Tag: media relations

MEDIA RELATIONS: WHEN PRESS AND PR PROFESSIONALS COLLIDE

Now that I have completed six months of agency life, I feel fairly confident in saying that I am much more settled into my PR role following a rather steep learning curve. The transition from journalism to PR is without a doubt a challenging one to undertake!

The varied nature of working in PR can be extremely rewarding, exciting and educational, but consequently it is also a demanding job that constantly pushes me on a daily basis. It may be no surprise, however, that the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is learning how to navigate the delicate intricacies of media relations.

With the emergence of ‘Fake News’, the instant ability to share information across social media and a gradual decrease in the number of working journalist, it could be argued that the art of ‘selling’ a press release or news story to the media is no longer a necessity. However, as someone who has experienced this process from both sides of the tracks, I can’t emphasise enough that it can still be extremely valuable.

Like many industries across the globe, journalism has been forced to evolve and adapt due to the ongoing digital transformation. As a result, however, a lot less journalists are working but a lot more content is being created. So, journalists are busy to say the least. I still vividly remember the dreaded feeling of opening up my inbox on a morning to discover that 300+ emails have found their way inside, and only to scour my way through to discover that less than half are of any relevance at all. It is just time wasted.

On the other side of the conversation, I’ve also experienced the hard work that goes into the process of getting a press release across to the journalist. As a PR professional, I write the copy, send over to the client and wait for feedback, make further amendments, get final approval and then find a photograph. But once again, this could all be time wasted if I just send across an email, hoping that the journalist will choose to open it amid all the unwanted spam they receive throughout the day!

The easiest remedy to for this painful process consists of two very simple steps.

First of all, never send a press release early in the morning; journalists are far too preoccupied with checking stock market listings; checking any overnight breaking news announcements; collating stories they covered the day prior and sending out the daily email newsletter to their list of loyal subscribers.

This is a critical time for a journalist, and unfortunately, if the press release being sent across doesn’t solve Brexit, then it isn’t going to get a look in. Following this is their time to annihilate the inbox, where journalists will be red faced and at risk of suffering with a repetitive finger injury from clicking delete repeatedly.

So, I always try to send a press release either late in the morning or early afternoon, as this can often be their calmest part of the day.

Secondly, which I believe is the single-most important element of this entire process, is picking up the phone and speaking with a journalist either before or after the press release is sent over.

Despite what journalists may say, I always found this extremely useful as it immediately directed me to an email/press release which I may have otherwise missed. Additionally, this also gives the journalist to ask any specific questions about the story, which could prove to be crucial to getting it published.

If nothing else, speaking on the phone at least gives you chance to develop relationships with members of the press for any future opportunities which may arise. As well as promoting your clients as reliable contacts for the media, you should also work to establish your agency as a reputable and reliable source. So pick up the phone!!!

The significance of saying sorry

head in sandImage source: http://www.quotemaster.org/head+in+the+sand

It’s very rare that you will meet a business owner or entrepreneur that says that life is easy. More likely they will be denouncing their irritation at having people presume that they come into the office at 10am, leave at 4pm, take boozy lunchbreaks and reap all of the benefits.

That is very rarely the case, and in our experience is somewhat far from the truth.

So when a businessman or woman who has a list of jobs to do as long as their arm comes into work one morning to be faced with a crisis, what should they do? More often than not PANIC and look around for someone who has some idea of the processes that they should already have in place

This is a fair assumption of smaller to medium sized businesses, but in the recent case of United Airlines it would be fair to expect that this globally recognised brand would have known better when faced with a very challenging and controversial situation involving a passenger.

Social media, as is typically the case, gave a global audience all of the information they felt that they needed – backed up by reports from local and national media – to make their own deliberations and come to their own conclusions. Needless to say, a resounding majority of them were far from positive, with one man calling BBC Radio 2 to confirm he had cancelled a flight and would never use the airline again.

The brand was in a really difficult position. Do they go against the authorities and their ‘heavy handed’ removal of the passenger or do they hold their hands up and make it clear that this will not be tolerated and that it was not endorsed by their brand or business, reiterating that a full investigation will follow?

Neither it would appear. Instead, a statement was hurriedly issued that didn’t really say a great deal of anything. This was followed by 24-48 hours of criticism from the world’s media before the Chief Executive decided it was time to do a piece to camera and to apologise and to share a relatively detailed and apologetic update.

Unfortunately, this was too little, too late for many and the time it took to conclude that this should have been the approach all along meant that there was a certain lack of sincerity to the piece.

Needless to say, losing a billion dollars from your share price overnight is going to make you feel sorry for yourself but what about your passengers, who along with your crew, should be your first priority?

As an agency that handles crisis for some of the leading brands in the country, we appreciate how significant the passing of time is in a challenging situation. It is absolutely essential that any situation considered a priority becomes an IMMEDIATE priority.

That doesn’t mean if you work in manufacturing that you pull the plugs on all machines and sit on your hands. It means that senior management should cancel ALL meetings however important and come together to discuss the issues and to carefully and quickly plan the next steps.

Brands must be prepared, irrelevant of their size. This means having a team in place that knows that if something happens they will be required. It’s simply not good enough to issue a statement to say that your managing director is on holiday and unable to comment. Unfortunately, having a business means that people expect that you are available any time of the day or night and if it is impossible for that to be the case then who is responsible in your absence.

These are all of the things that should be decided and the processes that should be agreed and in place before anything happens, not during the first major disaster a brand is faced with.

We see it all too often. When we mention crisis to a prospective client the answer is invariably the same: “There is very little that can happen and we don’t foresee anything in the future”. Well, of course, you don’t – otherwise you would be walking around expecting the worst – BUT that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.

Scenario planning is a great way to get people involved and to make them appreciate the need and urgency of a crisis. Bringing people together to role play is another way that a crisis can feel more real without you having to go through the processes in ‘real life’ for the first time.

Saying sorry can be difficult for a brand, particularly when there are often many factors and variables that are rarely shared in full with the media but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a duty of care to your customers and those who may choose to use your products or services in the future.

Here’s a really simple five step guide to dealing with a crisis*:

  1. Bring the senior management team together (and ideally a representative from your appointed PR agency)
  2. Share the facts – ALL OF THEM. This is absolutely essential so that everyone knows what you are dealing with and the possible fall-out as a result.
  3. Draft a response for the media including a holding statement. Depending on the nature of the crisis starting with an apology is often a good idea.
  4. Handle all media calls and schedule interviews throughout the day – these should be managed as the situation unfolds, not afterwards. This is likely to be your only chance to respond to media requests. At this point you will also need to identify a spokesperson.
  5. Evaluate. Review the processes you have in place, learn lessons and make crisis a priority for the future. However crisis-proof you feel your business, life has a challenging way of proving us otherwise.

*Every crisis is different and have a PR agency in place that has experience of working across a number of sectors will give you the advice you need to tweak these five tips to ensure that you are approaching any given situation with the sensitivity and professionalism it deserves.

What is PR?

We get asked this question all of the time and the answer is relatively simple; PR is the principle of managing the reputation of a brand or business through the implementation of an effective communications strategy, whether that be online, in print or broadcast.

The very nature of PR means that this top line explanation is woolly at best. It doesn’t really tell you much about what it is that we do – it’s just a sentence that you might find in a book. I’m not a huge fan of jargon or textbook speak so to give you a peek into the life of a PR agency here’s a round-up of what I have been getting up to this week.

An early start on Monday with an email from our international client asking for an update on activity completed. It’s not impossible to work with clients from abroad when you manage a PR agency (even when they are at the other side of the world), as ‘new’ technologies allow you to speak face-to-face making it simpler to communicate as and when required. Unfortunately you can’t change time zones and therefore you have to be awake pretty early to pick up these calls but a little planning solves any potential problems.

The week’s planned activity then starts with the launch of the Bondholder, the Diamond Scheme, an initiative supported by public and private sector organisations in Wakefield, which are hoping to generate a fund that will be used to implement a marketing and communications campaign that will promote the district to local, regional and national audiences.

As we are a trade as well as consumer PR agency, it was then on to some feature writing for a client working within the print sector. They have invested in machinery and therefore we are putting some press materials together that will be sent to trade journalists. Raising the clients profile in trade media means that they are able to shout about their successes and let customers and prospective employees know that they are still a major player within their market.

It’s then down to some social media planning. Like many agencies we manage the social media platforms for some of our clients and this means updating schedules, creating new and exciting ideas and being as creative as we can be with imagery. As imagery is a big driver of social engagement it’s no longer just about the words so we get our heads together and come up with some quirky recipe ideas that will support this particular client during a key seasonal activity we have planned.

Updating the social feeds on twitter and Facebook is a daily task for us and so we manage these accounts, check to make sure all responses have been sent and that the feeds are updated. If necessary we will like, share, retweet or favourite comments and take down any posts which are inappropriate and offensive – thankfully we don’t get too much of this.

We then have a visitor to the office, following the recommendation of another client at Open Communications we have a new business meeting. We are always very humbled (and of course chuffed to bits!) when our clients  recommend us to their contacts. We chat for a good hour and explain how PR works and how it could add value to this particular business. As one size does not fit all in PR some thought has to go in to the audience, media and messaging. We agree to put a proposal together, which will give the contact all of the detail that they need, before we arrange a follow up meeting.

Now, on to something completely different.

We have a full schedule of activity for Pom-Bear, the potato based snack brand, this year and as the consumer PR agency are working hard to make sure the business gets best value from the recommendations we have made in relation to events and sponsorships.

As the brand has just launched a new Zoo themed snack we are touring the country to sample more than 50,000 bags at Wildlife Centres and animal attractions including Dudley Zoo, Marwell Park and Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm.

Lots of planning has gone into each event and we have a programme of activities which run back-to-back. As the lead on this account it’s up to me to manage each event and ensure that everything is running as it should be. As an agency that takes huge pride it the clients that we work with, we prefer to be at the events that we plan. There is nothing worse than leaving things to chance and that simply isn’t the way that we work at Open Communications.

So, it’s off to Dudley. The weather has held off and our gazebo, banners, flags and signs are attracting the crowds in the hundreds. Pom-Bear is on great form and has the children dancing, singing and of course sampling his snacks.

As the events on Wednesday and Thursday are during the morning to early afternoon this means that I have chance to catch up on emails and draft some more copy for a series of clients before starting some research on a project we are looking in to.

Regular calls to the office mean that I don’t miss the team too much, although I’m sure they would prefer that I only call if there’s an emergency – I must work on that!

Media relations is the focus for now. We are managing a press event and launch in a couple of weeks so we need to know how many journalists to expect. I will be calling each to find out if they are available and updating the team accordingly. This is a business based story so means that regional, national, print and broadcast journalists are all invited – it’s a big list!

It will then be a follow up on the recent launch of a new product, which should have consumer journalists munching on some tasty samples from Penn State, the classic American snack brand. I will follow up and find out what they think before updating the team and sending further samples to those that have ‘got lost in the post’.

It will then be on to the next Pom-Bear event, which takes place from 6pm – 10.30pm. It’s more Pom-Bear fun, with competitions, dancing, games and more tasty samples.  Unlike some jobs it’s unlikely when you work in PR that you will have a 9am – 5pm role and I’m no different.

On Saturday it’s off to Gillwell Park for a Beaver Scouts Fun Day. It should be a great event and with more than 6,000 eager young members of the Scouting Association in attendance I’m expecting it’s going to be a busy one.  As sponsor of the Adventure Activity Badge for the Scouts, Pom-Bear will make an appearance and will also host a special trail with prizes to be won.

It’s a varied life when you work in PR and that’s why I enjoy my job so much. Whether we are managing the launch of a business, drafting copy for emailers and website, managing the trade and consumer PR activity for leading brands or engaging with journalists and bloggers no two days are ever the same.

I’m very fortunate to have a supportive (and calming) business partner at Open Comms and for those of you who know Emma you will understand what I mean. Someone once said to me that PR was like spinning plates and at the time I didn’t know what they mean. More than 10 years later I couldn’t agree more but when there are two of you working together it makes life so much easier.

Obviously at Open Communications we also have the wider (and growing) team to call upon and this again means that we have the capacity to manage the PR for leading household brands and smaller local businesses – variety is after all the spice of life.

PR is certainly not for the light-hearted but for those of you who didn’t know what it involves I hope you now have some idea of what it is that we do. Now, I’m off to get some work done – there’s no rest for the wicked you know!

What a day!


Today was one of those days that really get your blood churning – they make you feel alive, they spark your passion and they remind you of why you chose the career that you are in – today was the Buy Yorkshire Conference!

As the preferred PR partner for the event, we work for several months behind the scenes to draft press releases, engage with the media and draft stories for inclusion in the dedicated supplement, which was handed out during the event.

On the day however is where it gets really exciting. We had two rooms full of exhibitors, a hotel packed with high profile speakers and more than 4,000 delegates coming through the doors, the Financial Times, the Business Desk, The Yorkshire Post, Yorkshire Business Insider, BBC News Channel and Look North and the Times – now if that isn’t enough to make you wide eyed when you work in PR then I don’t know what is.

We spent all day running around, arranging interviews, making sure speakers and journalists came together, convincing local businesses to comment on national TV (in some cases live) and managing an exciting and challenging press event.

I’m still buzzing from the atmosphere. It was a truly fantastic two day event and everyone I have spoken to felt the same. Whatever company or sector the delegates and exhibitors worked in they were all amazed with the organisation and the unnerved attitude and professionalism of the Buy Yorkshire team.

Hats off guys – keeping it simple, you nailed it!

At Open Communications we are proud to support the Buy Yorkshire Conference and to be a part of something that is quite frankly epic. A massive #WIN from us. We are already looking forward to next year.

Finally, PR takes it seat at the boardroom table

I’ve just finished reading an excellent article in Management Today magazine. The piece focuses on the changing face of PR – and I don’t mean one shade of designer lipstick to another – no, finally it would appear that the industry is getting the recognition that it deserves and is taking a seat around the boardroom table.

Having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade and with a BA (Hons) degree in the specialism, I have long been an advocate of the merits of PR when it is practiced correctly and professionally.

As I see it there are problems with the PR industry in the same way that there are problems with any other; you have the good and you have the bad and it can be difficult to decide which is which. One will wine and dine you in fancy restaurants, while the other tells you the harsh truth and what to do about it – far less appealing than a good lunch but undoubtedly more beneficial in the long run.

The truth of the matter is that PR has always been about reputation – that has never changed and be it online or in print, what is said in the street or down the pub, it all goes back to the same thing; if you don’t know what people are saying about you, there is nothing you can do about it.

Businesses are thankfully coming around to the understanding that during any situation, good or bad, the first point of call is to make sure that you are communicating effectively with your audiences. In order to do this an organisation requires an advisor, a specialist, someone to rely on with their plans, aspirations and concerns.

The piece in Management Today very much focuses on the changes to PR based on the use of social media but I think there is more to it than that.

Tim Bell comments: “If you want to live in a transparent world then someone has to give the information about you. If you don’t want someone else to, you have to do it yourself. That’s what PR people do.”

Sure, social media and a desire by the consumer to share their thoughts and opinions with the world – plus having the ability to do so quickly and easily across a multitude of platforms – has meant that PR professionals have more to do but that is simply good practice and the evolution of an industry which spans hundreds of years.

The real change I think has come in a shift of mind set. People working in PR have thankfully taken a long, hard look at the industry and realised that as a discipline we were losing out. We weren’t taken seriously in our tottering high heels and we needed to toughen up and take our seat around the boardroom table.

Those who were serious about a career started to showcase their skills in the situations that deliver harsh recognition; a crisis without a communications professional who is experienced, able and capable of dealing with it can bring a business literally crashing to its knees.

In Management Today Jeremy Hazlehurst comments:

“PR the profession has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. Although media relations activities have burgeoned, involving the paper press, online publications, television and bloggers, it is only a small part of the job now. Press offices have been swallowed up by communications departments that deal with investor relations, analysts, shareholders, regulators and government. All are the guardians of the most precious and difficult to measure of assets – corporate reputation.”

I’ve never been ‘typically PR’ and have always felt that the discipline should be considered a necessity as opposed as a nice to have, not just because I work in the industry but because I see every day the benefits that it delivers, which are often measured less by coverage and more by ‘real life’ results and the situations which are in some cases avoided.

It’s no secret that I almost left the PR industry altogether before launching Open Communications with my business partner Emma because of the way in which some agencies work. I didn’t want to go to lunch or out to parties, I didn’t want to charge by the hour working on campaigns I knew were over-priced and wouldn’t deliver and I didn’t want to feel like I was doing the clients I was working with a disservice by not going that extra mile.

What I did want was to work with journalists so that my clients would hit the headlines, I wanted to use communication to generate business, really get to the heart of the companies I was working for and be a part of their success. I wanted to advise them in the best way possible and explain in no uncertain terms that as a direct result of my actions their business was stronger and that was down to reputation, which was driven by PR and communications.

Thankfully I can now do all of these things. I have always been a champion of ‘real PR’ but I am pleased that others are now recognising the merits to working with agencies and practitioners.

Cynical or otherwise when you look at the organisations that have failed over recent years in many instances arguably the banks have been at fault but it is also interesting to note that many of them were lacking in direction, their customers and prospects weren’t aware of exactly what they offered and this was down to poor communication. As a result they weren’t selling and in turn ceased to exist.

I hope that this new attitude to PR continues and that businesses recognise the value of the services that practitioners and agencies offer.  The truth of the matter is that PR should be at the heart of any business model and in order to get it right you need to rely on a professional.

 

A hoax too far

The recent news about the untimely death of a hospital worker who had unwittingly answered and transferred a hoax call from an Australian radio station sent a chill down my spine. Not only do I think, like many others, that this was a tragic waste of a life but that it will also go on to affect many others including the presenters involved, who we can presume are soon to be unemployed.

When the news first broke about the transfer of the call from reception through to the nurses who were responsible for the care of the Duchess of Cambridge I have to be honest, I was beyond shocked. My first reaction was to wonder why appropriate measures weren’t in place to ensure that this couldn’t and wouldn’t happen?

The hospital is used to dealing with high profile patients and should be accustomed to taking calls that may be obscure or even unsolicited. It strikes me as strange that even at 5.30am there was no process in place to manage this.

I would have expected that all calls would have been managed in a similar way to how a PR agency would manage a crisis. When we work with clients we put a simple but effective procedure in place to ensure that all calls are handled professionally and efficiently. It works and it means that we are able to respond in a timely fashion – but at the same time it also takes the onus off the receptionist or internal team, leaving them to get on with their day to day roles.

In this case it would seem that this was not possible, leading to the most devastating of outcomes.

The more serious side to this ‘prank’ was that it should never have been discussed never mind considered to be a good idea. I’ve laughed at prank phone calls before, you know the ones:

Caller: Can I speak to Ivor please?

Person on the line: Ivor who?

Caller: Ivor Biggan

Person on the line: Ivor Biggan, does anyone know Ivor Biggan…

I would be lying if I didn’t think these calls made me giggle but at the same time they are by all intense and purpose completely harmless. The difference with a call to a hospital is that for one you are calling an establishment knowing that people are there for a reason – because they are ill. That can never be funny.

By the time the call was made the world was aware that the Duchess was pregnant but also that she had been admitted to hospital with a potentially serious illness, which has been known in cases to lead to the loss of a child. Now, call me overly sensitive, but that can never be funny!

In my opinion the call was inappropriate in the first instance but the presenters took it one stage too far when asking after the health of the Duchess. What if something terrible had happened? What if she had suffered a miscarriage and as a result of this misguided joke these presenters were the first to find out? I fail to see the humour in that outcome, which at any time during this situation was a very real possibility.

The presenters in this case are likely to regret their actions for the rest of their lives and their hoax call will certainly go down in history – but for all the wrong reasons. This story just goes to show how powerful the media can be and the obligation that broadcasters have to consider the outcome of any fun they choose to have before going ahead.

There must be a producer involved in this case somewhere, although they appear to be keeping their heads down. This is a sad case of bad judgement which has led to the Christmas of at least three families being ruined. Let’s hope other ‘pranksters’ will take note and think twice before acting on an impulse.

And finally…

The phrase ‘And finally…’ was often used by national and regional broadcast news channels to feature a positive story at the end of a programme. More often than not it was intended that this heart-warming feature would leave people with a smile, after the more serious updates from the day.

It would appear that this practice is less common than it used to be, possibly because there seems to be more bad news to report than good, leaving little chance for producers to include a light hearted piece to end on.

So why are we all so keen to hear bad news? Is it absolutely necessary that we surround ourselves with the disasters that face our daily lives? Is it not just as important to share in the good news and to keep our spirits up? And isn’t that what a balanced news agenda is all about – not necessarily just two sides of one story but some good and some bad?

Today there are some really positive stories hitting the headlines not least the announcement from Cancer Research UK reporting that deaths from certain cancers will fall by 17% by 2030. This is a great achievement and I’m pleased to note that it has ‘hit’ many national titles, as well as broadcast media.

Other good news today is the announcement of a new publication that has been launched called ‘The Positive’, which plans to only share good news. What a great idea – but the question remains, will it work?

I have to admit to being cynical about its chances of success because the simple fact of the matter is that people are more inclined to search for bad news than good. I remember a couple of years ago there was a paper which launched in Wakefield called the Wakefield Guardian and the idea was that it would share good news from the district.

Needless to say that the paper didn’t last and closed around 18 months after launching, which was a real shame.  I only hope that The Positive will have better fortune and that people will take the time to share good news. Sometimes I think we all need a good up lifting story to get us all going in the morning – and I intend to read The Positive and will tweet the best story from the day to share it with those who follow me.  In fact I might just add a hashtag #andfinally – who else is going to get behind the publication and join in?

Don’t presume to know that you know it all

This morning I had the opportunity to attend a Yorkshire Mafia event; Business Breakfast, Write Your Own Headlines delivered by Mary Askew, a former news writer and BBC broadcast journalist. 

People may be wondering why a PR professional with more than 15 years of experience would need to know how to write a press release and what to look out for when working with the media. Well, I will explain. It’s because I don’t believe you can ever know enough about the industry you work in and I’m always interested to hear what other professionals have to say and how they deliver to an audience.

As it happens the event was interesting and insightful, better still it was jargon free. I thought Mary did a great job of keeping the audience interested with examples, imagery and anecdotes. Geoff Major, a businessman and charity ambassador that many of you will know, was even interviewed live to camera. The presentation was clear and concise and I found that some of the ideas were an interesting take on what we already do here at Open Comms. It never hurts to try new things and we will be putting some of the lessons learnt into practice.

I also thought that although I didn’t agree with everything that was said – let’s be honest for a PR and journalist to agree on everything would be a little strange – I did understand the points and why they were being presented.

I don’t want to give too much away because I would recommend that people take the time to go to a session with Mary if they get the chance but needless to say if you need the basics, and a little bit more, then it’s worth a couple of hours out of the office.

Once again, a great session offered by the Yorkshire Mafia and an event that genuinely adds value to smaller businesses who want to manage their own PR and generate their own headlines.

Sometimes to say nothing at all makes most impact

The French edition of Closer magazine has decided to print pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge topless while on a holiday. My first point has to be does anyone really care – I have no burning desire to see her breasts and can’t imagine for one second why anyone else would want to either.

My second point is that Closer magazine (and it’s important to get across that this is the French edition not the UK based publication) will sell out on all newsstands if not for the fact that they have these ridiculous images but because the British media are making such a fuss about it.

If the truth be told the very best way to handle this would have been to keep quiet and say nothing. The publishers will be rubbing their hands together in glee and doubling the print run to meet with demand and all because people are talking about something, which for all intense and purpose, has no news value what-so-ever.

Closer in France couldn’t have paid for this profile or the exposure that they get. Right or wrong there is definitely some truth in the fact that all publicity is good publicity.

Even Jeremy Vine has got in on the act, asking if a Princess should go topless at someone else’s house on his prime time afternoon show – I go back to my original point, who cares? She is a beautiful married woman who was on holiday. If she wants to sunbath topless at a private resort then it is her right to do so.

I’m not one to bang on about human rights and I do agree that when someone becomes a public figure they have certain expectations placed on them but there has to be a line drawn and this photographer, in my mind, have crossed it.

The best thing we could all do now is never mention the sorry incident again. Rather than giving the ‘story’ more kudos, we should simply ignore it and rise above it. No more statements, no more comments issued and certainly no more mention of the rag in question. I just hope that those who are responsible don’t earn enough money to retire as a result of a few tasteless pictures.