London: “There’s PR, and then there’s maritime PR,” says Sue Terpilowski, the managing director of Image Line Communications, the UK-headquartered media consultancy she set up 27 years ago.
“We are in the writing arm of the global maritime industry after all so any media company that targets this business area has to understand how it operates,” she says.
If a maritime company is going to use a PR agency, she says, then it needs to appoint one that can speak the maritime lexicon and be passionate about it.
“The maritime industry is unique; it’s an amalgam of different business sectors and professions working together to ensure the world works,” Terpilowski says, pointing out that the industry goes largely unnoticed by the general public – unless, of course, something goes wrong.
“The public sees a crude coated cormorant but rarely gets to hear that shipping is the most environmentally-safe way of transporting 80% of the world’s goods and commodities,” she says.
Terpilowski thinks the maritime industry has historically shied away from making too much of a fuss about its achievements and remains unassuming and conservative in nature, unlike the aviation and automotive industries, which seem to better understand the correlation between brand awareness and commercial success.
“Thankfully, sea-blindness is only a temporary affliction and things are moving in the right direction,” says Terpilowski.
She noted that there is more shipping industry coverage in the mainstream media today than there was 20 years ago, highlighting more positive recent stories emerging in the vertical media, such as those reports about Maersk’s Triple Es, Shell’s LNG Prelude and Rolls-Royce’s intelligent ship concept.
Terpilowski, who received an award in the Queen’s 2014 honours list for her lobbying in support of small businesses in the UK, refers to the positive impact that A P Moller-Maersk’s media turnaround has had on the Danish shipowner.
When the Maersk Norwich arrived in Rotterdam harbour a couple of years ago with a dead whale wrapped around its bulbous bow, rather than saying nothing, hoping the story would go away, the once notoriously media-shy company turned to Facebook and created an album ‘In Memory of the Maersk Norwich Whale’. The strategy worked and most of the comments and subsequent press reports were highly positive, Terpilowski says.
“Crisis management is only one aspect of the PR function, accounting for about 10% of the work an agency does. But I don’t think the maritime industries appreciate the full extent to which good PR supports business growth and helps influence decision making,” says the PR veteran.
She suggests the problem the industry is currently facing attracting new entrants could be averted with “effective, proactive public relations” in order to make talented graduates more aware of just how “international, innovative and exciting this industry is”.
Terpilowski is making some headway here with the ‘It Came By Ship’ campaign launched by WISTA UK, the UK arm of the Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association set up in 1978 and for which she is president.
“We launched the campaign last year to highlight just how important shipping is in every one’s life with a number of school essay and photographic competitions. This year’s completion saw 106 entries across both categories, which shows that if the industry is proactive it can increase awareness and interest at a school level.”
If there is one aspect of the industry Terpilowski does find difficult to fathom it is the number of new maritime publications that have flooded the market.
“Like most industries, the maritime sector has its own press, although the sheer volume of print, digital and online magazines and newspapers that serve the industry is extraordinary. Our database of global maritime and offshore magazines is over 1,500, so it must be very difficult for a company’s marketing and communications director to target the audience they actually want to reach out to. There are certainly some magazines out there that I could not recommend to Image Line clients.”
The UK-headquartered consultancy has recently restructured, bringing in its exhibition stand design and build business under the Image Line umbrella and appointing two experienced industry journalists to head up its distinct maritime and logistics PR divisions.
Mike Godfrey now heads up Image Line’s land-based ports and logistics segment, while Patrik Wheater recently joined the organisation to develop its shipping and offshore marine PR business.
“I don’t think there is any other maritime PR agency that can offer the same level of industry experience as we can. With Mike and Patrik onboard, existing and potential clients are confident in our ability to get the job done since they instinctively know what is required. The wealth of industry knowledge and media contacts they have is already resulting in an increased number of clients using us to implement their marketing and media campaigns,” Terpilowski concludes.