CommsCo’s Media Insights: Dan Robinson

In our latest 'media insights' blog, we pick the brains of NS Business editor Dan Robinson, talking everything from good PR practice and autonomous vehicles to Morrisons meat pies. Tell us a bit about yourself and your role I'm the Group Managing Editor at NS Business, which is a new B2B arm of the New Statesman's parent company NS Media Group. I oversee a team of journalists based in London who work across a series of websites in industries such as energy, packaging, healthcare and insurance. This is my fourth job in journalism, having previously worked at several local newspapers in both general news and business - most recently at the Nottingham Post, where I was the Business Editor. Outside of work, I'm a big Newcastle United fan (apparently, I sinned in another life), and enjoy playing football and travelling. Last year, I somehow managed to complete the Great North Run! What was your favourite story of 2019? There were some great global stories last year, ranging from the first ever image of the black hole to the Notre Dame fire (not so much a good story but I happened to be in Paris a couple of days later and you could tell just how much of a global landmark the building is). However, given my career background, it's perhaps no surprise that my favourite story would be an offbeat local news story. I'm an avid fan of the Angry People in Local Newspapers group on social media and I loved this article in the Hull Daily Mail about a great-grandma who was "forced to sit on a dining room chair in her bare lounge" because a sofa didn't turn up. There's probably better ones of these ridiculous local stories (see 2018's "Fury after Morrisons wouldn't sell couple meat pies before 9am") but I found myself creasing up at the wide-angle picture of poor Gillian sat in the middle of her living room in the chair. Fair play to the photographer for getting her to pose for that image! What excites you most about the global tech scene at the moment? I really enjoy how much innovation there is in transport right now, including with autonomous vehicles and new types of EV charging. My pet favourite of all the incoming tech is hyperloop - a new type of transport being spearheaded by a Richard Branson-backed company that could completely transform inter-city journeys. It involves a train effectively being sucked down a sealed tube at such ridiculous speeds that my trip back home from London to Newcastle could be cut from 3 hours to about half an hour. The faster this one becomes a reality, the better.  What are the biggest challenges you see for the industry in 2020? The biggest challenges have got to be around gaining consumer confidence. Take autonomous vehicles, for example, and I always apply the test of "how would my parents react to it?" They don't live in a big modern city like London, but a small town in the North-East, and I can't imagine them being filled with too much confidence if they had vehicles without humans behind the wheel on their roads. It's the same for something like electric vehicles - is the infrastructure anywhere near being available for the average person to buy one instead of a petrol car? And the mere mention of AI will strike fear into many people that they should be counting down the days until they get made redundant and replaced by a machine, so more needs to be done to communicate effectively with normal people rather than professionals. What do you most value from a PR person? I create the best relationships with PRs who actually take some time to get to know my publication and will only send things my way that they know could work for us. I'd estimate the ratio of PRs who do that against those who just send anything in blind hope is about 1:20 though. I'm certainly a proponent of the "less is more" philosophy as there will probably be PRs in my inbox who have sent me hundreds of pitches without reply, whereas there will be others who email me five pitches a year but actually I take at least three of them, so it works for both sides.   What would you like to see a) more of and b) less of from PRs? As outlined above, I'd like to see PRs do more research and really get to understand what our different sites are about. Another thing that's always useful is having ready-made contacts who we can get comments from for stories. So, one thing that could help is creating a list of your key clients (across the agency rather than just each PR's clients) and some details about the topics they can comment on. It would be an effective way of getting your clients out there and it adds a lot more value to our stories if we have people in senior positions offering intelligent reaction to news. In terms of the second part of the question, perhaps it would be about knowing your limits when it comes to how much exposure your clients get from us. I've had plenty of agencies that will push forward a client for a feature, news piece or thought leadership article. I've then published a piece from them and a couple of weeks later, or even a couple of months later, they're coming back with more thought leadership ideas or news follow-ups that don't really fit into what we do. So, I think it's important to have awareness of how much press each client is likely to get with each publication.  How do you see the state of the media changing in the future? Obviously, the transition from print to digital is going to continue and accelerate, but I think in the B2B space we're going to see more publishers adopting a subscription model. The chase for readership volumes will probably also ease off in some cases and there will be more of an emphasis on getting "quality" readers who are more valuable to advertisers from certain industries.  How do you see the journalist/PR relationship evolving in the future? It's difficult to tell. I think journalists will always have a need for PRs but I also think both our ways of working will change. With the growth in AI journalism, press release write-ups will probably be automated and therefore bypass reporters, who will instead be tasked with writing more in-depth, quality articles that are heavy on data and analysis. For PRs, this might then make you want to look for new ways of getting data from clients out there (although not with surveys - 99% of these are just tired, boring and self-serving).  Any memorable PR gaffs? (be kind!) More of an almost-gaff rather than one that actually happened, but I was on a press trip in the US where a group of journalists, company reps and a PR from an agency were transferring from one flight to another and we didn't have much time. Half of us had a returning ESTA so got through security fairly quickly but a few were stuck in the long queue, and the PR (who was very young and on his first ever trip having just joined the agency a few months earlier) came within seconds of missing the flight that we'd all boarded. It looked like he was going to be stuck on his own until the next morning as the air crew went to close the plane door and then in he ran at the last moment - lucky escape!