London: The shipping industry should stop complaining that it is not understood or does not get the coverage it deserves in the mainstream media, argues the head of a leading maritime public relations firm in today’s Maritime CEO profile.
“There is plenty of evidence that beyond a few well-intentioned groups,” says Neville Smith, head of Mariner Communications, “the majority of the industry has little desire for a higher profile. There are a number of reasons for that of course but it seems sometimes to be asking for a pat on the back just for doing a good job. As always, we have to ask, is that really a news story?”
Mariner Communications offers PR and media relations services to companies in the maritime and energy markets.
“We help clients develop messages that convey what the company is about but are also realistic in terms of level of delivery,” Smith explains. “Thought leadership is a somewhat overused term these days but that’s what we aim for. In a world of globalised news, most clients understand that press releases are part of the mix rather than the main focus.”
Smith points out that shipping is a highly commercial business that it is constantly in transition and at the mercy of cycles. “If you disengage from PR and the news media you are losing part of your armoury,” he suggests.
On the growth of social media, Smith argues that it is a useful tool for the shipping industry, but its role needs to be understood and handled carefully.
“Social media comes without the checks and balances of traditional media and often without recourse when things go wrong,” Smith says. “Attention spans are shorter so complex issues can be harder to convey. The standard of debate in forums is patchy and hard to moderate and the web is full of people asking fairly dull questions because they think they have to post an update every couple of days.”
Maersk Line, he points out, proved it could drive its broader marketing strategy through a fully-engaged social media strategy, but, he stresses, “it had nothing to do with its PR activity or its media engagement.”
“I think the risk is that we confuse social media with the news media – it certainly looks as if some publishers are already doing that,” he says.
When it comes to publishing, Smith, who worked for Lloyd’s List newspaper for a number of years, has plenty of opinions on a sector that is undergoing huge changes in the past year.
“More than ever, the maritime media needs to sharpen its pencil and ensure that it is doing what the media was always there to do – hold the industry to account and ask the difficult questions,” he says, adding: “That might make my job harder but a thriving maritime media sector is good for the industry and ultimately good for my clients too.” [03/02/14]