little of your time, to flesh out the skeleton of assumptions from the Strategic Spec.

We deliver on questions like:

  • What is your pitch and key campaign ideas you will keep coming back to?
  • Who should you be introducing the company to?
  • Do we have a customer pipeline for case studies and other stories?

Once we’re done, the planning document usually looks about a dozen pages long, full of everything you need to hit the ground running.

It literally gets everyone on the same page with what to expect in the first episode of activity.

And it’s yours. In the past, we have actually recommended to one company that they take the Planning document and run with it themselves. Because it is a paid project, we are not incentivised to try and close you on a long programme, just to justify our costs on the pitch.

The resourcing costs for this project tend to be about half the anticipated monthly total we expect to end up at.

We think it makes sense, and our clients agree.

Don has earned a rest.

How Augur Works

Of all disciplines, you should expect technology PR to change with the times.

Here’s a 10 facts about how we work, and most importantly, the actions we take to deliver a demonstrably different service.

1. ENGINEERED MORE EFFICIENTLY

Modern work can be a mess of information overload, sprawling spreadsheet plans and bureaucracy that slows action to a crawl.

We put everything in one place: Asana. Here, you can see all upcoming tasks, find every document and directly comment or ask questions. And we support it with intelligence channels in Slackand files in Google Drive.

2. MEASUREMENT MADE MEANINGFUL

Ad Value Equivalent, coverage, estimated reach are all pointless if your comms plan doesn’t relate to your sales funnel.

Augur’s measurement process is driven from Google Analytics (or better, if you’re using it). Choose from a measurement menu that asks questions like: “of every visitor last month that became a lead, how many saw content in their journey?”

3. WORKING FACE-TO-FACE

How can an agency accurately represent someone they don’t understand?

By spending time with your team in person every week, we get under the skin of the company faster. So when we tell the world what you think, it’s the truth.

4. OWN YOUR STORY, OR DIE TRYING

You are a newswire. And the opinions section of your vertical target media. And an industry commentator. And an advocate of your customers. And an educator of your users.

If you want to be.

If you want authority, you need to start authoring it. Shuffled press releases behind closed doors pale in comparison to publishing your story on a regular basis anyway and giving the right people an early peek because it’s relevant.

Don’t duplicate and add to the noise. Find your signal and amplify it.

5. AMPLIFY WITH CARE

Embrace the real cadence of your company story. Not every step you take is a moon shot, and that’s okay. A flash in the pan will always appear less natural than consistent, growing fission.

Proper amplification should push more out of a story engine that’s already working independently — not compensate for its absence.

And a word about paid social. If we can directly target the people that journalists used to, in an easily measurable manner and on a basic budget, we’re doing it.

6. EXPERIENCE BEYOND AGENCIES

We have written for Wired, Quartz, The Guardian, Telegraph, Tech.eu and more. We’ve led PR and Comms for a $750m global tech startup from Series A to C. We’ve managed communities of 3000+ tech journalists and PRs, with members from Apple to the Economist, TechCrunch and beyond. Variety of experience spices our advice.

7. RESOURCING ATTENTION

The ‘hours’ agencies sell don’t exist, they are just 8 units of abstract value. That works great if you want to sell a dozen hours of an office junior and moments of the MD.

Augur simplifies this by resourcing teams across 4 units of attention per week. By being less granular, our plans reflect the value we offer across Strategy, Creation and Engagement. You pay for our value, not just our time.

8. UNSEXY IS THE NEW SEXY

How do you persuade a trendy teenager to become an advocate of a fizzy drink brand? Honestly? We can’t see why they should.

But if you ask what a decision-maker or industry commentator has to gain by being aware of the coming wave of change in their sector, that’s something else. Our clients’ technologies help other companies grow. And that shows how good they are at their job.

9. RELATIONSHIPS COME FIRST

Every time a journalist simply copies and pastes a news announcement, the world becomes a worse place. We want key people to question and engage with why you matter, not just trot out easy coverage.

That’s what generates the kind of third party endorsement your team can use to reach new people and drive sales. If you can build understanding, then solid coverage and customers will come.

10. A BETTER PROPOSAL PROCESS

Agencies traditionally try and knock your socks off with grand pitches before they have even spent a day working on your account.

At Augur, we start with a one page strategic spec — our diagnosis, guiding strategy and Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). If we agree this is along the right lines, we kick off a small proposal project, where we interview your leadership, your team, everyone we can get our hands on to help us write a full 6 – 12 month plan.

Makes sense, right?

Get in touch.

How Augur Works

Of all disciplines, you should expect technology PR to change with the times.

Here’s a 10 facts about how we work, and most importantly, the actions we take to deliver a demonstrably different service.

1. ENGINEERED MORE EFFICIENTLY

Modern work can be a mess of information overload, sprawling spreadsheet plans and bureaucracy that slows action to a crawl.

We put everything in one place: Asana. Here, you can see all upcoming tasks, find every document and directly comment or ask questions. And we support it with intelligence channels in Slackand files in Google Drive.

2. MEASUREMENT MADE MEANINGFUL

Ad Value Equivalent, coverage, estimated reach are all pointless if your comms plan doesn’t relate to your sales funnel.

Augur’s measurement process is driven from Google Analytics (or better, if you’re using it). Choose from a measurement menu that asks questions like: “of every visitor last month that became a lead, how many saw content in their journey?”

3. WORKING FACE-TO-FACE

How can an agency accurately represent someone they don’t understand?

By spending time with your team in person every week, we get under the skin of the company faster. So when we tell the world what you think, it’s the truth.

4. OWN YOUR STORY, OR DIE TRYING

You are a newswire. And the opinions section of your vertical target media. And an industry commentator. And an advocate of your customers. And an educator of your users.

If you want to be.

If you want authority, you need to start authoring it. Shuffled press releases behind closed doors pale in comparison to publishing your story on a regular basis anyway and giving the right people an early peek because it’s relevant.

Don’t duplicate and add to the noise. Find your signal and amplify it.

5. AMPLIFY WITH CARE

Embrace the real cadence of your company story. Not every step you take is a moon shot, and that’s okay. A flash in the pan will always appear less natural than consistent, growing fission.

Proper amplification should push more out of a story engine that’s already working independently — not compensate for its absence.

And a word about paid social. If we can directly target the people that journalists used to, in an easily measurable manner and on a basic budget, we’re doing it.

6. EXPERIENCE BEYOND AGENCIES

We have written for Wired, Quartz, The Guardian, Telegraph, Tech.eu and more. We’ve led PR and Comms for a $750m global tech startup from Series A to C. We’ve managed communities of 3000+ tech journalists and PRs, with members from Apple to the Economist, TechCrunch and beyond. Variety of experience spices our advice.

7. RESOURCING ATTENTION

The ‘hours’ agencies sell don’t exist, they are just 8 units of abstract value. That works great if you want to sell a dozen hours of an office junior and moments of the MD.

Augur simplifies this by resourcing teams across 4 units of attention per week. By being less granular, our plans reflect the value we offer across Strategy, Creation and Engagement. You pay for our value, not just our time.

8. UNSEXY IS THE NEW SEXY

How do you persuade a trendy teenager to become an advocate of a fizzy drink brand? Honestly? We can’t see why they should.

But if you ask what a decision-maker or industry commentator has to gain by being aware of the coming wave of change in their sector, that’s something else. Our clients’ technologies help other companies grow. And that shows how good they are at their job.

9. RELATIONSHIPS COME FIRST

Every time a journalist simply copies and pastes a news announcement, the world becomes a worse place. We want key people to question and engage with why you matter, not just trot out easy coverage.

That’s what generates the kind of third party endorsement your team can use to reach new people and drive sales. If you can build understanding, then solid coverage and customers will come.

10. A BETTER PROPOSAL PROCESS

Agencies traditionally try and knock your socks off with grand pitches before they have even spent a day working on your account.

At Augur, we start with a one page strategic spec — our diagnosis, guiding strategy and Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). If we agree this is along the right lines, we kick off a small proposal project, where we interview your leadership, your team, everyone we can get our hands on to help us write a full 6 – 12 month plan.

Makes sense, right?

Get in touch.

Augur founder voted PR Week 30 Under 30

When you’re trying to do something new, you don’t always automatically get the establishment on your side. We’ve worked hard to balance the ways we are innovating in PR with the responsibility to ground it in responsible processes — that’s why, even early on, we pushed hard to achieve ISO 9001 compliance via the PRCA’s industry standard audit.

But even so, we’re delighted to have out innovation endorsed with the selection of Augur’s founder as PR Week’s 30 under 30. Read the interview, watch the video and see photos here — or see our answers to the interview below.

1) What has been your proudest achievement in PR?

I’m pleased my achievements have come from doing what I believed was right. But I’m most proud of developing my ability to learn from when I was wrong. The former opened lots of doors but I think it’s the latter that rescued me from being just another frustrated, precocious AE.

2) How do you expect PR to change over the next 10-15 years?

I think there’s a common dishonour in old PR. Insincerity, insecurity, ineptitude.

We need to refocus agencies on what they once were and can be again: smaller teams of unusually talented individuals delivering really focused strategy. Personal chefs instead of McDonalds lackies.

Great PR will help companies create value by communicating their true strengths accurately. Meanwhile, a subclass of opportunistic bottom feeders will continue to see their value erode as everyone from SEOs to ‘social media gurus’ bid their price down.

3) Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

I hope to have made progress offering great PRs a better way to spend their time, doing great work for great clients. If Augur continues to thrive, I play with the idea of handing it to one of the team to refound and reforge.

After all, they say life begins at 40, right?

For the guardian

You may know we have more strings to our bow than just agency life here at Augur. We write — in this case for the Guardian, making the front page of the tech section.

It’s our strong opinion that great material has value. But, from music to writing, somewhere along the chain this perception of value faltered.

In the Guardian, we looked at where this started, what this means and how humans might cope with the diminishing respect (let alone cash) that we pay creators.

I can pinpoint the moment it all went wrong. “It holds 1,000 songs – and it goes right in my pocket,” he said. That’s when the value of digital content was irrevocably changed for the masses. No longer was it good enough to shuffle around an envelope of your five favourite albums or half a dozen mini discs. It became all or nothing.

 

Augur talks PR, stories and pitching

(For the record, if you want to understand why it’s so important to say as little as possible, this video is a pretty good demo in itself too. At such moments, I sympathise for every client that I’ve advised to control their passion for the subject in favour of clarity.)

Breaking the PR rules: 128 units

I was invited to a recent PRCA event, hosting 3x PR industry godfathers who founded and exited agencies.

Like so much with running Augur, I found it had to be analysed at two levels simultaneously. On one hand, there’s nothing like real experience. It’s a hard-won asset that money can’t buy.

But in dispensing the value of that experience, there’s a risk of being blinkered toward only what worked in the past. When it comes to agencies, that means a model that I don’t necessarily believe is the future or is the core of what Augur should be. 

It’s always risky to disagree with experience and the threat is you’re assuming you know better. I think the effective middle ground is based around this: Before you can intelligently break the rules, you have to understand what you’re breaking.

What’s the time?

I asked a question early on about timesheets. And it’s one I’ll caveat with the fact I once wrote an article entitled “Why I’ll always have time for timesheets”. 

My question was based on the idea that timesheets are really just an abstraction. They’re representative of time but ultimately, if we’re saying 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, roughly 4 weeks a month, that’s 128 units of abstract value that you sell to clients.

Why not simplify?

Why try to sell such granular batches? What’s the virtue of breaking it down into 8 units per day. I think there’s an illusion of efficiency and security that comes from the feeling you can now account for every hour of every employee’s time.

But does anyone who has worked in an agency really believe timesheets have that kind of precision? And is our greatest aspiration really to squeeze every last drop out of every team member?

If we say these systems are maybe 80% accurate, and that it’s probably only the last 20% of peoples’ time that you’re trying to increase the efficiency on, how can that realistically work?

I agree it’s unwise to try and manage an organisation without something in the model like this. But I wonder if you can get most of the value from a system that takes a fraction of the time to manage.

Why can’t we simply by reducing the number of those abstract units.

Time for attention

Instead of hundreds of made up hours, how about 4x units of attention per week.

Because more strategic work tends to require more focused, dedicated and, arguably, valuable attention, this currency has greater flexibility.

Lots of great writing may take up one unit of attention. Developing a strategic plan may take less physical time but in how it absorbs the team working on it with the focus of required concentration and experience, it’s equivalent. Maybe implementing it over a month is going to take another four units of attention.

So you spec a project by working back from objectives, establishing the strategy and calculating how much attention it will need. It’s not re-inventing the wheel, it’s just trying to find ways to produce them more efficiently and end up with a better vehicle. 

Obviously there’s no way to discuss this properly with a panel, without becoming that guy (or girl) whose question turns into a diatribe and a distraction. But for the value of thinking about this further, I have to congratulate the PRCA on creating a little haven for us to escape the day-to-day and really scrutinise what we’re doing and why.

Augur launch covered across industry

The Holmes Report:

“Having come from managing comms at Tradeshift, I’m most interested in the kinds of unsexy, B2B companies that really power things behind the scenes,” Tatton-Brown told the Holmes Report. “Unsung heroes.”

Augur launches with five technology clients, although Tatton-Brown declined to reveal their names, instead noting that some are backed by investors Passion and Notion. He also pointed out that the “much maligned” state of the PR industry requires a more thoughtful, credible approach to communication.

 

PR Week:

“He said Augur would not be about advising clients to “force themselves on the news” but would take a more considered approach. “It’s about looking at the context of what is around you,” he added.”

 

Gorkana:

“Max said: “Good PR is not about a social media strategy, growth hacking and content marketing. It’s about looking at how you can become a better company, more fit for purpose within the ecosystem around you. The latest channels and trends are part of this bigger picture.”

 

Features Exec:

“Augur, whose name comes from the role of a trusted advisor in classical times who interpreted the will of the Gods through the patterns of birds, is already working with five tech clients, in areas like retail, social/ marketing, collaboration and B2B.”

Why Augur?

PR has become a much maligned industry. And perhaps there’s some fairness to the criticism. Over the last 100 years, its “two-way street” origin decayed into something designed to match broadcast media’s growth with scalable profitability.

But as a result, shifting patterns of attention have left many agencies fielding foghorns in a world now thriving in conversation. They besiege anyone with audience, trying to bully their way into the news and, even with non-stories from lifeless brands, some have become very effective at it.

This saturates the news cycle, giving over-pitched and over-worked media a hundred times more noise to digest before finding the signal that matters. But worse, it can deprive great companies and great people of a voice.

I think we can do better. I think good PR is about doing something so interesting or so much better that people can’t help but talk about it — not trying to fake it.

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