Behind the Headlines with MB Communications’ Maria Boyle

Maria Boyle, founder and director of MB Communications, on gaining a sixth sense for what will and won’t work, why PRs shouldn’t hide behind emails and get on the phone, and why she’s keen to mentor more business women.

Before I reach the office in the morning, I’ve already…
Listened to the radio and got a news fix – Chris Evans or Today pending the mood, got my three daughters out the door to school having tested them on their spellings over breakfast, speed walked Bertie, our new puppy, checked emails coming in from my clients in the UK, NY and HK, and hopefully, on a good day, done a quick 5k run in Richmond Park.

You’ll mostly find emails about…in my inbox.
Clients who want my advice on live PR matters; journos from a wide range of media and geographies picking up on story pitches and wanting to go forward; social media propositions for clients’ consideration; agency friends from old who need a spot of senior consultancy parachuting in for either a pitch or to help refocus a client team; new biz approaches – all come via recommendations which I am always grateful for; news feeds; and countdown updates about a ‘Tough Mudder’ challenge I reluctantly agreed to do a few months ago (I don’t even like mud!).

I know I’ve had a good day if…
A client says thank you for a job well done and already starts talking about another brief; when I’ve pulled off a PR coup for another; when I’ve added value beyond the day job and impressed a client CEO; and when I’ve finally managed to get a table at Sexy Fish to entertain a client who is desperate to go there.

My first job was…
Selling jeans aged 14 on Wakefield market. It was my first Saturday job. It taught me the value of money, how to deal with a wider range of customers and how to sell a product. At 16, I went on to work in a makeup factory in the summer after my GCSEs. This was so monotonous that it made me realise why I wanted to go to university. I think these jobs are important to do and a rite of passage when you are growing up.

I’d like to think my daughters will do the same. I’ve always worked throughout school, university and while doing my post grad in journalism and PR at Cardiff Journalism School. A strong work ethic is something I think it’s important to have and I know my clients really appreciate it too.

My first PR job was…
Working for a lovely PR agency in Cardiff called Quadrant PR. The brief was to PR the World Bog Snorkelling Championship on behalf of the Wales Tourist Board. I still remember the buzz when I landed page 3 of The Independent and my absolute passion for PR was sealed on that day. Fast forward 20 years and I like to think I’ve come a long way since bog snorkelling!

I can tell a campaign is succeeding when…
I see the excitement in my client’s eyes; when media proactively email me to say well done (as we know they aren’t the most forthcoming!); when social media really gets behind the campaign and it takes on a life of its own; and when MB Communications’ social media platforms get a lot of ‘likes’ and positive comments.

In some ways though, I know if a campaign is going to fly even before it goes live. Having been in PR for so long, I feel I’ve got a sixth sense and know where the pitfalls could be and plan for these ahead of any launch.

I eat….when nobody is watching.
My daughters’ Curly Wurlys or Jelly Tots. Don’t tell them!

The first time I pitched to a journalist…
I actually felt ok. I knew my subject and thought it was interesting so that was half the battle. I remember standing up making the ‘phone call to give me courage although my no nonsense Northern attitude of getting to the point quickly was music to the ears to time-starved journalists. It worked. I’ve actually always had amazingly strong relationships with journalists as I think they like my straight-forward, get on with it, approach.

The worst thing anyone has said to me is…
Are you related to Susan Boyle? Errrr, no, I’m not but in some ways I wish I was, as I’d love to have her voice. I often say I can sing and my friends have tone deaf ears!

The last book I read was…
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes, a former journalist. I loved it. It is a complete page-turner. The next book I will be reading any day now is by my amazing client Barbara Taylor Bradford OBE. It’s called The Cavendon Luck and is out in the UK in June. I read the earliest advance copy I could get hold of in order to come up with a PR campaign that could take her book out of the book review columns and onto the front of the papers, on mainstream TV and radio.

I’ve never really understood why…
A lot of PRs are scared of speaking to the media. I’ve trained many, many PRs and a lot of them really don’t like to pick up the ‘phone and sell a story. It’s a basic requirement of the job as far as I am concerned. Give me any journo and I’ll pick up the ‘phone and get a conversation going. Too many PRs these days hide behind emails and daren’t even ask a journalist for a drink or coffee. I find this incredibly sad.

If I could go back and talk to my ten-year-old self, I’d say…
Continue to be the enthusiastic, disciplined little girl you are as it will help when you get older; consider buying a property earlier than you did as you will never lose out; follow your gut instinct – it’s a good one to follow; try and get a wine client as it will help in early parenthood. Life goes quick and it’s important to remember to have time to smell the roses.

This time next year, I’ll be…
Still super happy and excited as ever to be working in PR. I simply love it and never, ever get bored. I feel honoured to have the clients I have and get really into their businesses. I treat them all like my own, their budgets as if it was my money, and regularly ask myself would I spend x on y, and think this pays off. I never take them for granted. Once you do it’s a slippery slope.

I’ll also be keen to mentor businesses and business women. I’ve done this for a few companies and find it very rewarding. I like helping people who are energetic, enthusiastic and amazing at what they do. It’s important to remember to pay it forward I think.

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