Seven fifteen-minutes-or-less PR training ideas that will boost your press coverage...

Keen to up-skill your team but short on time or budget? Try these quick and easy-to-implement training ideas - all of which can be completed in 15 minutes or less…

1. Objective: to improve your phone pitches

Activity: Newspaper review

Provide a selection of daily newspapers, Give participants 10 minutes to skim read them and pick out one or two stories (smaller, quirkier articles rather than headline news). Ask them to summarise in eight seconds or less (the average length of an 'intro' on TV/radio)….and time them doing it!

Examples:

Why using snail slime on your face can make you look younger

Dads injured up to 22 times a year when looking after their children 

Schools ditching nativity for more modern Christmas celebrations

Why it works:  

Busy journalists don't have time to listen to long, rambling phone pitches. Training your team to nail their top line - and get it in within the first few seconds of a pitch - will vastly boost their chances of success

Tip: Not everybody can crack this first time round, so you may need to repeat this exercise a few times - and revisit it every now and then as a refresher.

2. Objective: improve email pitches

Activity: Twitter Challenge

Ask colleagues to think about a story they are currently working on. Get them to summarise the story in 140 characters or less. Then get them to cut it to 120, then 100 (the optimum length of a tweet)

Why it works:  

Most journalists get hundreds of emails each week. Nailing your 'top line' in as few words as possible - and putting it in the first line of your pitch - will improve your chances of success.

Bonus: This exercise forces you to focus on what's important - and what's not. Knowing what to cut and what to keep is one of the fundamentals of good writing.

 3. Objective: improve the open rate of your email pitches

Activity: Subject Lines

Provide a screenshot of a busy inbox (for best results, persuade a friendly journalist to send you one - I'm always happy to oblige). Get colleagues to discuss which kind of words and phrases are the most compelling…and what's a complete turn off. Use this to create a good practice checklist for email subject headers for your department.

Why it works:

Most journalists get hundreds of email pitches each week - many of which go unopened. Create compelling email subject headers and they'll be far less likely to hit 'delete.'

4. Objective: write more compelling copy

Activity: Start With A Story

Ask colleagues to bring along a press release, email pitch, report  - or any other piece of copy they're currently working on. Get them to rewrite the opening paragraph, so it starts with a story.

Why it works:

Starting with a story (or what is sometimes known as a 'drop intro') can be an effective way to grab readers' attention.

Examples:

Children suffering as mental health services fail to cope 

The key to our successful marriage: separate houses 

Variations:

Get colleagues to start with a compelling quote, write in a particular tenses, in the first, second or third person…the possibilities are endless and all encourage writers adapt their writing to create particular effects.

Read more about how to write exciting copy about boring things. 

 5. Objective: generate story ideas

 Activity: Stalk and Steal

Pick a rival organisation that regularly gets more press coverage than yours. Analyse their press coverage over the last three months (or whatever time period you like) to see where their stories are coming from. Are they generating research? Are they launching campaigns? Are they getting their top people to say interesting things. Find out what's working for them and see what you can steal and adapt for your own organisation.

Why it works:

Why reinvent the wheel? If it's working for other organisations, there's a good chance it will work for yours too. And looking at what others are doing can often spark ideas for how you might do things differently.

Inspiration: Read more about being a copycat and how to boost your press coverage when you don't have any news. 

 6. Objective: generate new opportunities for press coverage

Activity: Deep Reading

Pick a publication you haven't had coverage in before (or have tried without success) and get colleagues to analyse the content of every page. Then write a list of the titles of sections you're looking to target.

Why it works:

Flicking through a publication to see if it covers a particular topic can only tell you so much. It's only by analysing a publication (or programme), and taking it apart - section by section - that you can really understand its content and audience. This will make all the difference to your pitching success.

 7. Objective: improve your pitching success

Activity: Creating An Audience Avatar

Pick a publication you haven't had coverage in before (or have tried without success) and write an ideal reader (or listener/viewer) avatar. Include: their job, hobbies, ideal holiday destination, car, shopping habits…anything you can think of that will help you understand their needs, desires and priorities.

Why it works:

It's easy to make assumptions about the audience of a particular publication/programme. Looking closely at the content and analysing what that tells us about an audience gives a much more accurate impression.

Tip: Don't guess - use the content  to guide you. Also…ask for a copy of their media pack. This often contains quite detailed information about readers (or viewers/listeners)...

General training tips

Focus on 'doing': most people learn best when they are engaged in practical activities.

Encourage discovery: help people to acquire knowledge (instead of telling  them what they need to know) and they're far more likely to retain what they've learned.

Use a range of techniques and technologies: many people have preferred learning style(s) - although this can vary depending on the context - so keep things varied. While the activities described above are perfect for a short training session, if you're planning anything longer, it's a good idea to mix things up a bit with audio, video (and other visual materials) alongside verbal input and practical activities. And do bear in mind that in a world where many of us are glued to mobile phones, tablets and other devices for hours on end, concentration is not what it used to be.