A personal story of ‘climbing a mountain’ in PR after an MS diagnosis

Lying in a hospital bed on a neurology ward, I could never have imagined that just one year later, I’d run the biggest PR campaign of my life - getting global coverage for Kenton Cool, who’d climbed Everest a record 16 times.

I publicly shared my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) early. Because while MS initially knocked me for six, it has also given me a totally fresh perspective, and appreciation for life.

A few months later, I won a competitive pitch to handle media relations for international mountain guide Kenton Cool from In Cool Company - promoting his now record 16th summit of Mount Everest. Working with Kenton, his wife Jazz, and operations manager Sarah Reynolds, we secured coverage in all UK national papers, as well as interviews on multiple channels including Good Morning Britain, Sky, BBC News Online, BBC World News; The Times; The Guardian; The Telegraph, and ITV News.

But it wasn’t easy. Post Covid, many journalists and editors are still out of office, and often unreachable by landline phones. Here’s how we overcame challenges to secure significant coverage for Kenton Cool:

Story is everything

The aim was to generate coverage in the mass media. I realised early that the story ‘ultra-elite performer climbs Everest for 16th time’, while impressive, may not resonate with members of the public, who just couldn’t relate to a feat of that magnitude. Early on, I discovered that Kenton had once broken both of his heels in a climbing accident during his 20s, and at that time was told he would never walk again unaided. Pairing this backstory with the new achievement created a powerful ‘tragedy to triumph’ narrative, which was key to securing universal pick up in media. Sharing details of a vulnerability only enhanced Kenton’s likeability.

Strive for excellence

With reduced newsrooms, I realised that as an independent practitioner, I would not be able to generate media coverage at a fast enough scale and speed for my client, and chose to partner with a news agency. One agency showed early interest in the story - but proved unresponsive at a critical time in the campaign. Kenton Cool is a world-leading mountain guide and performance coach, and deserves media support of the same quality. Determined to get a good outcome, I made a last-minute decision to swap news agencies, and successfully pitched the story to PA Media.

Sometimes PR is a 24/7 job

Whilst much has been said about work/life balance, that was not an option on this project, which involved working with a five-hour time difference, as well as limited phone signal and wifi. That meant working around the clock - at one point, getting off a train at night, hours away from home and staying over, to submit additional information to meet a short media deadline. In parallel, Kenton took calls live from Everest base camp, Jazz hosted journalists at their home, and Sarah managed a swathe of incoming enquiries from press via the website. It all shows that PR teams sometimes have to work on journalists’ terms - not their own.

I will never, ever forget receiving a thank you phone call from Kenton Cool, near the top of Everest. It was the highlight of a year where we’d both overcome unique personal challenges.

Written by Susie Carter, independent marketer, B2B copywriter and founder of What’s the Story? PR

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