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