PR Confidential: How to get national press coverage

PR Confidential: How to get national press coverage

Everyone wants it. It’s the most valuable form of PR, and yet its the most difficult to achieve. Press coverage in national newspapers, magazines and broadcast has the reach of the masses and consumer credibility to titillate any marketing man. There are, however, a range of methods, tricks and golden rules to achieving this sort of high-value PR.

1. What constitutes national PR?

Coverage in national daily newspapers (often the most common + desirable type), but also national radio, and of course television and the website of national broadcasters. Yes, Twitter is definitely national (and subsequently international) PR if you get someone like Stephen Fry, who has as many followers as The Sun’s circulation, tweeting about you – whether it be a business, an initiative, or a cause.

2. Why the value?

Newspapers such as the Sun, Daily Mail or Telegraph have circulations ranging from a few million, to a few hundred thousand people, every day. They are all British institutions. We are nation led by the media. It’s ingrained in our culture. Credibility associated to having been written about in one of the major papers is, and has always been, great.

Also, in an age of shrinking printed media, the opportunity to get features in print is becoming more exclusive. Stevie Spring, CEO of Future Publishing, a successful publisher (in a generally struggling magazine market) of specialist publications recently explained at a recent media briefing that the printed artifact will always have a high value to the consumer which online simply can’t provide. Not to knock online news articles, which are very much part of the now and future, but value of being written about in the printed version of the Financial Times or Wallpaper as random examples, will always carry a great value. It’s tactile, memorable and prestigious.

3. What are the sort of stories we might hope to ‘sell’ to a national publication?

The truth is, almost every subject is covered by the national press, from business to gossip, property to sport, gardening to spread-betting. Let’s for example focus on stories from SMEs which I believe, next to the big brands which spend substantially on PR – and often have in house departments – are the largest buyers of PR services.

SMEs are desperate to set themselves apart from competitors and to generate third party endorsement. PR is often their vehicle to achieving this. Typical SME stories would be about interesting services, products, stories of entrepreneurial success, key business events, newly published books and milestones achieved – as a range of typical stories, for example.

4. If SMEs are using PR as a marketing exercise, how can it be made credible yet still interest the media?

The first rule, and often biggest mistake made by SMEs wanting national PR, is that they look at what they’re offering or selling and think that’s news. PR rarely carries the same message as marketing unless it’s the launch of the Amazon Kindle or Apple iPhone. These are fascinating examples of products which carry an intrinsic PR value, by their very nature.

The clever PR man will see that the service is perhaps, performance improvement, coaching, or sales training and must therefore create a ‘product’ that the media will be interested in. The art behind this is to create this ‘media product’ into something interesting, typically linked to the issues covered within the national agenda. Usually when promoting a business, it’s always better to focus on the managing director and position her or him as the expert in their respective field. It’s the PR man’s job to demonstrate this to media and let journalists know, within the PR/media liaison guidelines that they can offer comment because of their respective expertise. Journalists rely on tip-offs before investigating and writing their own stories, and if you can be the source of this insight, it helps in building the relationship, trust and repeat national PR.

5. Rules of engagement when liaising with national newspaper journalists?

The golden rules are timing and relevance. Calling a national newspaper journalist when they’re on deadline is PR blasphemy, yet this mistake is often made. Careful consideration and research must be taken to know the best time slots to speak to them. When you do get a journalist on the phone and are having a good conversation, it’s always worth asking ‘in future, can you advise your best times to receive calls, pitches and emails?’.

Relevance is a bigger issue. The clever PR man will know, well, the agenda of the respective columnist, correspondent or reporter – their style. This being said, having the perfect story because you’ve done your research and contacted a journalist with it doesn’t guarantee they will oblige. I recently pitched a story I knew fitted the agenda of an entrepreneur column. The journalist came back to me, after three follow-ups to say it was a good story, but didn’t ‘stir’ her. It’s impossible to preplan for this eventuality and is part of the gamble of negotiating highly valuable stories. The formula is to stay relevant and qualify that relevance.

6. What are the overlooked tactics of getting a national story to materialise?

Timing is key on a number of fronts. If you can respond to an unfolding story, such as an employment trend you’ve noticed the day the unemployment figures are due to come out, you stand a good chance of getting quoted.

Did you have an interesting opinion about how the VAT rise affected business?

Did you have a business story linked to the Royal wedding?

Timing also extends to WHEN you ‘sell’ a story in. Trying to sell a story in the middle of the week might be more difficult, than, for example, a Sunday. Not many people are aware that Monday newspapers are produced on a Sunday and journalists aren’t bombarded with the phone calls they receive during the week. Journalists who work on Sundays are also more likely to look at emails during quiet times. I’ve placed many stories in the first week of January. Just saying.

Look at the calendar.  Make notes of what’s on the national agenda, and how what you’re doing could be relevant for that. Pre plan your ‘media product’ and alert the right journalist in good time. There are too many opportunities associated to events, which are happening anyway, into which a PR story can be created, and meaningfully. From Mothers’ Day to election day and Christmas to random bank holidays – these are all events which the media will be looking to write around.

Most good national newspaper journalists are on Twitter. Follow them to get a sense of their availability and subjects they wish to cover. PR people don’t realise how much Twitter truly has helped bring the media closer to them. On twitter journalists often say on their profiles that views are their own. Great. Now we have even more of a reason for finding out about what interests them, what gripes they have and which times are better to catch them.

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