By Peter Ibbetson, Co-Founder of JournoLink
You could be forgiven for believing that PR is all about proportional representation, and in a politicians mind, in a marginal constituency, it may well be. Anyone in the public relations industry though would of course correct you, that PR is all about how effectively a business manages its external profile.
A business without a retained formal PR agency, and as a result getting virtually no media coverage would probably argue that there is no difference. There is an intrinsic link between the level of the PR agency retention fee and the level of media brand noise created. So, indeed, proportional representation is not far from the mark.
For the sake of this article though lets define PR simply as brand drum bashing, or dare I say, percussion reverberation. Making a noise in the external market place and benefiting from the echo.
So, how does a business, without the big budget to get someone else to do it for them, go about the noise creation for best results?
Here are the Ten Top Tips from Journolink:
Don’t do it all yourself.
Which completely goes against the whole concept of having no big budget. The point is though that getting your brand message out need not cost a fortune. There are a whole range of alternatives to a formal retained, or even employed, PR resource. At the very affordable end, the likes of Journolink guides businesses through the process of issuing press releases and media content, and then links the businesses to the relevant journalists to optimise coverage. The secret is that it’s an online service, without the attendant cost of flash offices and corporate entertainment, meaning that the cost is only a matter of a few pounds every month.
But the key is that having the know how, and access to the right journalist audience, then knowing how to capture their interest, is absolutely fundamental to getting media coverage.
Without that most businesses would be wasting their time trying to coerce third party commentators to write something good and compelling about them.
Not though that they should feel bad about it. Their skill is in running their business. They employ an accountant to make the annual accounts add up; they employ a solicitor to make their contracts hold water. It makes sense to work with even the most affordable PR service to get their messages out effectively.
Don’t just limit your approach to writing a press release, posting it to the journalist and keeping your fingers crossed that you will find yourself in the headlines.
The media industry is in the middle of a 21st century restructuring. We are rapidly moving on to use social media as much as traditional media. The likes of Twitter have opened up a whole new world of communication, and the obsession with tablets, apps and bloggers is socialising the distribution of business news and content. Commentators are now picking up news as it happens and on the go, and businesses that rely solely on traditional PR placement through 20th century news wires are finding themselves part of yesterday’s news.
But, at the same time, businesses should not think that a 140 character tweet is all they post to hit the front page. That’s what they need to do to capture the attention. But the journalist will still want the detail, which is why combining traditional means and social means is the real secret to optimising coverage.
The smart agencies, and even the very affordable ones like Journolink, take exactly this approach, meaning that businesses need not necessarily employ their own army of employees doing the lateral thinking. But if not, they should certainly make sure their chosen partner is doing so.
Anticipate your audience
The great temptation is to rattle something out that you understand and interests you, in the blind belief that the rest of the universe is equally tuned. The skill in getting your news out in preference to any other story, is genuinely being the one that is different. The question to ask yourself is, would you pay to buy that newspaper to read the news content that you have put out, or rather would your teenage son or daughter? If not, you are unlikely to entice the journalist to give you column inches.
So spend time reflecting on who you are trying to influence, and what is likely to capture their interest. And this boils down, not just to the content, but also to the way it is presented. Facts and figures; pokes and provocation; quotes and questions all add to the appeal.
Put yourself in the shoes of the reader and assume that the journalist will merely copy and paste your words. If you are happy, then ask the most cynical person you can find. Only if they are captured have you passed the audience anticipation test.
The two second hook
That’s about as long as you have to hook a journalist. Don’t assume that you are the only person trying to get coverage. Many journalists simply don’t open their emails during their working day because they have so many. The ones that just rely on social media may well not open them at all and programme their laptops to confine all emails to the junk box.
Which leaves the headline hook as the most important part of any press release, blog or even short form news release.
Follow the approach of the journalists take in their headlines. Be provocative, edgy, compelling, and don’t worry too much if the headline has a little poetic license in it. If it broadly relates to the story, but is positioned as irresistible in terms of reading on, then you have it about right. If the cynical teenager’s reaction is a big deal, then the hook is unlikely to land the fish.
Tease and tantalise
If the headline hook is effective, you have just won another 20 seconds of the journalist’s attention span. This is the time when you have to sell your story. Best described as the executive summary, the first paragraph must tempt the reader to move on to the full story. It must be concise, factual and clinically clear in what you are looking to convey. This is when the journalist will decide if they are going with the story or not.
Focus on providing three sentences and certainly no more than 100 words. Well written, and crisp, if all you had was 20 seconds of anyone’s time for you to get over what you want to say, it all has to be in this paragraph.
Make the body muscle toned
Once you have the journalist sufficiently hooked by the headline and the opening paragraph, you have a pretty good chance that they are now running with your story. So this is where you bulk up with the facts and the content, and deliver the body of your press release in the fittest way you can. See it as a six pack with each layer of muscle representing something worthwhile. One layer may be some facts from some survey work, it may be some dates, export figures, employment numbers, but its facts that add interest to an article. Another layer will be a comment or view point. Maybe a quote from a local recognised figure, rather than yourself just saying how great your brand is. You need to use another to get over why what you are saying is important to the readers.
The body is the part that would enable a school teacher to start a discussion in a classroom. It needs facts, viewpoints, and levels of interest that make it worth reading.
The little extras
Think about what else you would like to see in an article written from your story. What would add value to it? Frequently journalists will be swayed by case studies. One of your customers willing to showcase how your product really works for them. A situation where it can be seen to be operating in real life. A case where it genuinely has made a difference. Think about what additional colour you can add to the story which would encourage the journalist to give you half a page rather than just a column inch.
Do remember that journalists are often under pressure to fill their space. The more good content, with the emphasis on good, you can provide, the more likely the level of coverage you will get.
Don’t be shy
A really interested journalist will want to dig deeper into your story and may well look for an interview. So it is important to provide full contact details at the end of any release.
If you work through an Agency, either real or on line like Journolink, they will have the details to give to the journalist, but frequently they prefer direct contact. So don’t be shy.
You will also find that some journalists work strange hours and will look to make contact out of normal working hours, which again emphasises the need to give direct contact details, with availability 24/7.
And it’s not just the interview that will add value. A good graphic, which may be a logo, a head and shoulder photograph of the quoting person, or a picture of a product in use, is often sufficient to encourage an editor to use your story. Have a look at a newspaper. You will rarely find a page in which there is no photograph. Newspapers, and social media channels all need graphics, or their coverage would be boring. So, to get one step ahead of others vying for the attention of the journalist, provide a link to a good quality, relevant graphic. Not your holiday snap, but something that genuinely is eye catching.
Timing is everything
This is the clever bit. Don’t miss the opportunity to latch onto someone else’s moment of fame. This happens all the time in social media, when hash tagging and retweeting gets your brand name out on the back of interest being shown in someone else.
But, rather than reacting when you see something of interest, you can also anticipate when a journalist will be looking for a specific theme, and align the timing of your press release to that. At the time of a big sporting event, like a marathon, there will be interest on how to keep fit, what to wear, the best trainers etc, etc. On the announcement of monthly employment numbers, journalists will be looking for case studies where businesses have taken on new employees, or intend to.
Make the most of these diary events. You can research them yourself, or rely on your PR agency to prompt you. If your agency is not doing so, then ditch them. Weekly diaries, like the one that JournoLink sends out weekly to all its clients are key to getting your release out just at the right time to optimise your chance of getting covered. Something that JournoLink focuses on too is up coming awards programmes. Winning an award is almost guaranteed to open the door to some column inches and a photocall.
Remember your manners
Once you have a journalist, newspaper, broadcaster or social media audience interested in you, make sure you maintain that interest, Having covered you once they will be ready to give you another chance. Remember you are helping them fill up their space. You are giving them content, without which they have nothing.
So stay in touch. Even put a phone call in to see what other content they would be interested in.
It’s not just the journalists that are your best friends. You are theirs too.