We’re proud to say that we have just been shortlisted for a CIPR PRide award in the ‘Best Use of Media Relations’ category, for our client ALLOW. This is a fantastic way to celebrate our first anniversary of being in business! The entry that we submitted was for the work that we have done launching ALLOW to the world and the coverage that we have gained in publications such as the Wall St Journal, Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Times, Financial Times and Daily Express, to name a few. The submission showed how all of this was done on a very modest budget through the use of creative story ideas.
The awards take place in Brighton on the 11th November, so fingers crossed!
Read all about it!
Well, it’s not every day that you get a splash (on the front cover) in a national newspaper, so I thought that I would write a post about it. This week, Perfect Circle PR generated a story for ALLOW which made the front page of the Wall St Journal in the US and Asia and a double-page spread in the Europe edition. The story was about how data is now a currency, of sorts, in that all companies want data on consumers in order to work out how to market to them more effectively. ALLOW helps people regain control over their privacy and their personal information, making it ideally placed to comment on the web’s increasing threat to individual privacy and the value of data.
The story included many quotes from Justin Basini, co-founder of ALLOW, and a case study of an ALLOW member.
My definitions of news
In my opinion, there are two main types of news (from a PR point of view) – hard news and soft news. Hard news is when something is actually happening and soft news is when you ‘create’ something.
Both of these types of news can be divided into external (or industry) and internal (or company).
Here are some examples:
Hard/ External news – the FSA fines a broker for a data breach; a bank suffers an ATM robbery; an insurance company wins an award; the financial ombudsman publishes a list of most complained about institutions.
Hard/ Internal news – one building society takes over another; a credit card provider launches a new product; an insurance company signs a distribution deal with a supermarket.
Soft/ External news – a mortgage broker comments on the Bank of England’s interest rate decision; a credit card company says that it will voluntarily change its literature in the face of criticism from the Treasury Select committee; a lender donates money to an emergency charity appeal.
Soft/ Internal news – a fund manager announces the anniversary of the launch of a fund; a loan provider issues a survey around Mothering Sunday; a bank releases stats on the most popular time of day that people log-on to their online banking service.
You’ll notice that the first category you have no control over, other than how you react to the situation (or crisis). The second category is all about planning, but at least you saw it coming. The third one is about spotting an opportunity and reacting quickly. The fourth category is the one where it can go wrong. There’s too much temptation to overfill this category when there’s not enough going on in categories 1 – 3.
If you’re a company that provides a product which has become commoditised and you are in the middle of the pack when it comes to price and service then all you’ve really got is category 4. This is when you start spending loads of money on surveys.
But wait! It doesn’t have to be like that. There is actually some very, very good content in category 4 – just look at the Nationwide Building Society House Price Index. So surveys are not necessarily bad. They just need careful planning and good placement.
The other option is to move out of category 4 and into category 3. That means being really savvy about piggybacking, which is quite an art. More on that here.
I was recently asked to write an article for What Investment magazine on spread betting (I’ll post a link when it is published), which is the first time that I have written in a freelance journalist capacity. Having spent eleven years trying to get journalists to write about my clients or my company, I now found myself on the other side of the fence and it was an enlightening experience.
Writing a feature for a magazine is actually quite different to the writing that I was used to, which is primarily news releases, thought-leadership articles or features for internal magazines. What was refreshingly new was the impartiality aspect of the writing – normally I am used to having an agenda and pushing a particular point of view, but now I was free to take the article in any direction that felt right.
I dealt with around eight different organisations and commentators for this piece and found it quite an eye-opener. Consequently, I have some tips for organisations dealing with journalist requests, especially if you don’t have a dedicated PR person:
- Ignore the deadline. If you want the coverage, get off your arse, drop whatever else it is you were doing and sort it out straight away. The earlier you get your information and quote to the journalist the greater the chance that it will make it into the early drafts of their article. Plus the greater the chance that you can actually influence the direction of the article.
- Don’t send too much. It’s better to send three carefully crafted paragraphs which get to the point than send two pages of data. Just make life simple for the journalist. Reading an essay is a lot of work.
- Don’t cop out by sending pre-existing press releases, articles or reports. Don’t tell the journalist that everything they need to know is ‘on page 9 of 27’. Pull together a bespoke response and do the legwork yourself.
- Try and take a different point of view to the masses. If a journalist has got nine separate people saying roughly the same thing then you are competing for airtime. If you take a contrary opinion to the rest of the sheep then you immediately stand out.
- Be human. Don’t make your spokespeople sound like robots. We’re writing for people here, so speak like a real person, not like a corporate drone.
- Clarify exactly what is needed. If the journalist’s initial request is a little generic then feel free drill down into a bit more detail. At this stage, the brief their editor has given them may well be fairly open, so if you are savvy, this is your time to suggest different angles.
- Make sure you have stock items like photos and case studies on file.
If you scan a lot of news releases you’ll notice a high proportion of them use a similar sort of language. It’s the language of corporate speak, only to be found in PR and marketing materials and never used by anyone in real life. There seems to be a distinct lack of creativity when it comes to using adjectives in external communications. The worst culprits are the words ‘leading’ and ‘delighted’.
Why can’t PRs think of more words to use than ‘leading’ and ‘delighted’?! It seems like every company is a leader and every spokesperson is always gushing that they are delighted about winning a new client, hiring a new manager or winning an award. Why don’t you stop and think for a moment about whether this is really news and what you really feel about it.
Let’s take leading first – it’s actually ridiculous to use this adjective when you think about it, because so few companies ever substantiate or qualify this claim. Do you sell the most, do you have the most customers or members, are you the fastest growing, have you won the most awards, are you the most trusted by consumers? If you are, then say you are – don’t just say you are the number one. In any case, no journalist is ever, in a million years, going to write about your company in the exact same way as you have presented it in your carefully crafted news release.
Secondly, we come to ‘delighted’. If you look on twitter for #delighted there are an increasing bunch of well-respected journalists who tweet every time some hapless spokesperson uses ‘delighted’ in a quote. And the rest of us are all having a good laugh at the spokespeople’s (and PR’s) expense.
Are you really delighted? Can you not think of something else to say?
Being lazy about language makes your news look like an identikit communication and undermines what is a potentially serious or interesting message. Get creative and do yourself justice.
We all know that journalists are bombarded with PR material every day and that unfortunately, some of it is poorly targeted, poorly produced and not relevant. Journalists can actually get some brilliant story ideas from PRs, as well as really useful content to enhance an existing story and vital statistics, quotes and case studies within very tight deadlines.
So I guess the answer to the above question depends on whether the PR is trying to ‘get a story to run’ or ‘stop a story from running’. Journalists would have a pretty hard time functioning if there weren’t efficient PRs to organise spokespeople, source stats and case studies quickly or investigate customer stories. Similarly, they would probably rather have the mobile numbers of all the experts and top people than have to phone a press office and get an anodyne reactive statement.
Either way, journalists and PRs do depend on each other, but not exclusively, and less so since the advent of social media. Journalists source stories from readers, contacts, announcements, surveys and increasingly from bloggers and social media platforms such as Twitter. PRs need journalists to be featured in newspapers, magazines and on radio and TV, but now they can also go direct to their target audience via websites, podcasts, iPhone apps, forums, blogs, Facebook, YouTube etc etc.
It comes down to the skills of the PR individual and the ethos of the company as to whether the PR function is a barrier or a facilitator. But the acid test of who needs who more comes down to one simple thing – who pays for lunch – and that is still the PR.