Tag Archives: Public relations

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.

Effective PR: thoughts from 21 years as a communicator

This month I have now racked up twenty one years of working in PR and communications. I have certainly lived through a revolution in the way that we communicate but many of the core principles of PR remain the same despite the disruptive and game-changing influences of the rise of digital and social media, the turbulence in the world of TV and the slow steady decline of print media while remaining influential.

When I started in my first job as a press assistant at the fab Bristol-based charity Sustrans back in September 1997 we used to fax and post out press releases and we had to use the phone (yes that is right we had to talk to people) to get pick up for our stories. This was also in the days before email (they do exist) when you had time to think and you didn’t spend your time with pot-noddle productivity, i.e. responding to the latest email to ping into your in box, instantly.

Now seems a good time to reflect on some of what I think still rings true for impactful and effective PR and Communications.

Research matters –listening to the radio, reading a paper or checking-in on twitter should be how everyone working in communications starts every working day (and also keeps across things at the weekend too). It is vital that you understand the media – the way papers are put together, what works for live news programmes and the structure of TV programmes that you might want to target. Our life is so dominated by digital-on-the-move-communications that you can forget that it is still worth reading a physical paper (and I mean all papers) and listening and watching the TV and radio. My proudest moments in communications have been built on the foundation of 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.

Coffee and chats – developing good relationships with the media is a vital part of being a good press officer (this doesn’t mean that they won’t cover challenging stories about your organisation). This takes time and patience and is built on the foundation of research (see above) and understanding what people write about.  You ideally want to be seen as a good source of stories and also the first person they think of for those more fallow periods of the year (August and Christmas) when the news agenda goes a bit quieter.

Pictures remain at the heart of communications – planning ahead to get the right picture is really important. We all know how a strong picture can make or break a story and it can be a great frustration for press officers when the images that are sent to support a story are just too poor to use. Pictures can be sourced from photo libraries but commissioning your own photography can add an extra dimension to a story that excites the picture desk and can help the story fly on twitter and Instagram.

Telling stories – storytelling is at the heart of what it means to be human and how we share information (and have been for thousands of years). For all of the planning in the world, communications will only work if you have a strong story to tell that will connect with people and be understood by them. I’ve worked on enough projects and campaigns that are awash with jargon, where you have to be honest with people and say that stripped back and accessible prose is the only way forward. You also have to be proactive: don’t wait for stories to fall into your lap, otherwise you’ll be waiting a long time. Building good internal relationships with people that get the value of communications is so important.

The release is dead, long live the release – every so often a comment piece will appear in PR Week or a blog as an obituary for the humble press release.  I still believe in the press release as an important tool in the communications toolbox. Yes you need a range of content and a key messaging document but the writing of a straight down the line press release will help craft a compelling story and journalists still need them (together with exclusives and more placed pieces). Releases are seen as documents of record and in my mind being able to get a complex story across in one or two sides of A4 is a key communications skill.

Data-driven PR – we live in a world awash with data. Seeing the real-time impact of your communications activity via google analytics and social media tools has made life easier compared to the days of waiting for press cuttings to arrive in the post. However, the big challenge now is using the data to understand what our audiences want and how to reach them all with the right message through the most appropriate channel. This level of sosphication means that some of the measureable rigour of marketing can be brought to PR and communications. It also means that the onus is now on us as communications professionals to actually use the data that we can access to improve the way that we communicate.

The humble press release

Through thick and thin there has been a rock in public relations. It has survived the rise of technology and remains the main way of communicating for most organisations. It can take an age to be signed off and the tone of voice really does matters. Journalists receive hundreds of them a day and they have to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Yet the press release remains a key tool in the tool box of anyone working in a press office. It’s structure and shape has remained unaltered and for many it is an official record of any organisations position and activities.

With the rise and rise of twitter and other social networks journalists are finding other means for newsgathering. Blogs are also becoming an important part of the story finding mix. So will the good old press release survive the technology revolution that is happening via the social media world?

The answer is probably yes and no. Much depends on the future of the printed word, online media and smartphone technology; and the long lead in times for magazines where releases can help fill the content for news pages and listings. The press release is a good way, if straight to the point and not too long, of getting your story out there. But this already needs to be backed up by online and social media support.

For those working in media relations the press release is our comfort blanket. Something that has always been with us and despite the travails of constructing them a tool we know and love. It will probably survive but perhaps in a different form and blogs linked to twitter feeds and email lists might takes it place.