Effective PR: Research really does matter

Over the next six weeks I’m going to take a deeper dive into some of the principles that I feel are at the heart of PR and communications. They have remained a constant in more than two decades of working in press offices, large and small, across different sectors.

I’m starting with an essential and pretty fundamental ingredient to becoming a good and effective communicator – the fact that research really does matters.

Every day communicators should be consuming broadcast, print, digital and social media.  I’m always amazed how this isn’t the bread and butter of everyone working in PR and communications.  It is so easy to focus on social and digital where you can feel a buzz but you forget broadcast and print at your peril.

It is vital to get the mix right: understanding the look and feel of newspapers, magazines, TV and radio is really important. How can you hope to pitch ideas to media outlets if you don’t know how they are structured and what the deadlines are for placing stories?

When planning a PR campaign or thinking about placing a story build in the time to absorb the media that you want to target. Nothing annoys a journalist or producer more than a poorly pitched or timed story. You need to get it right because you only have one chance.

Make sure that you understand what makes specialist correspondents tick or the fact that news programmes can be very last minute or plan weeks ahead matter.  Get it right and give a journalist, editor or producer a good story and you can be laying the foundation for another one of my fundamental principles – good relationships.

I remember a producer who worked on the Sunday night staple – Countryfile on BBC1 – telling me that a PR got in touch the week before transmission with an idea for that week, when programmes can be planned months ahead.

You might think that print media, with dwindling circulations, and what is perceived to be traditional broadcast media in the age of Netlfix and the march of podcasts, are losing their place at the top table of influential communication channels. You’d be wrong. The new kids on the block do matter and provide so many more opportunities to get your story out there. But the daily papers and flagship news programmes still shape the days agenda and create the mood music for social media conversation. Get your story or organisation on to a prime slot on a news programme or a nice spread in a national or regional newspaper and it could generate extra interest.

Another useful piece of research is looking at the long- term trends of how people get their news or consume content. Following organisations such as the Reuters Institute or OFCOM on twitter can be a rich source of insight that will help you sharpen your knowledge of a rapidly evolving sector.

My proudest moments in communications have all been built on the foundation of research – getting to know what makes the journalists and programmes that you want to reach tick and how you can create stories that they’ll want to cover.

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