There are many upsides to being a newspaper columnist, but one downside: I receive too many press releases from PR agencies.
It’s not that the callers aren’t nice. They’re delightful: people in PR companies seem to have First Class Honours Degrees from the University of Cheerfulness. But they don’t have a story that is right for me. I discussed this problem with Louise Third of Integra Communications, who has written the eBook PR on a Beermat.
Louise is a great believer in the power of PR, and that you can exercise this power yourself, without an agency, if you set about it the right way. She runs an excellent do-your-own-PR course at the British Library, called ‘Have You Got News For Us?’, with her friend Maisha Frost, a business journalist on the Daily Express.
Her first tip is to work out exactly what your actual story is. The fact that you are an interesting company with many products is not enough; what excites editors are real-life stories of customers with problems, how you solved them, and the happy consequences. This is exactly how all your customer case studies and press releases should be structured: in the style of a novel, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
The story must also resonate with the reader, so think carefully which publication you are targeting, and why their readers might be interested in the first place. Most press releases naturally gravitate towards the national newspapers with their large circulations, but it is usually more effective to target specialist magazines in the particular market where you operate.
Good examples are the guest publications lampooned on Have I Got News For You, such as Arthritis News, Polyester Digest and Winking World (I only made one of those up) – but read and enjoyed by their target audiences.
Trade journals are always hungry for copy, and will even provide names of freelance journalists who can advise on exactly which types of stories the publications are looking for.
Be careful about publications who offer ‘advertorial’, where buying a full-page of advertising will guarantee a favourable write-up; your potential customers and buyers can often see through this pretence.
The most surprising feedback from Louise was that most journalists don’t actually mind being called up by entrepreneurs with good stories; they actually prefer to speak directly to the originator wherever possible.
But she advises that you do your homework first, not only in the relevance of the story, but also in the timing of your call. Journalists work to very specific copy deadlines, and you should definitely avoid calling them just when they are in the process of ‘putting their column to bed’.
Louise’s final tip is that ‘a picture tells a thousand words’. You should provide good quality photographs of the principals involved in the story, especially if there is a local angle. When I speak at public events I am inevitably asked for any local connection and then photographed outside the venue with some local dignitary: this hopefully represents brand enhancement for both of us.
Another press release has just arrived, about some corporate statistics in which I have no interest. If you work for a big PR company, please think of someone really interesting for me to interview. Perhaps you could find me a government minister who can explain exactly how they are genuinely reducing red tape for small businesses, or making the process of claiming business expenses as fun and interesting as it is for MPs. Now that would be a good story!
Louise Third, Director of Integra Communications Limited, and author of PR on a Beermat, is a highly experienced and versatile entrepreneur. Her interest in small firms and enterprise has taken her though a career as a business adviser, consultant, media spokesperson and director of her own public relations company. www.integracommunications.co.uk
National media reporter Maisha Frost has covered the UK enterprise and the SME sector for more than a decade. Her particular interests include manufacturing, green and community businesses, technology and innovative financing.
This article is a chapter from ‘This Is How Yoodoo It’ – a collection of Financial Times columns written by Mike Southon. You can buy this book in hard copy and in Kindle version here: http://tinyurl.com/YoodooBook