In the latest edition of my UAE Digital Marketing Interviews series, I venture out a bit into PR – it’s not something that springs to mind when you normally think “Digital Marketing” but with the rise of “Digital PR” and the blending of digital channels, it’s time we re-think what we know and understand about PR.
Personally, I remember using ‘spray and pray’ PR services for quick, affordable PR that also served an SEO purpose. That is, until Google decided that paid links needed to be nofollowed! But in hindsight, that just wasn’t PR at all. But what is good, proper PR? I don’t know.. but I know someone who does!
So that’s why I interviewed Nicola Ellegaard, the owner of Budgie PR. She has a wealth of PR and teaching experience and has a stellar track record to back her up. Her most recent work has produced exceptional results and her insights into the industry, locally and worldwide, are fascinating.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Nicola Ellegaard – I am an independent PR consultant / freelancer / publicist / solopreneur from Denmark, and I love generating life-changing media coverage and exposure for my clients.
How’d you get started in PR?
I used to work as a language teacher, but I developed an interest in educational marketing and PR that made me pursue a second M.A. degree. As soon as I had completed my M.A. in Corporate Communications (with a focus on IMC and PR), I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do.
How long have you been in the game, in Dubai?
I have been working here since 2015, both in-house and at PR and marketing agencies. I did a summer internship in Dubai in 2011 while I was still enrolled at business school. It was a mix of PR and social media, and I learned so much that summer.
What keeps you working in PR?
PR has always interested me as a separate discipline. It’s a craft you learn to master over time. There are so many things to grasp, especially when your clients span across many different sectors and industries. The agency I used to work for was very small, so I didn’t have the luxury of only focusing on one or two clients or industries. I had to become an expert in every new account or industry that landed on my desk, and I enjoy such challenges. There is always something new to learn, and I love that part of my job.
What have you found to be unique about PR in the region/country?
It can take time to build media relationships here, especially with Arabic media, and it is not always easy. I am often shocked when I hear back immediately from media or editors abroad, and it does sometimes make me wonder if my job would be easier elsewhere. Our media landscape is very different from Europe or the US, so you need to understand that as well and educate your clients accordingly. I quite enjoy wearing that consultancy hat and sharing my expertise with them.
What’s your advice for anyone who wants to get into PR? Any general or regional specific advice?
I see a lot of PR types here in Dubai who randomly get into the industry – without a proper understanding of strategic communication or the businesses they represent. My background in Corporate Communication has helped me a lot, and everything I do on behalf of my clients includes a strategic element. Otherwise, what’s the point?
PR is NEVER about “having media contacts” or knowing someone who happens to work for Khaleej Times. It’s not marketing either, and you can’t just depend on your content team to write your press releases. If you come into PR from a marketing background, you will need to unlearn everything. It also takes time to fully understand how to pitch the media and draft your stories so they get picked up.
Do you use pen/pencil/paper much? Or are you all in on digital writing?
I use my notebooks from Daiso to jot down quick ideas or take notes from client calls, but I do write all my stories and background research on my Mac.
What does your PR toolbox look like?
I was trained in an old-school PR setting where the main focus was on coverage in print media and the number of press clippings generated from each press release. I wanted Budgie PR to be different and digitally tuned in, so I tested a few software platforms that help me track campaign performance and share realistic metrics and results with my clients.
I have said goodbye to outdated reporting methods and vanity metrics. Investing in proper PR software saves me hours each day that I can use for media outreach instead, and my clients love the reports. I can also set up digital newsrooms with all the PR assets or lookbooks stored online. It just elevates the way I do media outreach, and it also enables me to see which journalists have downloaded or accessed the assets. I have also joined global groups for PR professionals and training programs where I stay up to date with the latest tools and trends. It’s almost like an MBA in PR, so I also think the tools I get from there are worth the investment. It’s great for networking, too.
When do you find the best inspiration for your work? And which helps better: coffee or tea? Or something else?
I listen to a lot of podcasts and other training materials from the PR program I am in. I often get the best ideas for pitch angles when I am away from my desk or doing something completely different. Coffee ALWAYS helps!
What are your PR pet peeves?
Unnecessary press releases. PR is SO much more than just issuing press releases, and nobody needs to send out a release every two weeks about the same boring topic. That’s one way to make sure nobody will cover your story. I probably used to spend 90% of my time on press releases and ‘lazy’ media outreach and a maximum of 10% on proactive media outreach. Now it’s almost the other way around, and my results are much better thanks to a more personalized approach.
AI is all the rage right now. Are there any AI tools that have you worried as a PR pro? Or any that you find to be useful?
ChatGPT is a concern for many reasons, but mostly because it is regurgitated content that you need to double-check for everything. I think the recent ChatGPT Guardian articles with invented sources are particularly worrying for responsible reporting. You can probably use it for general “brainstorming” sessions or to get a basic idea of how to structure your content, but I would always take it with a grain of salt and do my homework.
I am a huge fan of other AI tools that make my life much easier. Remove.bg is one of them, and I am also looking forward to more AI integration for designs and presentations I create in Canva.
If you weren’t in PR, what would you be doing?
I would probably go back to either being a language teacher or pursuing a Ph.D. in either Corporate Communication or Second Language Acquisition. I truly enjoy studying! I loved all the years I spent at business school, and I could easily become an eternal student again.
Want to be part of my UAE Digital Marketing Interview series? Know someone who would be a great fit? hello – at – jaaved.com