press releases

Why Facebook is your secret PR weapon

I’m a big fan of Facebook.

As a location independent business owner, my office is my ‘she shed’, kitchen table, local cafe or wherever I happen to be in the world at the time.

So Facebook is my watercooler chat, professional network and social circle... all rolled into one.

It also has another important role in my life: helping me keep my news sense (i.e. my instinct on what makes a great media story) firmly in check.

And it can help you too.

What Facebook can teach you about PR

Here’s three examples of stories I’ve shared on my Facebook feed recently that got lots of engagement:

The science of hangry: why some people get grumpy when they’re hungry

My son: the hero (a first person piece by Jeff Brazier on his young son’s response to his mother’s death)

Why are we short on organ donors? Superstition and squeamishness

Why? Because they're all about things people care about/have an opinion on/have experience of (or know someone who has).

Which is exactly why they got coverage in the media.

The Facebook test (and how it can help you)

I’ve  recently started using The Facebook Test - a three-step checklist that helps you determine if a story will be of interest to the media - with all my clients. If you’re not active on Facebook you can do this test with any social media network.

Here’s how it works:

Before you hit ‘send’ on a press release or email pitch to a journalist, answer the following three questions.

1.Would my friends* share this story on Facebook?

YES: your story has potential. Move to question 2.

NO: find another idea.

2.Would my friends comment on this story?

YES: your story has potential. Pitch it now or - even better - move to question 3.

NO:  find another idea or a different angle on the story.

3.Could this story divide opinion amongst my friends? 

YES: your story definitely has potential. Pitch it now. 

NO:  your story still has potential, but a divisive angle would make it more compelling.

(* If you’re pitching to the industry press, you can substitute ‘friends’ with colleagues)

Simple, right?

But I’ll bet my house on the fact some of you are thinking journalists are only interested in covering negative stories.

Not at all.

What they’re interested in is things people care about and/or have an opinion on. And while that can sometimes be about exposing negativity, often it's simply about highlighting things that are unusual, unexpected or just ‘new’.

It’s why the Huffington Post ran this story about plus-size fitness models (the author of this piece runs a company that provides fit camps for plus size women), the Guardian ran this one on fashion trucks or the New York Times covered the rise in gifting subscription boxes. A

Remember that journalists aren't interested in helping you promote your business or brand. In fact - unless you’re paying for advertorial (that is clearly labelled as such) - it would be unethical of them to do so.

What they really care about is creating compelling content for their audience. Content that people will want to talk about to their friends and/or share on social media networks. And people only share when they care.

So it doesn’t matter how excited you are about your industry award, new marketing director or business partnership, if no one you know (aside from your colleagues) will care or have an opinion about it, journalists won’t either. Which means they won't run your story - regardless of how many times you call or email.

Spending a few minutes doing the Facebook test can save your HOURS of wasted time on press releases or pitches that don't get picked up - giving you more time to develop ideas journalists will be interested in.

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This Little Piggy Got Some Press Coverage...and so can you

Sarah Poole owns Westenhanger Castle - a wedding venue and conference centre in the South East of England.

Over the last few weeks, she’s been quoted in the Daily Telegraph and the Independent. She’s also made numerous radio and TV appearances on the BBC and ITV.

But she hasn’t been talking about the beautiful weddings she hosts in the Kentish countryside. She’s been talking about Operation Stack - an emergency measure put in place when there are disruptions to Channel crossings, which involves shutting part of the coast-bound motorway and parking lorries alongside it.

This year has seen unprecedented use of the tactic, turning parts of Kent into a lorry park and Sarah is concerned about the impact on local businesses.

In her media interviews, she talks about wanting her brides and their families to have the perfect wedding day. She mentions a bride who was late for her own ceremony, parties of wedding guests stuck on the motorway and 30k of lost business - all because of Operation Stack.

She is so passionate about her clients - and the plight of local businesses - she seems like exactly  the sort of person you’d want to organise your wedding (and - small disclaimer here - I should know, as she organised mine, 12 years ago).

So while it’s a challenging time for Sarah’s business, there is no doubt in my mind that her impassioned stance for local businesses has put Westenhanger Castle on the map. And when the situation is resolved, I’d put money on the fact she’ll see an increase in bookings.

How to use ‘piggybacking’ in your PR

While unintentional in her case, Sarah is using a PR tactic that is generally referred to as piggybacking. This involves using a current news story - on a topic you have expertise/experience in - as an opportunity to get coverage for your business or brand.

There are several ways you can do this, but the most common is to offer yourself (or your client) as an expert voice on a topic.

Let’s say your company offers solutions to nuisance calls. You do some digging and find out the government is planning to introduce harsher penalties for UK companies who cold call households. So you contact the producers of various radio and TV shows to offer expert comment on the topic...and end up bagging some great national coverage (including a spot on the Jeremy Vine show). This really happened by the way - thanks to clever clogs PR Claire Shiels. You can read about it here.

Perhaps you work for a walking charity and see a news story about a school that’s charging parents to drop children off in the playground. You contact the BBC and get invited onto the Breakfast sofa to talk about it. This really happened too - thanks to wonder PR Lorna Harris, who was working at Living Streets at the time.

Or maybe you work for an accountancy firm and also happen to be an ex-international footballer - and you’re female. The women’s world cup is just around the corner, so you pitch an article to the Huffington Post on the difference in male and female footballers’ salaries. Genius.

In all of these examples the business or brand is showing what they know rather than telling people what they do, which give them greater credibility.

And as journalists aren't generally interested in running stories that describe what businesses or organisations do (if you want that that, you'll need to buy an advert) approaching your PR in this way also gives you a much better chance of getting media coverage.

So how can you use piggybacking to get media coverage for your business or brand? Here are my top tips:

Follow the news

It sounds obvious, but if you want to 'piggyback' on to news stories, you need to keep up with current affairs. Subscribing to news services like Google Alerts, which allow you to set up alerts for specific key words or phrases (particularly ones that relate to your sector or industry) can be a great way to do this.

Be prepared to move fast

In a 24/7 media culture, it doesn’t take long for something to become ‘old news’. So if you spot a story you can 'piggyback' on to, you need to start contacting journalists immediately. If you leave it a day (or even a few hours in some cases), you may find the news agenda has already moved on.

Want more on this? Read 23 questions you should ask yourself before your pitch an idea to a journalist

Create a media calendar

Many news stories are ‘pegged’ to events you know about in advance e.g. government spending reviews, policy updates or awareness days. Getting these in your diary allows you to plan ahead (rather than responding to news as it happens) which will boost your chances of getting media coverage.

Make it easy for journalists to find you

Journalists are always looking for experts to comment on stories they’re covering. And the first thing they do when a story breaks - particularly if it’s a subject they’re not familiar with - is Google it. So if you’ve got a blog and/or up-to-date social media profiles - which include your contact details - they’ll be far more likely to get in touch to ask for comment. Many journalists now used LinkedIn to find people to talk to, so make sure your profile is up-to-date and includes examples of your media work (if you have them).

Create your own content

With many publications operating on shoestring budgets (particularly online), editors are hungry for good content they don’t have to pay for. While that’s bad news for professional writers like me, it’s great news if you’re looking for media coverage for your business or brand.

If there’s a story in the news you have a view on, there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t pitch an opinion article on the subject. Do bear in mind that you need to have something new to say - or a different way of looking at the issue. And, whatever you do, don’t write the article before you’ve got a ‘yes’ from an editor. A couple of lines in an email outlining your idea is fine.

Read this if you want to place more opinion articles in the nationals

And one final tip: be sincere.

If you're keen to get press coverage, it's tempting to offer yourself as a media commentator on subjects you don't really care about, just to get press coverage. But if you're just spouting off to get on the telly, journalists - and their audiences - will spot it a mile off, which could lose you credibility in the long run. Save your energy for the stories that really matter to you.

 

 

 

Why I won't write you a press release (however much you pay me)...

At least one person emails me a week asking how much I charge to write a press release - usually a small business owner with an event or product to launch.

They’ve often completed my free press release writing course but think it will save time if I do it for them.

I always say ‘no’ - regardless of how much they offer to pay me. Here’s why:

A beautifully written press release + a bad idea = no media coverage

I can write you a press release, but if your story idea stinks, you won’t get any press coverage - regardless of how nicely written it is.

You can hire someone else to write a press release for you, but if your story idea stinks, you won’t get any press coverage - regardless of how nicely written it is.

You can spend £50 or £500 on a press release, but if your story idea stinks you won’t get any press coverage - regardless of how nicely written it is.

I hope that gets my point across.

So if I wrote you a press release about something I knew journalists wouldn’t be interested in, and you didn’t get any press coverage, I’d feel bad about it.

In fact, I’d feel like I was taking advantage of you.

I'd rather show you how to do PR in a way that actually gets results.

A great idea + an imperfect press release = media coverage

Being able to write press releases is a great skill to have (which is why I offer a free course on how to do it)

But having a great story idea is far more important than a perfectly written press release. In fact, some of the best stories I’ve covered for the Guardian came from a hurried email pitch (complete with typos) or a direct message on Twitter (like this one).

So before you even think about writing a press release, ask yourself if anyone would actually care about your story.

While you might be excited about appointing a new financial director or launching your new product line, will the audience of the newspaper or magazine (or radio or TV programme) you’re pitching to be interested?  Be honest; if you weren’t directly involved, would YOU be interested in your story?

If the answer is ‘no’ you need to find something that is  interesting. Otherwise, you’re wasting time and money.

Writing a press release is no guarantee of media coverage 

I often get emails from people that say something like this:

‘I wrote a press release but I didn’t see it in the paper.’

OR

‘I paid someone to write a press release for me and it didn’t get used.’

But a press release is not a ‘story’. It is a form of communication that helps journalists decide whether or not they want to cover a story.

So (and I make no apology for being repetitive here) it doesn’t matter how brilliant your press release is, if your story isn’t interesting, journalists won’t cover it. They're also busy people, who generally don't have time to scour every press release they get to find an angle they do find interesting.

Journalists love exclusives, so if you send round a press release that has clearly been shared with dozens of others, they may assume someone else is covering it and hit the 'delete' button.

That’s why it’s always better to add a short ‘pitch’, above your press release (which should be pasted into your email rather than attached, by the way) summarising the story and any other important information (e.g. if you’re offering it as an exclusive, and if not, who else you’re talking to).

While sending a generic press release can work fine for big news stories, be realistic; how often are you likely to have one of these? To give yourself the best chance of coverage you will need to tweak your press release for different journalists, publications and programmes to reflect the fact they will be looking for different things.

Relying on press releases can make you self-absorbed, lazy + boring

Focus all your efforts on creating that one, perfect press release and you’re in danger of missing the point of PR (and wasting time and money).

If you’re serious about getting press coverage, you need to develop story ideas that are perfect for journalists (rather than an ego rub for your business/organisation).

This means studying their publications/programmes – ideally over a number of weeks or months – to get an understanding of the kind of content they typically run and how you might fit in.

It means focusing on building relationships with journalists - not one-night stands - and accepting that this will take time.

It also means spending time learning about how the media works - and how it can work for you.

Compare this approach to writing a one-off press release, emailing it to lots of journalists, crossing your fingers and hoping someone will pick it up. Which do you think will get you the best results?

The bottom line is, if you’re paying someone to write press releases for you - without thinking about the bigger picture - you may as well flush your cash down the loo.

So while I won’t write you a one-off press release, I will look over yours with you, as part of a PR consultancy/training programme that does  look at the bigger picture - and will guarantee you results.

If you’re interested in learning how to get media coverage for your business/organisation, you might like this.

Four free PR resources you already have (but probably aren't using enough)...

If you’ve ever tried to lose weight (or know someone who has) this phrase might be familiar:

‘I’ll start my diet when...I’ve been on holiday/moved house/joined a gym*.

I’ve noticed people - small business owners, in particular - often talk about PR in the same way.

‘I’ll start doing some PR when I’ve…got more clients/hit six figures/can afford to hire a PR company*.

Or (for bigger organisations):

‘We’ll do more PR when we’ve got this launch out the way/hired a new team member/moved offices*.

So just as you might delay starting a diet until you have the latest exercise equipment or diet book, you end up putting off  PR until you have a press release (or a costly distribution service) or the cash to hire a professional.

But you don’t need a string of qualifications - or even experience - to get coverage in a newspaper or magazine, or on radio or TV. In fact, you already have many resources at your disposal - that won’t cost you a thing (or certainly no more than the price of a posh coffee).

These are:

Internet access

Getting media coverage is all about understanding what journalists are looking for and offering stories that are perfect fit for their audience. This means studying the publication or programmes you’d like to get coverage in, over a period of time, so you can get a feel for the (a) audience and (b) the kind of content that is typically covered.

While this might seem time-consuming, investing time upfront, to do this kind of research will save you time pitching ideas that journalists are never going to run with.

Let’s say you’re keen to get coverage in a leading business magazine. Your initial idea might be to offer a first-person interview with yourself or your CEO. But after studying a number of back editions, you notice that they never feature this kind of article...which means pitching this would be a complete waste of time. They do, however, have a regular opinion column so you suggest an idea for that instead, giving yourself a much better chance of success.

Most publications and programmes now publish most (if not all) of their back content online (if they don’t or it’s behind a paywall, there’s more about what to do below) which means it’s perfectly possible to do this research online.

You can also use the internet to find the email addresses of people you want to pitch ideas to (although the phone is usually quicker) and connect with journalists on social media platforms like Twitter.

Tip: If you can’t find TV/radio programmes online, you can often find clips on Youtube.

Libraries and cafes

If the publication you want to pitch to is behind a paywall, you can get copies of most magazines and newspapers in libraries. Some cafes - particularly those attached to big bookshops - are happy for you to thumb through their newspapers and magazines (as long as you buy a coffee).

Even if you can get access to everything you need online, it’s a good idea to ‘get your fingers grubby’ from time to time, as it’s often easier to get a sense of the structure of a newspaper or magazine from the print version and identifying regular slots or sections you could suggest ideas to.

Telephone

If you’ve got thousands of pounds to spare, you can buy databases of journalists’ contact details, but in my experience, they are often out-of-date and don’t give you those little bits of information that can make all the difference to your pitching (that x editor is on a sabbatical or covering x journalist’s maternity leave for example).

While you might get the odd grumpy comment (newsrooms are generally busy places), and get passed around a bit before you find the right person, the information you get from a quick ring-round is usually far more useful than any database. And the conversations you have can often lead to coverage.

Passion

If you love your business or organisation, it will show. Most journalists would much rather talk to a passionate business owner or CEO than a PR exec handling various clients/accounts who has to keep nipping off to get information...so use this to your advantage.

*delete/replace as appropriate

Why press releases are dead (but you should keep writing them)...

I get hundreds of press releases every week - most of which I delete without opening.

Why? Because most of them are completely irrelevant to me. They are also often badly presented, with dull or obscure titles - or worse still - with ‘re:’ or ‘press release’ in the email subject header, giving me absolutely no incentive to open them.

Personally, I’d much rather get a short email or telephone pitch, outlining a story in a sentence or two. Most journalists I know say exactly the same.

And I think business and organisations - of all sizes - waste huge amounts of time and money writing press releases that will never get coverage.

So why do I think you should keep writing press releases? Read on and find out...

You'll get better at nailing your 'top line'

A press release is not a ‘story’. It is a form of communication that helps journalists decide whether or not they want to cover a story.

So while a press release is no guarantee of media coverage, the process of writing one can help you get clear about what you want to say about your business or organisation.

The first line of a press release should summarise - in around 15-20 words - your ‘top line’ i.e. the most important ‘bit’ of your announcement/story.

Selecting the most important information and getting it into a single sentence can be a challenge, but learning to do this well (and quickly) can help with all your communications: from writing a compelling ‘about’ page for your website, to crafting compelling social media updates or killer sales copy.

You'll get more regional news coverage

Many regional publications and programmes are produced by small teams, with minimal resources. So a well-written press release can make it into print - or on air - without you even speaking to a journalist.

But this is a scattergun approach to PR. So - unless you have a major news story on your hands (rare for most businesses or organisations) - send a tailored pitch to every journalist you contact and paste your press release in the body of the email below.

You'll feel more credible 

While I personally have no problem with getting an informal email pitch from a ‘gmail’ or ‘hotmail’ address (in fact I rather like it), offering a story in a format that journalists are familiar with, does give you a certain level of legitimacy. Just don’t let not having one stop you from pitching stories to journalists.

I’ve seen far too many people (small business owners in particular) miss out on press coverage because they don’t have time to write a press release. If you think you’ve got something journalists will be interested in, just pick up the phone or dash off a quick email - they can always ask for more information if they need it.

You'll create versatile content

A press release can easily be turned into a news story for your website (although I think most people would rather read a news story with an attractive picture than a press release), copy for your newsletter or annual report. And, if nothing else, writing a weekly or monthly release is a way of documenting your news over the course of a year.

There’s a lot of debate on whether posting press releases online can help boost your SEO. But while it seems logical to assume that the more online content there is about your business, the better, if no one is likely to use search engines to find the content in your press releases (is anyone really going to be searching to find out about your new marketing director, for example?), I’d question the value of doing this.

For many people, a business blog with useful content that solves peoples’ problems (your ideal clients or target audience, that is) or makes their lives easier in some way is far more likely to send you soaring up the search engine rankings. And will probably save you time and money.

Journalists will love you for it (well, maybe just a little bit)

Most journalists like having a document they can refer to with key points, names and contacts - all in one place -  particularly when they’re working to a tight deadline (and most journalists usually are).

You'll have lazer-sharp focus 

When you’re busy running a business - or juggling a busy communications role - PR is often the thing that gets pushed to the bottom of your ‘to-do’ list. Setting yourself a target to write a fortnightly or monthly press release can keep you focused and spark creative story ideas - even when it feels like there’s nothing new to say.

Want more on this? Read: Eight things you can do to boost your press coverage when you don't have any news. And if you want to avoid the most common press release mistakes, read this and this. 

 

23 questions you should ask yourself before you pitch a story idea to a journalist...

Most journalists receive hundreds of pitches and press releases each week - of which just a tiny percentage get coverage.

how can you make your stories stand out?

Here's 23 questions you should ask yourself before you pitch a story idea to a journalist:

Subject header

1. Is my email subject header short and to the point? (the ideal length is 28-39 characters)

2. Does my subject header evoke curiosity? (an element of surprise can be compelling e.g. What happens when teenage goths grow up?)

3. Is my subject header obscure? (Surprise is good, obscure e.g. 'Gothic Slide' isn’t)

4. Am I appealing to the emotions? (If you can invoke a common desire/experience within your headline, it will appeal to more people e.g. Why drying your laundry indoors could be bad for your health)

5. Is my intention clear? (Put ‘story idea’ at the beginning of your email subject header and journalists are far more likely to open it.)

To find out more, read: Headlines that make you go 'YES!' (and other secrets of clickable content) 

Opening paragraph

6. Have I started with pleasantries? (Unless you happen to know the journalist ‘hope you had a great weekend’ or ‘hope you’re enjoying the weather’ can sound insincere).

7. Am I gushing? (While showing you’ve read their work can be a smart move i.e. ‘I’ve just read your piece on x,’ resist the temptation to gush i.e. ‘I’m an avid follower of your marvellous work...' - it just sounds false).

8. Does my email get straight to the point? (i.e. ‘Would you be interest in a story on x?’ or ‘I’ve got a story idea that might work for you.’ If not, it should do).

9. Have I summarised the story in a single phrase or sentence? (If not, you should have).

Main body

10. Am I trying to act smart? (If so, don’t. This post on why using big words can make you look stupid  explains why).

11. Are my paragraphs fewer than five lines long? (Your paragraphs should never be more than 5 or 6 lines. Anything longer will make your content seem overwhelming to read.)

12. Does my story idea have a hook? (i.e. a reason why the editor should run this story now/next week/next month)

13. Why would this particular journalist want to run this particular story in this particular publication/programme at this particular time? (If you can’t answer this, you may need to go back to the drawing board)

For more on PR writing, read 49 words you should avoid in your press releases. 

Your overall pitch

14. Am I pitching to the right person? (Things change fast in the media, so it’s always worth a phone call to clarify. And beware of relying solely on journalist databases - they can be out of date).

15. Is my pitch longer than three or four paragraphs? (If so, cut it down. Busy journalists don’t have time to read 1000 word pitches).

16. Am I offering an exclusive? If so, have I said so?

17. Is it actually a story? (Would anyone actually care about your story? Would they want to tell their friends about it? If not, you may need to go back to the drawing board)

18. Would my story pass the BBC Homepage test? (more about this here)

19. Does my story have a villain? (If not, you might want to create one. More about this here)

20. Have I mentioned photography? (If you have photos or access to people who are willing to be photographed, journalists are far more likely to go for your story).

21. Have I offered relevant experts and case studies? (No need to describe them - unless they’re integral to the story - but knowing they are available will be attractive to journalists).

Your final paragraph

22. Have I given them a deadline for getting back to me? (This gives you a ‘let out’ if they don’t reply and you end up placing the story elsewhere).

23. Have I included all my contact details? (It’s amazing how many people leave them out).