Here's Your Independent Agency's Guide to PR with Andrew Bloch.

Jason Papp
December 26, 2023

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LONDON - The name Andrew Bloch resonates throughout the corridors of the UK's PR industry. Yet, for those unacquainted with the commanding presence he’s held over the last two decades, here’s a primer. The brain behind Frank PR, Bloch shifted gears a few years back when we first caught up with him, morphing from the helm of Frank to a non-executive director, charting the waters of his consultancy venture, Andrew Bloch & Associates. Frank, a veritable behemoth in consumer PR, boasts a repertoire of campaigns that didn’t just make waves, but caused tsunamis. Case in point? The Heinz Beanz and Weetabix frenzy. Do you remember it? It transcended UK borders, making it an almost global talking point.

Twenty years as Lord Alan Sugar’s official spokesperson and PR stalwart, Andrew's professional timeline is both enviable and impressive. His professional hat rack is burgeoning: from non-executive directorships to consultancy, from board memberships to leading roles in varied projects, primarily nestled in the realms of marketing and communication. 

Andrew’s footprints are also deep-set in philanthropic sands. His affiliations with The Prince's Trust's Business Launch Group, mentoring roles at the School of Communications Arts and School of Marketing, and advisory capacities with Superbrands and Big Community Records, paint the portrait of a man whose influence is both broad and deep.

So, we sat down for a second time with Bloch, sporting his trademark black t-shirt, and after talking casually about our greyhound Louis and his racing greyhound, Flying Frank, which used to race at Walthamstow, we began our descent into PR. 

What would you say to an agency or business owner who feels they lack the time or budget for PR?

If your budget is small and you are unsure where to go, look at work from similar companies of similar sizes with similar ambitions and look at who is behind that work. Sometimes a PR agency won't be the best solution because potentially, there is not enough budget there. 

What would you advise them to do in that instance? 

They might want to look at bringing something in-house or using a freelance resource. A budget spread equally across months on a retained basis might not be enough to make an impact. If you were to take that same budget and put it into two or three projects at key periods of the year, that budget could work a lot harder. 

What if they haven't run a PR campaign before? 

The first job (for a PR agency) is to understand a client's business objectives. It's about learning their key trading periods and what they would like to see in terms of an outcome. Some jobs necessitate an ongoing retained form of PR; others will go live around crucial sales periods. Christmas, Back to School, Mother's Day. In those sorts of instances, an agency will advise you to up the rate of activity for those key periods and minimise at other periods. For other organisations, it's about wanting to make the news, disrupt the flow of what's going on with the news agenda, and to make a splash. 

What are the emerging trends in PR and communications you've noticed this year?

There are two distinct trends which kind of contradict one another, yet are both happening at the same time.  The first is clients looking for deep specialisms in areas such as content, social and influencer, so we are seeing lots of bespoke briefs to specialist agencies.  The other is clients trying to consolidate their agencies so they are looking to expand the remit of their existing PR, ad and media agencies by adding social and digital elements to their scopes of work.  In addition to this, there is an increasing importance being placed on the ability to measure impact and demonstrate return on investment. 

How is technology, especially generative AI, affecting PR and communications in 2024?

The best agencies are learning how to use AI to improve their work and reduce the man hours involved. The best agencies are using AI to give themselves a competitive advantage – either by improving their margins, or passing the time and cost savings on to clients so that budget can be redeployed elsewhere.  AI is reducing the time involved in many low margin, low value tasks, freeing up agencies to focus on work that can’t be done by computers!

Now, Personal Branding or Branding Mentors. What do you think? 

Personal Branding is, of course, an element of PR. Over the last few years, we've seen the rise and importance of purpose and values. And customers buy into companies that share their vision, their view on the world. Having a Founder that can expel those views is critically important. 

I think we've seen a rise in Personal Branding because it allows companies to talk about what they are doing from a personal perspective. Combined with social media's advent and power, it has given rise to this PR subsection - Personal Branding. 

Personal Branding works best when it is completely integrated into the work that a company is doing and where it becomes part of its strategy. It's not just about continually posting thoughts and thought leadership pieces on LinkedIn. It is about using your profile to enhance your company across all forms of media. 

It has become a bit of a buzz term. 

Yes. Go back a few years, and you would have just called it Corporate Profiling. Now, we have this new age of entrepreneurs and people who have a lot to say regarding mentoring and coaching. They say that they will make you millionaires overnight. For me, it is a distraction from really what Personal Branding should be. 

Your consultancy work is focused on bringing people together. What qualities do you need to do this? 

I have always prided myself on speaking straightforwardly, not claiming to do something that I cannot do. Trust is crucial. My relationships and my business is built on people trusting what I say. It is essential never to abuse that trust. 

Be ready to say no to something if you feel that you can't do it. It is always better to turn something down from my experience, to be open and honest about your capabilities from the outset. 

When you do say that you can do something, people trust you. Doing that has put me in good stead. Frank was based on those principles, and even 20+ years ago, I realised that there is a lot of junk in the world of PR; Not being full of rubbish puts you one step ahead. In the marketing world, there is so much jargon and stupid phrases and overcomplication. 

I like to try and keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. There is no reason why things need to be over-complicated; you have to cut through. 

Is that something you've also learnt from working with Lord Alan Sugar? 

Lord Sugar needs to understand the point of what I'm asking him straightaway. That is quite an important skill to have. So my advice would be first, get to the point. Say what you want and what you are trying to achieve. Don't use hundreds of words if a couple of sentences will get across what you want. 

I know when I communicate with him, the fewer words, the better. Often I receive new business emails, and you're just reading down trying to figure out what they want. 

There is always a place to expand, but you have to open strongly and make your point quickly. I have definitely learned that from him. 

The second area is efficiency. There is a lot to be said for being efficient. Being timely with responses and getting stuff done. Lord Sugar is an advocate of 'don't put off until tomorrow what can be done today.' He's quick. He's on it. He's efficient. 

In 20-odd-years of working with him, I have never had to chase him once, on anything. I think that's an excellent quality to have. I find it extremely annoying, both professionally and personally, where I have to chase people for stuff; it just sort of plays on my mind. 

No matter how talented or good they are, somehow, just the fact that I have had to chase them irritates me. 

I get on very well with people who are similar to me and it's a trait that I've seen in Lord Sugar and, again, one of the reasons we work well together. If you asked him that question about me, I think he would say the same, at least I hope he would.

It would be a pleasure to interview him one day! Moving onto business development. In your opinion, what should one never do when engaging with the C-suite of a brand? 

It's probably more a case of what you can do to grab someone's attention. There is no shortage of agencies; there is no shortage of approaches being made every day. Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that someone in the C-suite will give a crap about them. To me, that is a mistake. 

What someone wants to know is what you can do for them. 

If you are going to take a proactive approach to someone, you need to have taken the time to think about their challenges and how you could potentially solve them. 

That is how you grab someone's attention. You have got to make it personal. I see far too many spray and pray new business approaches. It doesn't make you as a prospect feel particularly valued, particularly important. You might get lucky, but more than likely, you're just going to get ignored. 

The second thing is persistence and follow-ups. Consistency of approach. To a large degree, any form of new business is a numbers game, so you have to keep going at it and don't expect one approach to lead to one result. 

Be consistent, and don't give up on the first approach. If you are not successful, it is about having the confidence to follow up again and again. 

But do it thoughtfully. 

There is no point in emailing the CEO of Nike and saying, "I love Nike! It's my dream brand. I'd love to work with you." It's safe to say he's heard that a few times before. 

So, tell him what you think could be better, what you have observed that needs some attention - That's much more likely to grab his attention.

What does your typical workday look like?

Complete cliché, but no two days are the same. I get up early and do my toughest jobs without interruption and to get them out the way! I’m splitting my week roughly, 2 days face to face and the rest from home. 

I have a portfolio of clients – I head up the PR, social, digital and influencer practice for AAR and run pitches for big clients looking to find new agencies – I buy and sell agencies in the marketing services space on behalf of M&A firm PCB Partners – I sit on the board of several marketing and tech companies – I work with Lord Sugar and handle all his various businesses from a PR and marketing perspective  - I book high profile talent for brand campaigns and speaker opportunities -  I try to spend 20% of my time ‘giving-back’ and work with people like Prince’s Trust, School of Communication Arts, School of Marketing and others.  

I take two afternoons off a week to spend with my boys which normally involves sports of some description. So life is always busy and varied, which is probably why I love what I do so much.

What podcasts/YouTube series have caught your attention lately?

Starting Line is a great podcast that I’ve got into recently.  Also The Fuel podcast.  Big fan of Steven Bartlett, too and fortunate enough to work with him on various projects.  He’s just started releasing behind the scenes YouTube videos which give a great insight into his daily life.

What are your favourite ways to unwind after a long day?

I like to get out of the house – see friends – see my kids.  Anything to switch off really.

Are there any books or authors that are currently inspiring you?

The last two books I read were Shoe Dog by Phil Knight and Animal House by James Brown. Loved them both.

Any restaurant recommendations we should know about?

I'm not one for poncey pretentious restaurants. My fave restaurant is Wingmans in Kilburn.  The best buffalo wings on the planet. 

Also very partial to a Big Mac.

If you were looking to buy yourself a gift, just because, what would be top of the list? 

I think it should be a hairbrush because I have to look at myself unkempt all day. 

Haha! Very good! Thank you, Andrew. 

Pleasure. Now go and take your Greyhound for a walk!

Jason Papp
Founder & Editor-in-chief