There’s an old saying: “Advertising is what you pay for; publicity is what you pray for.” The Chartered Institute of Public Relations defines it as:
“Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”
We think it can be put in slightly plainer English, though. PR is a method of encouraging people to think and speak about your organisation in a positive way. This improves the reputation of your business, and gives you exposure, that you haven’t had to pay for.
So, it stands to reason that, if getting people to talk positively is the aim, PR spans a wide range of tactics – both internal and external. These include:
- media relations – giving the press something to talk about, whether that is done through press releases or news hijacking
- client care – looking after clients, making sure they are sharing a positive message and sharing information with them that keeps them interested
- crisis management – when something goes wrong – how do you handle bad publicity
- thought leadership – a hot topic that you want to be ‘known’ for as the market leading authority
- lobbying – targeting the government (or other organisations) to change the situation
- employee and partner relations – making sure your internal teams are kept happy and are spreading the correct, positive messages
- digital media – putting client interaction and key messages out into a public world (think of it as another form of press but with direct client and target interaction)
So, how do you achieve this?
Clearly, in one article, we can’t cover off how to get client care right… or employee relationship management – although they are important fields. We will be talking about thought-leadership and digital marketing in more detail in later articles, however. For now, let’s concentrate on what many people think of as traditional PR – media relationships.
Media relationships has, at its heart, the concept of building a positive relationship with the press (print, online, TV etc). This can include writing press releases or articles, news hijacking, scheduling interviews or even giving press conferences. The objective is to generate positive press coverage. This requires a good ‘hook’ to get them interested, as well as the ability to ‘make the sale’ in terms of getting their agreement to publish it.
First, let’s set it out clearly. 81% of journalists prefer to receive a pitch (press release, article, suggestions etc) via email. But with writers at top publications receiving 20 or more pitches a day (which is in excess of 7000 a year) it can be hard to stand out. You can start to understand why loving writing, and having something good to say, doesn’t automatically translate to column inches.
Here are our top tips for getting your article or pitch published:
- Make it relevant. The golden rule is that what you send needs to be relevant to the person receiving it. It might sound obvious but the ‘chuck enough muck at the wall’ approach is going to harm, rather than help your cause.
- Develop a strategic plan. This might sound like overkill but it’s essential. You need to find the right people and then spend time getting their attention. This means engaging with them on social media, in particular. Most importantly, remember point 1. Get their attention because they’re really interested in what you have to say. Jump into their consciousness and conversation with relevant, intelligent comment.
- Look to your database. It stands to reason that you aren’t going to have the time to engage, one-to-one, with every journalist on your target list. In some areas of work there might be hundreds. Whilst this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow them on Twitter, set up a list so you can engage with anything relevant and connect with them on LinkedIn, you will also need to rely on your media database. There are a number of paid for media database tools you can subscribe to (and the big firms/agencies will) but they’re really expensive… most are still relying on a spreadsheet or CRM system. The problem is that as soon as you’ve ticked the box to say it’s created… it’s probably out of date. You thought personal injury claims teams moved jobs regularly? You ain’t seen nothing! So, the way to tackle this is to go back to point 1. Make it relevant. Cut out the ‘maybe they’ll be interested’ and whittle it down to a smaller number of really relevant publications that you can spend time applying point 2 to. We can be a bit technical about this, though… You can use https://moz.com/free-seo-tools or https://adwords.google.com/intl/en_uk/home/tools/keyword-planner/ to see what terms people are most searching for and, importantly, to rank publications in order of influence. A journalist that writes for a publication with a high search score is a more important target for you, because if they publish it your article will most likely show up at the top of a Google search for that subject. Simples. And then, at that point… it’s just a case of doing two things: 1) setting a diary entry to check all contacts on a regular basis; and 2) being disciplined about correcting any bounce backs THE MINUTE YOU RECEIVE THEM! [and yes, I did shout that… it’s important…]
- Don’t forget social media amplification. Don’t overlook this as frivolity. Journalists pay attention to how much an article is shared and what people are saying. And those journalists that write articles with high social engagement know their audiences well. This gives you a good insight, if you do your homework, for point 5.
- Know the audience. If you’re targeting a pitch to a particular journalist make sure you understand the audience they write for. The objective is to present it to them with the right points and headlines brought out, in the right tone of voice or style. This can mean the difference between sending them an infographic or a white paper.
- Tailor your approach. We’re sorry to say that there is little substitute for writing a tailored approach, with reference to points 1 and 5. Journalists will tell you that they rarely get tailored approaches – approaches that demonstrate that you know the publication and what the journalist writes about. Yes, of course, there’s a time issue with this (hence the importance of having a tailored list) but unique, relevant information will always get noticed.
- Build relationships. Journalists are used to getting press release and article pitches. But the best relationships come from ‘helping them out’ when you don’t want anything. It’s the old fashioned equivalent of sticking a post-it note on an article and sending it to them saying “saw this and thought of you”. Providing tips and information when you aren’t trying to get coverage will establish you as a useful source of information, worthy of a developing relationship. More importantly, if you’re clever about it you can do this in such a way as to link it to your key agenda topics and thought-leadership, thereby pushing your white paper or press releases to the top of the pile, when the time comes.
So, what’s news hijacking?
There will be times, when you’re reading the paper or watching the news, that you hear a story and think “I have something to say about that”… Getting in there… being the comment or person speaking on the BBC news… this is called ‘newsjacking’ or ‘news hijacking’.
There are plenty of reasons why you might have something to say. It doesn’t have to be because it’s part of your content strategy. You might want to jump into the chat around a charitable event of initiative, or target a particular demographic through comment on The Great British Bake Off. You might want to get your name out there when a competitor opens a new office or launches a new product… or you might just have something to say on a breaking news story.
Whatever your purpose, a good marketing, PR and BD person will be looking out for these opportunities and be ready to move, when they crop up. Why? Because, done well, it will not only amplify your brand message but add SEO value, drive traffic to your website, improve your reputation and build relationships with journalists.
Let’s think about that last one a bit more. Journalism is about getting information out in front of the public. Part of this means finding new or additional information, if possible, from a credible source. If you present a brand with a recognised authority in a certain area, willing to provide a different angle or additional information, they are likely to a) want to publish it and b) think you’re worth listening to (or, ideally, approaching proactively) in the future. Newsjacking can be a ‘win win’ for all involved.
Here are some tips for getting this right:
- First, you need to make sure you have your finger on the pulse. There are lots of tools available to notify you of breaking news (for example, Google Alerts) but it’s easy to get bogged down in them. Start by working out your strategic objectives and the key areas you want to ‘jump into’. These might be regional, key areas of work or linked to your thought leadership plan.
- An important consideration, when planning these, is to consider which you are best equipped to comment on. Do you have anything different to say? Or are you ‘better than the rest’ on a particular topic?
- Next you need to be realistic. Which people are available to comment and how reliable are they? There is little point trying to newsjack if you have team members so swamped in client work that they can’t turn on a sixpence to appear on the Today programme… before a week next Tuesday [NB: Clue is in the name].
- Newsjacking needs to take place shortly after news has broken, before the journalists start scrambling about looking for extra information. 24 hours later is too late… particularly in today’s world of digital news. In addition to having people available to comment, you need a marketing or PR team that has the flexibility to not only monitor alerts but go searching for breaking news. This means knowing enough about the subject to anticipate stories and themes that will go in a certain direction and/or grow over a period of time.
- Next comes the all important pitch.
- Relevance is the cornerstone here. There needs to be a genuine connection between your organisation and the topic. There are 101 employment lawyers… being a great employment lawyer isn’t enough. Why should you be the firm to talk about the gender pay gap or gig economy?
- Creativity and catching attention are second to relevance. Consider how you will catch the attention of journalists… and how what you have to say will entertain and engage their readers.
- Make sure you’re prepared. Having a library of FAQs, comments, photos, biographies etc can save time and ensure you can move quickly. It’s mighty impressive if you’re able to click your fingers and magic up everything a journalist wants, within minutes of their asking.
- Back up what you have to say. If you go to a journalist and pitch to comment, the first thing they’ll do is go on Google and look at how ‘expert’ you are. Make sure that search brings up relevant evidence of this expertise. That means ensuring your website and LinkedIn profile say the right things and include examples of similar comment, as well as lots and lots of evidence relevant to the particular ‘thought’ you wish to be considered a ‘leader’ on.
- Don’t just wait for a topic to crop up. You can do some groundwork in advance. If you know there are key journalists in your field you can pitch fee earners and experts in to them in advance of ‘breaking news’. Fixing up a coffee, at which you present (or even introduce) key ‘thought leaders’ can keep them front of mind, should relevant topics crop up. Similarly, including journalists on circulation lists, for thought leadership articles, can also prove beneficial, in the long run.
- Considering the value of newsjacking is important – it is, after all, a relatively time consuming activity. You should be looking to measure your share of voice (in terms of how much presence you have, versus competitors). Similarly, whether the activities have improved relationships with journalists or key publications. Whilst it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to draw a direct link between newsjacking activities and instruction metrics, it should be possible to set out some measurable benchmarks that allow you to assess whether this work is beneficial. This could be Net Promoter Scores or client care review results… or more qualitative measures. The important thing is that they’re unique and relevant to you.