2016 marks the end of my first decade in the Public Relations industry (send cake please).
So what have I learned?
Well not counting a natural flair for writing that I guess I was born with, everything else I could teach most people.
And I do, in a new book I wrote to help startups and small businesses like the ones I have worked with.
Business folk’s pitches might not always succeed. But as PR people, sometimes neither do ours.
So, want to get your new business in the media? Follow me…
Find Some News
The most shocking revelation to businesses is the fact that the question of “what is newsworthy?” is a bigger problem than who to contact in the media.
This is the skill you’re normally paying for when you outsource your PR - the creativity and experience to know quickly what stories and angles will work for you.
Fear not, there is a basic checklist of company news:
- Announcing something new (especially a “first”)
- A new product/service, moving into new markets, export deals or contract wins
- Job creations, big name appointments
- Award wins
- Starting construction work (“cutting the sod”)
- Completion of construction work
- Grand opening/unveiling
- Sneak peak photos inside before launch
- Charity partnerships or sponsorship
- Company milestones
- Anything with figures (business media love statistics) such as monetary figures, world firsts and record breaking headlines
- Anniversaries - especially if the industry/prices/products have changed with time
If you don’t have any news just now, it’s quite easy to create some.
You could gather some survey results (Surveymonkey is a popular free tool for this). You could then take the results and design some simple infographics - online media in particular love these - free tools like infogr.am and Piktochart make it relatively easy to do yourself.
So if you want coverage for an app for parents, for example, you might think about creating stat-fuelled broader lifestyle articles with headlines like “Which pram is most likely to help you burn calories in the park?” Or you could run a survey to populate interesting family articles for things like “Stay-at-home mums are XX% happier than working mums.”
Or you could look to produce seasonal content such as “The top 10 gifts for new dads this Christmas.”
See what we’re doing here?
Not rocket science, is it?
Another heavily-used tactic in online PR is the idea of hyperlocal content.
It works really well with modern online audiences because it cuts through the noise to bring something very specific to the attention of a subset audience.
What it brings them is so highly engaging and relevant that they enjoy it and often share it too, helping this type of content to get a lot of online traction.
From the Buzzfeed-style “10 things you’ll only know if you’re from HERE” to the listicle “Top 5 burger joints THERE” you will know hyperlocal content as soon as you see it, even if you didn’t know the technical term for it.
Creating it is often simply a matter of tweaking what you’ve already got, and pitching it separately to each local media outlet, with local statistics, places or people highlighted within it.
Don’t fret about writing the whole article yourself if writing isn’t your forte.
Failing all that, you could hijack (newsjack) an existing story.
This is really easy by simply replying to journalists on Twitter who post links to industry articles you feel passionate about. They may include your opinions in a follow-up story.
It’s equally easy to comment by phone - listen to the morning radio news programmes and call in if you have something to contribute to the story.
Find Someone To Broadcast Your News
We will start from the assumption that you know your audience - be they customer, service user, potential member.
If you’re selling to them then you know their demographics. You know what drives them. And you should know where to find them; whether they read a newspaper or an online news site, and which ones.
Almost all journalists now use Twitter and many welcome being contacted there via Direct Message. Or they will advertise their work email address within their Twitter bio.
Failing this, most news websites will now have very detailed contact pages incorporating the names of each editor and writer as well as email addresses and even Twitter handles.
Every news outlet will also have a Twitter profile and may even have different profiles for each section (such as fashion or technology) if they are particularly large. They will, invariably, follow and Retweet every journalist who writes a story for them.
Don’t worry if you don’t know the person you’re contacting or you don’t have time to build some rapport with them.
Plenty of out-of-the-blue media pitches are successful for experienced PR professionals who have had no choice but to cold contact a new journalist. News desk reporters move around so much now, that the days of relationship building are over, outside a few major broadsheet news outlets.
If the story is good, they won’t care if you’re buddies.
Find a Way To Pitch It
So seeing as the digital and social world has brought so much of the old secret “media gatekeeper” information to the masses, the real trick in PR these days is to learn to be creative with the actual content that you’re asking them to publish, in a much less sales-y way than years gone by.
Your email pitch should be as succinct and catchy as possible so that you don’t waste your time creating a story no-one wants to read (and journalists don’t waste their time reading it, considering they get a lot more mail these days, for all the reasons listed above!)
Open politely and get to the point:
“Hello, I’m approaching you for your opinion on whether you think this could work as a feature piece?”
Or something like that.
Tell them the crux of the story you’re pitching:
“Why it’s newsworthy: According to Google, searches for “exercise prams” have more than doubled in the last year, thanks in part to endorsements from celebrities, such as XXX, who claim that these products are the secret to their toned post-baby physiques.”
Make it really appropriate to their readership:
“The local angle: Now, Ireland’s latest parenting app XXX has conducted research with XXX and the top 5 most popular pram models this year to discover that XXXX burns the most calories while walking with baby. The app has a built-in step calculator and calorie burning counter.”
Tell them anything else you have for online coverage:
“Material Available: Article with real life mum interview, Promotional Photographs of app in action and interview mum at the park, Behind-the-Scenes video link for online/social media.”
Find Existing Media Opportunities
If all of this sounds beyond your abilities or confidence level just yet, there is an easier way to piggyback news with your products or professional opinion, without all the creativity and the pitching.
While PR folk like me and business people like you are feverishly trying to influence the news, real journalists and editors have their own plans.
As they’re writing stories, the need arises for case studies, expert comment and industry analysis to strengthen them.
Journalists can’t be expected to be experts in everything, so they will seek out industry experts when needed.
Experts just like you.
Journalists will use hashtags such as #JournoRequest and #PRrequest in public callouts on Twitter to find these experts.
Searching these terms regularly will alert you not only to media opportunities, but to journalists that you may not otherwise have come across who are covering your industry.
Find a Good Picture
The tactic of imagery has never been more vital than in our modern world where we are literally harassed from all sides by a constant stream of communication messages. We flick, or scroll, passed it a lot.
But a good image can stop us in our tracks.
Without a strong photo accompanying your pitch, press coverage is almost impossible to secure.
But there are still ways to save money.
And even a few tricks that are free…
A PR photo call is basically a staged stunt created to represent the news story, giving photo desk editors eye-catching images for their newspapers rather than using stock images or boring ‘line-of-suits’ corporate photographs.
A good photo can also bag you some Picture Desk space with a short caption even if there isn’t room to be found (or made) for your full story.
Or in the case where you have something to promote but not enough detail to fill a full article.
Picture desk email addresses will be available on news websites in the same way journalist contact details are. They will expect to be sent a high-resolution image (or Dropbox link or similar) and a caption outlining the who, what and where of the story.
A photo caption should be a couple of sentences maximum to avoid important information being edited out, e.g.
“Mum XXX runs in the park with her XXX pram as new research from parenting app XXXX names this model the best for burning calories when out with baby.”
Photo Call Tips:
- Get outdoors (weather permitting)
- Where possible, use props
- Failing props, big letters/numbers will do (usually made of foam which is a firm prop favourite in the industry). Or helium balloons, for similar reasons
- No props? Use people. Line them out on the ground in shapes, make them jump in the air; bodies are props too
- Enthuse as much action, angle and meaning as possible
- Include a politician or local personality in the line-up if applicable
- Showcase landscape, vehicles or buildings in the backdrop, especially if it’s relevant to the story
- They say never work with children or animals, but it will almost always pay off in terms of press coverage
And that’s the crux of it really.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Of course there’s lots more you can do, including media desk drops, content marketing for inbound PR and social media networking…
Bu that’s my 10 minutes up.