From a newsworthy idea to TV - 7 tips for successful PR
One thing I am often telling any business that will listen is that finding newsworthy content is a skill in itself and it often needs ‘an outsider’ to see what’s news because to you, the business-owner, it’s just the everyday. 'PR' has all sorts of connotations and meanings but 'public relations' is just a fancy way of describing getting your message out to the public, often through press, and these days, 'internet influencers' too.
Here’s an insight into how I work on a PR campaign:
For recent client Birdsall House, Cara and her small but perfectly formed team had been working so hard on preparing the house to be opened for events and weddings they’d missed that the opening of the house was HUGE news. Following a soft launch last year, the house was to become available to hire and therefore open to the public for the first time in its history (and it was built in the1500s!).
I set about writing a press release that outlined the facts of the opening and explained the headline “Birdsall House opens its doors for the first time in history”.
So that was the main headline sorted. Next up, here at Comms Kick, I had to set to work refining this angle for various media. For some, this angle in itself was enough but for others this was not enough of a ‘hook’. The area the house sits in is surrounded by a number of other stately homes, and the plight of buildings like this trying to commercialise is well documented.
When I come across a stumbling block like this my next port of call is to look at the personalities behind the product and that is what got the more high profile media interested.
Lady Cara (being very down to earth, she hates it when I use her title but I’m sure you’ll agree it really helps to tell a story) has renovated the house herself and moved in with her husband and three children. Suddenly this was no longer just a stately home run by a board, trying to make a profit, but a family getting hands-on, determined to keep their home a family one by bringing in an income and allowing more people to enjoy everything the house has to offer. Again, to the family this wasn’t interesting, to them yet it was beautifully explained by Cara:
“What makes a home is the people in it, the things in it that a family has collected, if you take away those two things, you take away the heart of a house.”
I was so interested in this and keen to hear what life was like when you try to make your home your business, it’s why we all watch ‘Escape to the Chateau’ after all, so I knew others would be too, now it was just a case of convincing a few editors...
Next, it was follow up time, making phone calls and emails to check who had received the release and finding out people’s initial thoughts. This stage nearly always gets a positive response so then it’s a bit of a waiting game to see if people really are interested or just being polite.
After a few days, it was time to make contact again without annoying people. I do this by refining my list of contacts based on initial responses. I’ll be reminding press of the story again and sometimes getting a bit of a grilling while journalists establish if the story is going to be of interest to their readers, listeners or viewers. The family’s passion rubbed off on me and I really enjoyed communicating Birdsall’s ethos and describing the enthusiastic, determined and fun-loving Cara to people.
Success! At this stage, people will now give a concrete yes or no once you’ve explained how the story might fit with their agenda. In this case, I was aware that with an official launch looming it would be better to get more coverage published or aired before the launch so it was a race against time organising photographers and meetings at the house.
One particularly enjoyable day involved working with BBC Look North on a feature which focused more on the family angle. This was a two minute piece but took about half a day to film, the highlight being the Willoughby children playing hide and seek amongst the ruins and not fully understanding that they only needed to pretend to play, cue a few grown ups, a reporter and a camera-man waiting for a game of hide and seek to finish!
This press campaign resulted in coverage on the BBC, in The i Paper, Yorkshire Post magazine, Bride magazine and local press. Combine this with online articles and sharing of the articles on social media and in total hundreds of thousands of people read about Birdsall House or watched a feature about them in February, March and April. When you think about how much would need to be spent in adverts to reach that many people, in print or digitally, it really shows how worthwhile a good PR campaign can be.
If you’re not quite at the point where you can commission someone else to work on your PR, here are my top tips:
Identify the news and ask why it’s interesting. Then make that the headline.
If you’re launching a product for example, so do hundreds of people every day. The news isn’t the launch, the news is the problem your solving. This might not be immediately obvious but look to the future, will it put your town on the map? Create jobs? Bring some history alive? Help others?
Remember that if you want obvious advertising you’re going to have to pay for it.
So don’t make your press release too much of a sales pitch. Ditch the adjectives and try to stick to the facts. Be open to ideas from press even if you can't see that it immediately helps you reach your sales goal, profile raising is very important.
Always include a quote.
People make stories. Make your news human by including a quote about the news from someone relevant. If possible by the person highest up at your organisation. Try to keep it brief.
Always write in the third person.
I know it can be cringe if you’re a small business and you’re being complimentary about your services, your product or yourself but it’s time to get over it. Journalists, freelance or otherwise, are busy people and sometimes they may want to just copy and paste what you’ve written either into an email to their editor to pitch the idea or straight into an article!
Don’t be afraid to follow up.
Be polite, be courteous, if someone gives you a straight ‘no’ respect it but you’re email is probably one of hundreds so remind people it’s there.
Look at trends, especially in your sector.
Don’t shoehorn your news into something it’s not to make it fit with what people are talking about but if there’s something in the news that links to your sector then the subject will be more relevant to the press. Even if you’re actual press release has no link, in the email accompanying it you can be as blatant as saying “As a small food producer I thought this piece about our anniversary might be of interest to your readers with the BBC 2 programme Top of the Shops being so popular at the moment.” Read news from people in your industry to help you establish tone, length and the sorts of things that get coverage.
It's not just about traditional press.
Remember the internet is an extremely influential place now. If you know someone with a lot of Instagram followers send them a freebie or invite them to an event. Send relevant bloggers your press release, just be nice to people and politely ask if they would be so kind as to share a post about what you're trying to promote. Support your sector and other businesses and it will support you! And remember, if you dont quite feel ready to contact the press with your news post it on your blog to keep your website fresh, up to date and Google friendly.
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