By Su Carroll
“I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all I knew). Their names are What and Why and When And How And Where and Who.”
Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936
That quote from Rudyard Kipling was a mantra that stuck with me through my journalistic training (yes folks, we do learn how to do this…) and it still is with me today. Kipling’s six honest serving men are essential tools in telling stories and PR is all about telling stories.
When I’ve worked with young reporters in my 40-year (and counting) career in journalism I’d often hear them moan about being asked to write about something that was dull. Aha, I’d say wisely, it’s our job to make it interesting.
Kipling knew a thing or two about telling stories and making things interesting, and we’re not just talking The Jungle Book here. He once described words as “the most powerful drug used by mankind” and, having been a fervent supporter of the Great War, wrote with devastating power about the loss of his son John in the trenches and angrily about the impact of war. Having already buried a daughter, the death of his only son – his body was not recovered – meant a life overtaken by grief.
I’m not suggesting that every press release is going to be some great work of art, but it needs to be informative and interesting. It needs to catch the eye of the recipient – usually some harassed hack who is likely to simply press the delete button if vital information is missing.
I’ve been on the receiving end of thousands of them. Nerdily, I’ve just calculated that an average of just three press releases a day, for 47 weeks a year (five weeks holiday deducted) over 39 years spent in newspapers, radio and TV totals is (drum roll please) 27,495 missives. And nearly every one with the words Press Release in the email subject line.
When email first came in, I was delighted. No more sifting through the post. By the time I left newspapers, we’d be getting hundreds of emails a day. Every day. So something you want to say has to slice through the white noise to make its mark.
How do you do that? (My top tips coming up)
Remember the What, Why, When, How, Where and Who. Communicate clearly, but make it eye-catching. (I know, easier said than done). A catchy headline (not Press Release) should engage the reader in the way that a newspaper headline does. It needs to draw you in.
Make it relevant. People are wading through an avalanche of information on a daily basis, pinging up on phones and tablets. The trick is reaching a targeted audience who could be on your doorstep or on the other side of the world.
The origins of the expression “horses for courses” are lost in the mists of time, if you’ll forgive another cliché. But matching your message to the medium is vitally important. Maybe it’s an 800-word comment piece in a newspaper or a few paragraphs on a website. Or maybe it’s the potential power of a punchy tweet at just 140-characters. And that includes the spaces.
Finally, never ever under-estimate the power of developing relationships. A good PR professional knows who to speak to and how to get the message across. I’ll let you into a little secret… journalists are simple folk who like to be part of clear communication. They like to know the What, Why, When, How, Where and Who. Oh, and a telephone number and email address please.
Su Carroll has worked in newspapers, radio and television including as deputy news editor at Westcountry Television and Executive Features Editor of the Western Morning News. She’s even contributed an article to the Starsky and Hutch Fan Club Magazine. But, as she admits, that was back when flares were fashionable.