By Su Carroll
I have to be honest. My heart would sink when I heard the voice on the other end of the phone say the phrase “I’m a PR for…” and usually the rest of the sentence was lost as I glazed over.
PR gets a really bad press from, well, the press. Sometimes the poor reputation is well deserved with press releases that are badly spelled, grammatically incorrect and missing vital information. Or they over-egg the pudding so much that you rapidly lose interest.
So here are my journalist’s top tips for being a good PR.
Firstly, understand my job.
Finding the right person to speak to is half the battle so research your contacts carefully. Make sure you appreciate deadlines for newspapers, magazines or radio and plan accordingly. Does the journalist need stuff today for this weekend or today for publication in two months? How relevant or important are pictures and audio or video? I have used stories in a newspaper or magazine purely on the basis of one great picture, so make it count. Know what makes a nice magazine read, a topical news issue or a great piece of audio.
Make sure communication is clear and concise. Journalists think they are incredibly clever and very talented so don’t want to spend time reading through three pages of press release to get to The Point. Forget the flowery prose, it doesn’t work, just get your message across as succinctly as you can. Don’t fall into the trap of hiding your purpose and send a teasing communication trying to catch our attention, suggesting we contact you to reveal the secret. We won’t. Having said that, a quick pun or clever phrase will catch the eye.
Keep to the facts
I have a mental checklist when searching a press release that runs along the lines of who, what, where, when and why. Make sure you outline your subject and include relevant details, including where and when an event is being held. If something simple like a date is missing, or just difficult to find, a journalist will find it really easy to press the delete button.
A city newspaper will not be interested in something in a market town 200 miles away, so adjust your press release to suit the recipient. But be warned… I was so irritated by a string of press releases that told me that 57% of people in Truro/Plymouth/Exeter/Bude were in favour of something or other that I actually rang up and queried it. The statistics were gleaned across the region and a town or city’s name simply inserted into the relevant point. It won’t do.
Notes to editors
I’m in favour of supplementary information, but keep it brief. It’s not part of the main press release, but can put it in context. Journalists also like being thought of as editors.
Don’t be scared
We may have been tempted to press the delete button – whether by accident or design – so it wouldn’t harm to follow up a release with a call (just don’t start the conversation with “I’m a PR for…”). Say what the press release was about and ask if they need any more information and if it was relevant to them. A journalist is then likely to explain why it wasn’t relevant. There still might be another way you can work together. Be prepared to adapt.
Being on first name terms can help. Journalists are more likely to take your calls, listen and be interested. Hand on heart, I’ve used press releases that might not otherwise have seen the light of day because I trusted the PR and they understood what I need. Again, great pictures really can swing it…
Have a sense of humour. Christmas must be a dreadful time to be in commercial PR and all credit to the person who sent out a seasonal press release on behalf of a soap flake manufacturer. They had made mini snowmen with said soap flakes complete with tiny twig arms, peppercorns for eyes and a ribbon scarf. They were, we were told, the perfect table decoration (unless they got wet, I’m guessing). I’m not making this up. It was the Christmas press release by which I then judged all Christmas press releases. Did it get in the paper? No. But if they’d rung up and said: “Hi Su. Just checking if you got our piece with the cute little picture of a soap flake snowman,” it might have made the cut.