Top 10 tips for a tip top press release

A staple tool in any PR Exec’s toolkit; the traditional press release is something we are – or will soon become – all too familiar with. There are lots of dos and don’ts that new entrants need to master however to avoid triggering journalists’ pet peeves and get the maximum amount of coverage possible. After spending a day or two considering what would irritate me as a journalist (are therefore the main areas I feel I need to keep in mind as a PR grad), I thought I’d share my top ten tips with you guys on the off-chance I include something you’d not considered. Don’t say I never gave you anything.

Contact information

When it comes to pitching and selling in press releases, don’t just leave your email, leave your phone number. Journalists work to tight deadlines and losing out on coverage because you didn’t refresh your inbox in time isn’t going to sit well with your superiors or your clients.

Titles: Keep it catchy

Disclaimer in advance: the title PR’s suggest is very rarely going to ever be used in the final published piece.

Keeping this in mind, the purpose of the title from a PR perspective is to basically grab journalists’ attention and spur them to read on. So, stick the title in the subject box (of the email), cut out the company name and any unnecessary words and you’re pretty good to go. This strategy makes it easier for journalists to establish from the get-go whether they want to keep reading, and (because of this) forces you to get really good at coming up with simple snappy headlines really fast.

Interesting Introductions

The general rule of thumb is to try and keep it under 25 words. When starting a job or internship straight out of uni, this might a tricky task; after all, you’ve most likely spent a solid three years learning how to bulk up your writing to meet word counts. Now you’re being paid to be concise, its a challenge. If your story is newsworthy though, it’s a doable one, so practice, practice, practice and you’ll soon have the technique down.

Who’s your audience?

Consider who would really care about this? Pitching to industry-specific websites/publications who are already going to be interested in your client’s work is going to be far more effective at securing you coverage that blanket pitching to every Tom, Dick and Harry publication regardless of your relevance to them.

Let’s be honest here, if you’re client is a fashion boutique, you’re going to have a MUCH harder time getting them coverage in an engineering magazine unless you come up with a really strong, interesting and relevant angle.

Focus on facts

Facts are important to make your press release interesting, relevant and useable. Make sure to only present information that is true, correct and doesn’t mislead the reader. Forgoe this point at your peril. You will be found out and it’ll not only damage the reputation of your client (which they will not be best pleased about), it’ll also damage your reputation with the media.

Quotes

It’s an industry faux pas to quote people who aren’t available to interview, but aim to include at least one quote in every press release. It gives your client more credence and your story more personality.Without doubt, the more interesting the quote, or the more unique/memorable its source, the more likely you are to get coverage. But!!! Keep in mind the relevance and credibility of the source being quoted. People are going to pay a lot more attention to Alan Titchmarch’s opinion on a gardening product or landscaping company than they are Joey Essex.

A picture tells a thousand words

Supplying journalists and editors with a range of high quality photos that are relevant to your story/client is going to earn you a lot of goodwill. After all, everyone wants your piece to look good in print/online, and a couple of great visuals are going to do just that. Also consider that saving journalists/editors effort by taking the time to collate these images yourself is going to go down brilliantly and is going to go a long way to spurring them to use your piece.

Avoid jargon

Enough said really, but to spell it out bluntly, not everyone is going to understand the techno-babble of your client. Using plain language without the frills is going to open your piece to a wider audience as it means your story is more likely to be understood – both by the reader and the journalist you are pitching to.

Proofread to perfection

Typos and grammatical mistakes are unprofessional, irritating to correct and off-putting to read. Be sure to proof before pitching and clean up any accidental mistakes. Do not rush this stage.

Keep it simple. Keep it snappy. Keep it short.

The whole point I’m trying to make here is that to get coverage, you need to make publishing your piece as relevant as possible to the journalist you’re pitching to, and convenient as possible for them to actually use. So my final tip in this top 10 is going to have to be that you aim to keep it under a page in length.

From my journo training, time constraints and deadlines mean we have to quickly scan press releases to establish whether they are worth pursuing/using, so I know that when working in PR, keeping a press release short and to the point is going to be much better received than something that reads like a bad memoir.

The ‘Fame’ game

WarholAndy Warhol famously said that ‘In the future, eveybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes’.

Some argue that, in this statement, Warhol was commenting on the power of new media technologies, whereas others believe that it relates to Warhol critiquing the changing nature of ‘celebrity’ within society.

Personally – cynically perhaps – I fall into the latter camp whereby I believe that Andy Warhol’s famous quote predicted the nature of fame within our celebrity-saturated culture.

Love them or detest them though, it’s pretty clear that in modern life, celebrities wield significant power within modern society and, like any entertainment ‘product’, often make a major contribution to our economy. Public Relations can be argued as having had most profoundly influenced the rise of our ‘celebrity culture’ through not only assisting in the curation of individual’s personal brands, but also through cojointly benefiting brands like Nike and Virgin from their association with individual celebrities which share similar associations (or attributes the brand wants to adopt).

Although some may feel that celebrities are the ‘scourge’ of modern life, and admittedly I find it frustrating when I see that Kim Kardashian became famous after the release of a sex tape, or those from Jersey Shore, TOWIE etc gain fame from openly staged ‘reality’ shows. By no means do I feel that they haven’t worked to KEEP that fame (which can account for the increasingly volatile crises they have within their ‘reality’ storylines), but I find it hard to appreciate their ‘celebrity’ status when I have grown up believing that fame stems from an individual’s amazing ability, skill or personal accomplishment.

Saying this however, I believe that it’s far more common for celebrites today play a necessary and beneficial role in modern society by using their Legitimate, Referent and occasionally Expert power (as hypothesised by French & Raven, 1959) to bring people together, bridge divides between communities and cultures, and deliver valid public representations of private concerns that can direct media attention and generate public support for important causes.

British film, television, and stage actor, Sir Patrick Stewart (one of my favourite celebrities of all time and not just because his friendship with Ian McKellen), is an active campaigner against domestic violence for both Refuge and

Amnesty International, as well as an activist for the armed forces charity, Combat StressI love the fact that not only was he AMAZING in Star Trek: The Next Generation AND the X-Men film series, but he also recognises the power that he has as a white, male celebrity, and is using it as a force for positive change.

stewart

Another celebrity who is using their status to raise awareness and illicit change is acclaimed Indian actress, Mallika Sherawat, who (in the video below) defends her statement that Indian society is regressive towards women. Not only is she fiercely steadfast in raising the issues currently being faced within Indian culture, she is also passionate about the fact that (rather than damaging India’s reputation), in raising these issues, she is improving international awareness and stimulus for cultural change.

Looking at these celebrities and comparing their behaviour/actions to those of their reality-star counterparts has made me realise that the type of celebrity a person becomes is often influenced by the motivations behind their fame and their personal value-set.

This makes things harder for PR professionals as (particularly in the cases of reality stars) the associations and attributes asscribed to their personal brands is influenced by both their PR/Media representation but also their behaviour on the sets of ‘reality’ shows which thrive on fractious interpersonal situations and crises.

Maybe this is what Warhol was alluding to?

If you consider the idea that becoming a celebrity can be as easy as participating in a TV show, then doesn’t their ‘fame’ rely (at least in part) on their continuous presence on the show, or even of the show itself? Unless they learn to evolve the attributes connected to their personal brand beyond the intial pop-culture reference (by for example, using their fame for good or (at the very least) towards new avenues of associations), then once that starring reference falls out of favour, they too will fade.

Its an interesting challenge for PR Execs working on Celebs’ behalfs, and one which (no doubt) is going to be gaining increasing client investment over the next few years.

Are we oversharing on social media? #SOSM2015

Ever since the rise of social media, there has been a flare in stories of people being fired over their tweets, over their Instagram pictures, and over their Facebook posts.

A glance at the social networking privacy experiment weknowhwatyouredoing.com demonstrates the huge number of people who happily and publicly express their love for drugs, their hungover state or their hatred for their boss. Below is one of many examples (this one being particularly popular) which I feel clearly demonstrates both the power of social media – and the dangers of not being careful about what you post – to great effect.

Facebookoops

The rest is, as they say, history, ending (as you can see) with the swift firing of the employee in question.

Being online seems somehow to spur us to share aspects of our lives we would otherwise keep to ourselves but, until recently, few have looked into the reasons why.

Last year however, Jennifer Golbeck, Director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, outlined six reasons for our over-sharing and occasionally risky online behaviour as part of a feature for Psychology Today.

Firstly, “[People] begin to disassociate their online persona with their offline persona,” wrote Golbeck. This ‘Anonymity’ of course decreases the individual’s perceived risk of posting something they’d normally not say. This could be used for good reasons, such as for the pursuit of advice regarding a personal issue or concern on Reddit using a throwaway account (one which cannot be clearly linked to an offline individual), or for bad, as in the case of the rising number of social ‘Trolling’ cases, whereby an individual uses an online persona to harass and belittle someone else – often a celebrity, politician or public campaigner. Feminist cultural critic, Anita Sarkeesian, for example, was subject to death threats after releasing a new ‘Tropes VS Women in Video Games’ episode titled ‘Women as background decoration, part 2‘ last August.

This anonymity feeds into both Golbeck’s second reason of ‘Invisibility’, which allows people to feel they can say things because “the other person (or people) aren’t looking at the poster”; and third reason of ‘Filling in the other person’, as “missing verbal cues like tone and delivery as well as body language causes people to perceive the conversation as somehow “less real.”

Similarly, her fourth reason for oversharing also centres on the individual’s belief that ‘It’s not real’ as she hypothesises that “If we feel like we aren’t interacting in a real environment where there are real implications from our runawayactions, it can lead us to drop inhibitions.”

This belief can be exacerbated by the ‘Delayed communication’ of social media. Although electronic communication is incredibly fast (cue the term ‘instant messaging’), there is still opportunity to delay conversations, even if it’s just by pausing before responding.

This of course can result in lowered inhibitions as we may feel more free to overshare things that are personal because we can post it and then leave it, dealing with the reactions later. I know this was something I was personally guilty of during my teenage years, particularly when expressing my feelings to someone I liked.

FWhat I think we are aware of but choose to ignore is that everything we post on social media (and online in general) is added to our permanent digital record. Nothing is ever truly erasable from the internet and the last thing we would ever want (or ever consider for that matter) is that what we offhandedly post when we’re young (and perhaps a little bit stupid?) might come back and bite us in the butts when it comes to finding (and keeping) a job. Do we really want our personal brand (as discussed in this previous post) to be cluttered with depressing details of our past break-ups? or rammed with photo after photo of our drunken nights out?

inally, Golbeck proposes that social media’s perceived ‘Lack of authority’ plays a key part in why people might disassociate themselves from their online identity, causing them to blurt out something they would never would in real life, say, in front of an authority figure.

What I think we are aware of (but choose to ignore) is that everything we post on social media (and online in general) is added to our permanent digital record. Nothing is ever truly erasable from the internet and the last thing we would ever want (or ever consider for that matter) is that what we offhandedly post when we’re young (and perhaps a little bit stupid?) might come back and bite us in the butt when it comes to finding (and keeping) a job.

Do we really want our personal brand (as discussed in this previous post) to be cluttered with depressing details of our past break-ups? Do we really want future employers to see that during the years we were attending university (and beyond) our profiles are rammed full with photo after photo of our drunken nights out?

I certainly don’t!

Anyway, there certainly seems to be a lot of advice online about how to stop oversharing. To me though, it boils down to two key thoughts:

  • What does this post say about me?
  •  Do I really want people to be reading this?

I picture not only my mother reading it, but my partner, my boss, even just my friends. I picture meeting someone for the first time and their already knowing me because of something I’ve posted online, and their subsequent perception of me because of it. This could be great if they knew me from this blog, for example, or even from my radio appearances, but from a seemingly innocuous Facebook post or Tweet that I’ve probably forgotten I even posted? I’d rather not.

When you think ahead (particularly when you think of the worst case scenarios), oversharing becomes pretty scary, and what becomes scary is therefore pretty easy to avoid.

Building your PR portfolio: A cheat sheet for those without the opportunity of a student-led firm

Having a portfolio to take to interviews is a clear advantage for any budding graduate.

Having a portfolio that is brimming with great examples of work is no doubt better.

But when you are a student undertaking a Bachelors or Masters qualification on a course that doesn’t provide the opportunities to participate in a student-run PR firm, building a good portfolio can be a task which is easier said than done. For any student, finding the opportunities to gain experience (not to mention pieces for your portfolios) is a challenge, so I thought I’d put together a post containing a few potential starting points to consider.

1) University departments Every university (especially in the last few years) has made staffing cuts. However few are willing to let these cuts infringe on the quality of their marketing Therefore, is there a department looking to start (or that needs to start) using social media, or one which is actively searching to increase course/event attendees? Consider asking your lecturers or the Head of your course if they know of anyone who could benefit from your services.

2) Campus organisations Every university has a Student Union; a fact which every student becomes aware of after the first week of attendance (also known as Fresher’s Week). The Student Union is student-led (or graduate-led), and organises often bi-weekly (or even tri-weekly) events which require promotion. Similarly, university societies are always seeking to increase their membership and promote their events. Both are of course limited in terms of capital and so are often going to be jumping at the bit for support from someone who knows how to market and promote beyond the basics of Facebook and Twitter. Offer your services for free and use university tools to promote the event, and you’ll soon be both indispensable and with a portfolio brimming with good copy.

3) Small businesses Check out organisations in your area that you like or which have just opened to see if they could use some help. Not only are you building your experiences and portfolio, you’re also giving back to the community and helping support local business.

4) Not-for-Profit organisations Also giving back to the community, you could research local charities seeking to raise their public profile and increase support and/or donations. Create a list of organisations and contact them about the services you can give them, such as creating a media kit, writing press releases, or even improving their social media presence.

5) Public Organisations It’s pretty easy now thanks to the Internet (God bless you, Google!) to find the names of people working in the Communications Departments or Media Teams of public organisations such as your local Police station or Town/County Council. Make some enquiries and see if you can arrange a meeting to discuss whether there might be an opportunity to volunteer or intern within their team.

If they have the space (not all do) and you seem fairly capable of being of use, they’ll often help you figure something out; or at the very least, be able to point you in the direction of someone who can.

When arranging a specific project though, keep in mind that you need to:

  • Set up expectations right away including: what they require of you, how often you will be in communication with them/meeting times, and clear deadlines.
  • Don’t overcommit to work you won’t have the time or energy to do, as it can damage your (and your peers/university’s) reputation.

The main point I’m trying to make is:

A) Be proactive.

B) Think outside the box.

C) Get in early.

BBC Radio Leicester Take Two!

deerLast Friday, I made my second foray into the now-less-daunting world of Radio broadcast, which, although I feel I spoke less than during my first panel as there were more participants during the discussion than before, I believe I came across a lot more naturally due to being less like a deer in headlights.

I’m genuinely growing to love these panel discussions; not just because they provide the opportunity for a strong debate on something I am passionate about, but also because they are allowing me to improve my public speaking skills and presentation ability (which despite being areas I am pretty confident in, are always good to practice and keep honed).

If you’re interested in listening to our panel (consisting of myself; Political Lecturer, Alastair Jones; BBC Political Correspondent, Tim Parker; and, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, Katie Ghose) please follow the link (9.40 – 34.22) as we discuss whether there is ever such a thing as a wasted vote?

Do we suffer from too much tech?

I should probably confess that I (like many, I imagine) am unsure I could manage a complete disconnect from technology – much to the frustration of my partner.  However when you think about it, technology seems to permeate almost every aspect of modern life from:

Advances in digital growth (across the board) i.e. the internet….

…to industry or sector-specific advances…

…not to mention, all the manifestations found within social media…

Honestly, without going to the extreme extent of packing up what little non-tech reliant valuables I have (which I honestly think I could count on one hand) and moving to live in a cave in Nepal, I’m not entirely sure how it would be possible in this day and age to cut out modern technology entirely.

But is this such a bad thing?

Does modern society really suffer from too much technology?

This question has increasingly been a subject of debate over the last few years and recently, the issue has become the central feature to the latest animated music video of Stromae (one of the biggest stars in the french-speaking world), which has been beautifully directed by the acclaimed French filmmaker, Sylvain Chomet.

The video, which follows Stromae’s doppelgänger as he falls deeper and deeper into the social media abyss from an innocently taken selfie to a hunger for attention that can never be sated.

Surely though, falling into the social media abyss is dependent completely on the individual’s choice of content/media consumption? How many of us have used Facebook and Twitter to find other, like-minded people? To seek out fellow feminists, for example, or fans of the same music as us? To keep in touch with the people we’ve met in real life who otherwise we might never see again?

Maybe the case is that, if you consume poor quality, biased content and have a personality which is susceptible to craving social interaction and attention, then technology (and social media in particular) is a maze of traps waiting to happen.

What does this mean for PR?

Across the world, organisations are seeking greater engagement with their key publics, and PR (like many industries) has evolved to meet the changing needs and consumption habits of its target audiences. No longer is it feasible for organisations to operate within their own silos.

This of course poses a challenge for agencies and executives who now are stimulated to seeking new ways to break through the considerable noise and engage increasingly discerning and often cynical consumers.

No longer is it enough to merely use digital and social platforms to amplify and extend the reach of traditional messages, or repeat the same content across traditional and online platforms – however interesting the client may believe that content to be. To engage consumers online, marketers and PR Execs need to create a message which is both engaging, innovative most importantly human to connect.

Taking a back-seat, reactive approach to communications strategy does not grab the reader/viewer, let alone instil trust and brand loyalty. The future therefore is clear and can be defined by four combined approaches.

  • Integration
  • Personalisation
  • Proactive
  • Anticipatory

The question remains, are we brave enough to stop making the same silly mistakes, measure our digital effectiveness and become the profession we so strongly claim we are?

I think so; and what’s more, I think that the more we analyse and improve ourselves as a profession and instil these approaches into the habits and mindsets of those entering the industry, the stronger and more trusted Public relations will become, and the more trust will be shown to the technology which has provided us with these opportunities.