Business MK Column - July

Tue 02 Aug 2011


People often believe Public Relations is purely about dealing with the media, although in reality it is probably about a third of what we PR folk do.  However, in the current climate, how keen would you be to follow PR advice to look for publicity from the newspapers, news sites and broadcasters? 

Be reassured; dealing with the media is not generally akin to supping with the devil.  The vast majority of journalists (and I speak as one of almost thirty years) are decent, hard-working people with a healthy respect for the truth and for the individuals about whom they write.  The point is to know what they want and to know what you want from them. 

All effective communication is based on three simple rules: knowing what you want to say; knowing to whom you want to say it and knowing the correct language to use to get your point across. 

All a journalist wants is a good story.  If you have one to offer them, make sure you have the answers to those age old questions of who, what, where , when, why and how?  Do not deal in half truths.  If you want some coverage because your business has doubled its turnover, do not be surprised if the article highlights instead that your profit margins are a quarter of what they were.  A business doing well is a good story if it means more jobs, but if it is struggling and livelihoods are instead under threat, that will likely receive more column inches.  Why is this?  Blame the journalists if you will, but bad news does sell and grabs the attention of the readers. 


When approaching the media with a story try to put yourself in their shoes.  If the story were about some other company or individual, would you be interested?  Does your press release read like a sales brochure?  If it does, it will be ignored.  Do the journalists know that a call from you is likely to mean something of note, or are you bothering them weekly with self-aggrandising nonsense to the extent that they try not to answer the phone?  On the subject of press releases, think of all that spam which appears daily, stuffing your email inbox.  That is how journalists think of most of the communications they receive.  Ill-directed, badly written, confusing and often illiterate, they will rarely read beyond the first line.  Worst of all is when a release does tell a decent tale but there are no contact details of someone with whom to follow it up.  Even worse, the contact details are there, but the people concerned are in Outer Mongolia for the next month.  Trust me, it happens all the time. 

The average journalist will not investigate your private life or intercept your telephone calls.  He or she will give you a “fair shake” and will endeavour to tell your story, but in the way which best suits them.  Do not expect your own words to be regurgitated verbatim and you are less likely to be disappointed. 

Good publicity can be the making of a business and bad publicity can break it.  Unless you are incredibly unlucky the coverage you receive will not be far removed from that which your business deserves.  So do not be afraid; if you are doing a good job and you have a story to tell, go and tell it.  Unless the journalist you speak to has horns and a pointy tail, and very few of us have, you can reasonably expect the truth to be told.

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