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TAKING ON THE BIG BEASTS OF MEDIA EVALUATION

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Hisham El Marazki

In his latest book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants” Malcolm Gladwell argues that we all misunderstand the story of David and Goliath. He believes that David beat the giant, not in spite of his diminutive size but because of it. David had a better weapon – the sling – and was more agile than the lumbering Goliath.

Hisham El Marazki

Hisham El Marazki

Gladwell goes on to draw the parallel with the business world to argue that start-ups entering a market dominated by large, established players actually have an advantage. Yet that is not how Hisham El-Marazki felt when in March 2013 he launched PR Gym, an online media evaluation service. .

“We are trying to make a mark on a sector that is dominated by large established players like Kantar, Gorkana, and Precise who all provide booth media monitoring and the evaluation part that we offer, ,” says El-Marazki. “They have been building their client bases and reputations for decades. Kantar alone works with over half of the Fortune500. Gorkana has daily alerts going to more than 100,000 journalists every day. We knew we had our work cut out trying to break into this market.”

Yet, he and his team have achieved considerable success in just a few months. Already it has more than half the number of Twitter followers of Precise or Kantar. At the recent PR Show in London the PR Gym stand was surrounded by PR executives eager to find out about and sign up for the new service.

So, how has PR Gym achieved this? What does this mean for the UK’s PR industry? And what advice does El-Marazki have for other entrepreneurs who want to replicate his success and take on their own Goliaths?

Find the gap in the market

The first and most important step, he believes, is to ensure that there is a genuine need for what you plan to offer. Over his many years working in media evaluation El-Marazki has witnessed two major trends that led him to identify the need for PR Gym.

“There has been major consolidation,” he says. “Smaller independent media evaluation companies have found themselves unable to compete with the automation and economies of scale delivered by Gorkana, Precise and Kantar, and so they have either gone out of business or been swallowed up by those big beasts. Over the past 15 years this has significantly reduced the choice in media evaluation that is available to PR professionals.”

He continues: “At the same time the drive towards automated evaluation has not been all positive – sentiment analysis is now only around 80% accurate, and the world of media evaluation has become dry, impersonal and frankly dull. PR professionals have come to see media evaluation as a tedious, time-consuming task that has to be done. Our mission is to put the fun back into media evaluation.”

Develop a clear offer

El-Marazki believes it is essential for companies such as his to have a clear picture of the benefits they offer their potential customers. “Small new entrants lack the recognition and marketing resources of their established rivals so in the small amount of airtime they do get with potential customers they have to be incisive and relevant.”

PR Gym offers a simple, straightforward online system. Users input their coverage, detailing publication, page position, sentiment, use of key messages and so on. The system then calculates AVE and PR Value, and compiles it all into a professional-looking report which the user can generate as and when they need it.

“The most obvious benefit of using us is the time saving,” says El-Marazki. “PR executives no longer need to spend days collecting all this information on AVEs, circulatoin numbers, CPMs and so on. With PR Gym they can do it in a matter of minutes. For them this reduces hassle. For their employers it saves money. We charge just £1,200 a year for brands with more than 30 pieces of coverage a month, or £600 a year for those with fewer than 30. That is much less than even the lowest paid PR junior would be paid to do this. Finally it is more accurate. Although technology may be able to gather explicit terms, implicit coverage may be missed as automated machines cannot understand a writer’s wit, style, or a double entendre.”

He continues: “Those are the obvious benefits, but what really appeals to users is actually more profound. It is a practical benefit: PR Gym gives them the tools they need to build stronger client relationships and increase fees if agencyside, or increase PR budgets if in-house. But it is also an emotional one: PR Gym transforms the most dull, tedious and time-consuming element of PR into one that is fun. It’s important not to under-estimate the importance of emotions in business decision-making.”

Be brave; get smart

It was that insight that led El-Marazki and his team to a bold decision with the company’s brand. “Take a look at the brands of the large companies in this market,” he says. “Without exception they are clinical, serious and dull. It makes the experience even more dry and unappealing than it already is. We decided that our brand would be a breath of fresh air in the market.”

He explains: “In everything we do, from our Twitter feed where we run cake competitions to our terms and conditions which begin with a statement that you do right by us and we’ll do right by you, we deploy humour and informal language to engage people and make them smile. There’s not been a whole lot of smiling recently in the world of media evaluation and we want to change that.”

Finally, aware of how limited his budgets are compared to those of his competitors, El-Marazki has had to get smart with the techniques he uses to bring his message of quick, affordable and fun media analysis to the PR industry. The company has persuaded a host of high profile industry figures from Mark Etingchap of Marketing Chap to Ben Matthews, Head of Communications at Yougov to guest blog, and has attracted more than 2,000 Twitter followers in just a few months.

Impact on the PR industry

It remains to be seen whether or not all this will indeed revolutionise the world of PR media evaluation, but El-Marazki and his team have certainly made an impact in a short space of time. They have created an innovative service and a striking brand. It has the potential to save PR professionals time and money and to enhance the relationships they have with their clients. A growing number of PR professionals are starting to notice this brave new David, and it may not be long before the Goliaths of media evaluation need to take note too.
_________________________________________________________________________________

About PR Gym
Founded in 2012 by the team behind Phoenixpb, PR Gym aims to bring fun into the world of media evaluation. Its system uses one of the most comprehensive media databases in the UK to provide accurate, real-time reports on media coverage that are quick and easy to generate.

It costs £1200 per year for brands with more than 30 articles to upload each month, or £600 per year for those with fewer than 30 per month. For more information please visit www.prgym.co.uk
For further information contact Melissa Fitzsimmons, Red Setter PR – 01273 260111.

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Oil prices steady as lockdowns curb U.S. stimulus optimism

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Oil prices steady as lockdowns curb U.S. stimulus optimism 1

By Noah Browning

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices were steady on Monday as support from U.S. stimulus plans and jitters about supplies competed with worries about demand due to renewed lockdowns to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

Brent crude futures for March rose 7 cents, or 0.1%, to $55.48 a barrel by 1210 GMT. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude for March was up 5 cents, or 0.1%, at $52.32.

“Sentiment was buoyed by expectations for a blockbuster coronavirus relief package … (but) the tug of war between stimulus optimism and virus woes is set to continue,” said Stephen Brennock of broker PVM.

U.S. lawmakers are set to lock horns over the size of a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package proposed by new President Joe Biden, financial stimulus that would support the economy and fuel demand.

European nations, major consumers, have imposed tough restrictions to halt the spread of the virus, while China reported a rise in new COVID-19 cases, casting a pall over demand prospects in the world’s largest energy consumer.

Barclays raised its 2021 oil price forecasts, but said rising cases in China could contribute to near-term pullbacks.

“Even though the pandemic is not yet slowing down, oil prices have good reasons to start the week with gains,” said Bjornar Tonhaugen from Rystad Energy.

Supply concerns have offered some support. Indonesia said its coast guard seized an Iranian-flagged tanker over suspected illegal fuel transfers, raising the prospect of more tensions in the oil-exporting Gulf.

“A development that always benefits prices is the market turbulence that conflicts create,” Tonhaugen added.

Libyan oil guards halted exports from several main ports in a pay dispute on Monday.

Output from Kazakhstan’s giant Tengiz field was disrupted by a power outage on Jan. 17.

(Editing by David Goodman and Edmund Blair)

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Dollar steadies; euro hurt by vaccine delays and German business morale slump

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Dollar steadies; euro hurt by vaccine delays and German business morale slump 2

By Elizabeth Howcroft

LONDON (Reuters) – The dollar steadied, the euro slipped and riskier currencies remained strong on Monday, as currency markets were torn between optimism about U.S. stimulus plans, and the reality of slow vaccine rollout and the economic impact of lockdowns in Europe.

Market sentiment had turned more cautious at the end of last week as European economic data showed that lockdown restrictions to limit the spread of the virus hurt business activity, dragging stocks lower.

The safe-haven dollar declined gradually overnight, and riskier currencies strengthened. It then recovered some losses after European markets opened, and was at 90.224 against a basket of currencies at 1152 GMT, flat on the day.

On one hand, market sentiment is supported by hopes for President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion fiscal stimulus plans, as well as the expectation that central banks will continue to provide liquidity.

But, in Europe, the extent of the risk appetite was limited by a lack of progress in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine as well the economic impact of lockdown measures.

German business morale slumped to a six-month low in January, surprising market participants who had expected the survey to show a rise.

“It’s very much a case of hopes for the future against the reality of the first quarter of this year which is going to still prove to be fairly troubled,” said Jeremy Stretch, head of G10 FX strategy at CIBC Capital Markets.

“For now at least, the optimism that we’re hoping for has been somewhat delayed and that has taken a little bit of steam out of the euro and just put a little bit of support back in the dollar but ultimately I think it is still a case of those high-beta commodity currencies, reflation currencies, will continue to perform well,” he said.

Analysts expect a broad dollar decline during 2021. The net speculative short position on the dollar grew to its largest in ten years in the week to Jan. 19, according to weekly futures data from CFTC released on Friday.

The U.S. Federal Reserve meets on Wednesday and Fed Chair Jerome Powell is expected to signal that he has no plans to wind back the Fed’s massive stimulus any time soon – news which could push the dollar down further.

“The process of tapering QE is likely to be a gradual process which could last throughout 2022, and then potentially be followed by the first rate hikes later in 2023,” wrote MUFG currency analyst Lee Hardman.

“In these circumstances, we continue to believe that it is premature to expect the US dollar to rebound now in anticipation of policy tightening ahead, and still see scope for further weakness this year,” he said.

The euro was down around 0.1% against the dollar, at $1.2153 at 1207 GMT. At the European Central Bank meeting last week, President Christine Lagarde said the bank was closely watching the euro. The euro surged 9% last year versus the dollar and reached new two and a half year highs earlier in January.

But despite this verbal intervention, traders remain bullish on the euro, expecting the bar for a rate cut to be high.

Elsewhere, the Australian dollar, which is seen as a liquid proxy for risk, was up 0.2% at 0.7726 versus the U.S. dollar at 1208 GMT.

The New Zealand dollar was up 0.5%, while the commodity-driven Norwegian crown was up 0.2% the euro.

The safe-haven Japanese yen was flat on the day at 103.815 versus the U.S. dollar.

Graphic: USD, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/qmypmyjdxpr/USD.png

(Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft, editing by Ed Osmond and Chizu Nomiyama)

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Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific warns of capacity cuts, higher cash burn

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Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific warns of capacity cuts, higher cash burn 3

(Reuters) – Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd on Monday warned passenger capacity could be cut by about 60% and monthly cash burn may rise if Hong Kong installs new measures that require flight crew to quarantine for two weeks.

Hong Kong’s flagship carrier said the expected move will increase cash burn by about HK$300 million ($38.70 million) to HK$400 million per month, on top of current HK$1 billion to HK$1.5 billion levels.

Hong Kong is set to require flight crew entering the Asian financial hub for more than two hours to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks, the South China Morning Post reported last week, citing sources.

“The new measure will have a significant impact on our ability to service our passenger and cargo markets,” Cathay said in a statement, adding that expected curbs will also reduce its cargo capacity by 25%.

The airline, in an internal memo seen by Reuters, requested for volunteers among its crew who could fly for three weeks, followed by two weeks of quarantine and 14 days free of duty, adding it will be a temporary measure and not all its flight will require such an operation.

“We continue to engage with key stakeholders in the Hong Kong Government,” the memo said.

In an emailed response to Reuters, a Hong Kong government spokesperson said: “In the light of the evolving pandemic situation locally and internationally, the Government will keep reviewing and refining the arrangements applicable to different categories of exempted persons, including air crew, with reference to all relevant considerations.”

Separately, a company spokeswoman said the airline could not detail the impact on vaccine transport specifically in terms of cargo shipments.

The aviation industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic as many countries imposed travel restrictions to contain its spread.

In December, Cathay’s passenger numbers fell by 98.7% compared to a year earlier, though cargo carriage was down by a smaller 32.3%.

(Reporting by Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney and Twinnie Siu in Hong Kong; Editing by Bernard Orr, Arun Koyyur and Mark Potter)

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