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In the fast-moving, 24/7 digital world, a strong media presence is vital to raise your profile, build trust and boost sales. If you’re serious about creating real value in your business and minimising risk to your reputation this is the book you’ve been waiting for…

YOU’LL

LEARN HOW TO ENGAGE WITH THE MEDIA TO FULL

ADVANTAGE AND GET THE COVERAGE THAT WILL GENERATE

BUSINESS.

☞ ☞

YOU’LL

DISCOVER THE LATEST TECHNIQUES TO MAXIMISE THE

YOU’LL

GET THE KEY SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE TO EXPLOIT THE

Maximise Your Media Impact Making the media work for you

Grab the headlines that will boost your bottom line!

RETURN ON YOUR INVESTMENT.

MAKING THE MEDIA WORK FOR YOU

MEDIA AS THE POWERFUL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CHANNEL IT

CAN BE.

www.second-city.com

JOHN HATFIELD & ROLAND MAIN

Written by two of the UK’s leading corporate communications specialists, Maximise Your Media Impact gives you the inside track on the most cost-effective way of building that all-important goodwill and influencing your target audiences. From key messages, soundbites, rules of engagement and peak performance interview skills to social media strategies, Maximise Your Media Impact gives you the top tools, techniques, tactics and secrets to outperform as a communicator and beat the competition.

JOHN HATFIELD & ROLAND MAIN


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Making The Media Work For You

JOHN HATFIELD & ROLAND MAIN


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John Hatfield & Roland Main

www.second-city.com


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First published 2009 ISBN 978-0-9553459-1-3 Copyright © Second City Creative Ltd. Cover image © havanastreet.com Internal images © iclipart.com Book Designed by Jane Darroch Riley www.janedarrochriley.com John Hatfield and Roland Main have asserted their rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1998 to be identified as the authors of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means including photocopying or any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. Printed by Bell & Bain, Thornliebank, Glasgow


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CONTENTS Introduction

10

Welcome to the world of 24/7 media

Chapter 1

13

Why have a media strategy?

Chapter 2

25

What the media wants

Chapter 3

37

The rules of engagement

Chapter 4

47

On message

Chapter 5

55

Ten ways of ensuring good coverage

Chapter 6

75

The multimedia challenge to companies

Chapter7

93

Interview technique

Chapter 8

103

Starring in your own movie

Chapter 9 Measuring your media impact

113


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“All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values” Marshal McLuhan


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Welcome to the world of 24/7 Media


y

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ou live and work in a world where the media is your biggest risk management item and your greatest value creating opportunity. In our 24/7 news-driven economy you have to be able to exploit the benefits while minimising the downside. Your brand, your corporate reputation and your bottom line depend on it. Best in class corporate communications has a substantial role to play in avoiding what has been dubbed ‘the cost of confusion’. Management boards generally have robust risk and control processes in place for functions such as financial, information technology and governance. However, companies using unsophisticated or ad hoc means to manage their communications run a very real risk of damaging their credibility and reputation, losing sales, lowering share value, and reducing employee productivity. Media relations is the best channel for dealing with the five great obstacles that stand between your company and selling shed-loads of product or service to the consumer. As the great US sales guru Zig Ziglar pointed out, these obstacles from the potential customer’s point of view are:

No No No No No

Need Money Hurry Desire Trust 10


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A well-structured and targeted media strategy allows you to overcome all five objections. Indeed, your spokespeople and corporate interviewees should have Mr Ziglar’s five points in mind whenever they give an interview and should always be conscious of debunking at least one of them in every media encounter. And when it comes to peak performance in communicating we can all learn from the great Peter Lynch, who ran the world’s best performing investment fund between 1977 and 1990. As manager of Fidelity Magellan he achieved a return of 2,700% over a 14- year period. But he famously cautioned that if you could not explain to a 10 year-old in two minutes or less why you owned a stock, then you should not buy it. That simple insight touches on the greatest barrier to building brand, reputation, market share and profits: the inability to articulate successfully your unique selling point. Overcome that problem and you can grab headlines that boost your bottom line.

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“The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.� George Bernard Shaw


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Why have a media strategy?


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Why have a media strategy ? One of the great ironies of the media age is that the press gets such a bad press. The tabloid, soap opera image of the ace reporter, even when he is not wearing a beige raincoat and trilby, is that of someone shouting through your letterbox, raking through your bins and contacting your old girlfriends. In our funky Web 2.0 world the traditional stereotype is now applied to modern incarnations of the dogged hack as hostile blogger, email flamer or social networking nemesis. However the real risk in media relations does not come from the potential banner headlines proclaiming Fat Cat Boss in Naked Three In A Bed Cocaine Romp Shocker. Rather it comes from an open-minded journalist asking open-ended questions and you not being able to distil your vast knowledge into something that is meaningful and immediate to the reader or listener.

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Why have a media strategy?

Quite simply, good media relations are vital, perhaps even critical, to organisations in today’s competitive marketplace. A well-constructed media relations strategy may not cure your halitosis, improve your sex life and help you live to be 300 but it will:

Boost engagement and understanding between your organisation and all stakeholders

Increase trust and confidence among key decision-makers and target clients

Improve attitudes, perceptions and behaviours

Overcome apathy and confusion

The fundamental point is that the message is what is received, not what is sent: This simple insight lies at the heart of media relations. According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations there are now 48,000 people employed in PR in the UK, which means they now outnumber full-time journalists. Presumably the fact that there has been an approximate 1200% rise in their numbers since 1979 is because their employers want to get a return on their media investment. Effective media relations strategies require corporations to see the media as an opportunity and not a threat; to understand that being open and proactive hugely beats being reactive and defensive.

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A media relations strategy is about building relationships with journalists, commentators, pundits and influencers across all media – from the traditional, or “dead-tree”, press to the digital arena – and becoming their ally. Journalists are people too and they like to build relationships with key sources. There is a perception that ‘sources’ and ‘contacts’ are shadowy sinister individuals in underground carparks clutching anonymous manila dossiers. Well, Deep Throat is the exception to the rule. A source or contact is anyone who provides the journalist (we will use this term as a convenient shorthand to cover all forms of writing and presenting in the media) with information. Given that the thrust of any good corporate communications strategy is to increase awareness and knowledge, build trust and confidence and change perceptions and behaviours, we can see that media relations goes to the very heart of value creation and risk management in any organisation. The media is your customer and you should be pursuing good client relationship management. You want to make a sale and you are after repeat business. The media is the best business development channel as it is highly cost effective and provides instant third party endorsement. Don’t just take our word for it. Turn instead to the planet’s biggest spender on advertising, Procter & Gamble. The household goods giant decided a couple of years ago that it was time someone provided a valid answer to the conundrum posed in the 1870s by John Wanamaker, the

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Philadelphia department store entrepreneur, to wit: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.” With such billion dollar brands as Head and Shoulders shampoo, Pampers nappies, Gillette razors and Pringles crisps in its portfolio, P&G spends around $6 billion a year on advertising globally and more than twice as much as its nearest competitor in the US market. So, this was a problem worth solving. What P&G found in its marketing mix modelling was that compared with other marketing tactics, such as advertising and direct sales promotional campaigns PR delivers approximately a 275% return on investment, far greater than that achieved by advertising. Generating that kind of return is usually the preserve of a successful night out at Caesar’s Palace or a particularly memorable corporate hospitality day at Ascot or York races. This ratio alone is enough to justify the creation of a properly conceived and delivered, fit-for-purpose media strategy. But, in fact, that is just the beginning. Media relations has a huge role to play in creating, maintaining and enhancing your corporate reputation, the big ticket item for the 21st century business. In the modern world a company’s reputation, rather than its physical assets, has become the greatest source of value and the biggest risk factor. As long ago as 1999 just 6.6% of Coca-Cola’s capitalisation was book value. The rest was brand and reputation. Ernst & Young, the big

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four accountancy firm, highlighted that reputation was one of the top 10 risks facing companies in 2009. If we agree with the great Italian-Scottish entrepreneur Gio Benedetti that most business plans and corporate mission statements can be summed up in three pithy words, “Kill the Opposition”, then reputation is the nuclear weapon in that arsenal and it depends heavily on media strategy to work. Reputation is different from brand. If a brand equals the promise made by a company then reputation is the delivery on that promise. In other words brand is what a company says about itself whereas reputation is what others say about it. Professor John Kay, one of Britain’s leading economists, puts it very crisply: “Reputation is the principal means through which a market economy deals with consumer ignorance.” In other words, nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM. However reputations are high maintenance and threats to reputation must be countered swiftly and effectively. Rupert Murdoch is on record as saying that News Corporation’s reputation is worth more than the last $100 million while Warren Buffet - the sage of Omaha, founder of Berkshire Hathaway, the world’s most successful investor and richest man – nailed it with typically folksy wisdom: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Taking a global corporation such as McDonalds is a case in point. The brand comprises Big Mac, “I’m Loving It” and Ronald Macdonald. On the other hand, until

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recently, the reputation was apparently being shaped by documentaries like Supersize Me, investigative journalism books like Fast Food Nation and associated bad press including the alleged destruction of rainforests to create pastures for beef cattle in South America, childhood obesity, low paid McJobs, Goliath-versusDavid issues like the suing of protestors, and battles with anti-globalisation campaigners. In the late 90s, Fortune magazine commissioned research to measure the impact of reputation on stock price. They came up with a corporate equity scorecard based on a basket of factors including combination awareness, familiarity, overall impression and perceptions. In the 1999 survey, companies with high corporate equity had 12% higher PE ratios than those with a low equity. For the average Fortune 500 company, that translated into a market cap increase of ÂŁ5 billion. A better reputation increases the chances of customers buying your products or services and allows you to charge a premium price. It positions you as an expert in your field and therefore the default choice in the marketplace. This, in turn, helps you recruit and retain the best staff and management and keep them motivated. It makes it easier for you to engage with all supply chain partners and boosts your ability to attract investors and raise capital. Last, but by no means least, having a good reputation

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protects you from unfair criticism if your organisation comes under fire. It earns you the benefit of the doubt in the public’s mind. Everything that your company does from winning new business and posting annual accounts to hiring and firing and making donations to charity has a knock-on effect on various stakeholders. Often these impacts follow the law of unforeseen consequences. A good media relations strategy is about identifying the potential narratives which could be ascribed to an action and managing it so that the story that goes out is not distorted or misrepresented. This does not mean telling lies. It means ensuring that you have presented the actions in such a way that there is no ambiguity and have made it meaningful for all target audiences. Corporate strategy, regardless of how brilliant it is, does not deliver competitive advantage or create value until it is communicated, understood, valued, and acted upon by all your main corporate stakeholders. The danger is that the media relations strategy is confused with marketing and no resource is allocated to media planning, message development and cultivation of contacts and channels. For those still unconvinced of the wisdom of author Marshall McLuhan’s famous insight that the media is the message, consider the following scenarios that emerge from lack of a clear media strategy and operation. Negative, misleading articles in the trade press allow rivals to poach business.

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Why have a media strategy?

You fail to communicate your new price structure properly, leading to confused and angry customers and lost sales. You don’t clarify the key messages about your new strategy so there is widespread uncertainty among employees, customers and the supply chain. Rival organisations are hiring the top recruits, and poaching your key staff, as a result of a better-communicated employer brand across all media. Your share price suffers because you are not setting out your vision, strategy and unique selling points clearly in the financial media. Millions of pounds in lost sales are being racked up because you are failing to give potential customers clear and compelling reasons to do business with you. The pervasiveness of digital media makes it very easy for journalists, competitors, customers, employees, and suppliers to easily find and disseminate potentially damaging information. Companies using unsophisticated or ad hoc means to manage their communications run a very real risk of damaging their credibility, losing sales, lowering share value, and reducing employee productivity. Well-managed communication with your key audiences such as customers, employees, media, the financial community, shareholders, and channel partners are

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mission critical to your success. Other important audiences to consider include government regulators, community leaders, vendors, suppliers, charities, and local chambers of commerce. All of these groups are valuable to help build consensus around your corporate reputation. PR Guru Sir Tim Bell has the last word: “A strong story placed in the newspaper, picked up by everybody else, will actually have more impact than an advertising campaign.�

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Why have a media strategy?

The U.S. Federal Reserve recently noted that as much as 47% of American companies’ net worth is tied up in intangible assets like brand equity and reputation A Hill & Knowlton survey of 800 CEOs in US and Europe (2004) found that 79% of CEOs believe that investors and lenders consider reputation to be important or extremely important. A Burston Marsteller CEO survey found that 96% believe that communications are important in enhancing corporate reputation. In an Ernst & Young study on how value affects institutional investors’ decision making (Metrics that Matter), indicated that non-financial factors account for about 35% of a company’s valuation by institutional investors. McKinsey Quarterly vol2 1999: “Strong brands generate, on average, total returns to shareholders that are 2% above the industry average, while weaker brands lag behind the average by 3%.”

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“Kick ’em one day and kiss ’em the next” - Lord Beaverbrook


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WhAT THE MEDIA WANTS


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What the Media Wants Contrary to popular myth a journalist’s job is not to ask lots of questions, preferably under a swinging naked light bulb with a tap dripping in the background. Rather it is to get stories. The best interviews are the ones where one question is asked and 20 minutes later the interviewer is closing his or her notebook and saying thanks very much. There are three key performance indicators that matter to journalists, although they would never use the term KPI themselves: Keep on the right side of the editor and keep your job. Scoop the opposition (or at least don’t be scooped by it). Get out of the office on the same day you went in. 26


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Journalists get into the trade for many reasons and there are as many types of journalist as there are breeds of dog – but the lowest common denominator is some flair for language, an inherent curiosity, an innate sense of righteous anger and the attention span of a goldfish with Alzheimer’s. The corporate view of the media is reasonably sophisticated these days: there are few around who think that a spin doctor fixes washing machines or a tabloid splash is a drunk news editor falling into the river. But there is still a lingering feeling that journalists are marginally less welcome than South American secret police armed with cattle prods, or a plague of boils. The reaction of many corporate executives to be being told that there is a journalist in the reception area is often similar to being informed that there is a police inspector in the building: hyperventilation, pumping adrenalin and heavy sweating. This reaction to the media is widespread and there is nothing new about it. The redoubtable Mother Theresa of Calcutta opined that “Meeting the media is more terrifying than bathing a leper,” while Oscar Wilde expressed the very contemporary view that “In the old days we had the rack - now we have the press,” even though he was speaking in Victorian times. Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the United States, reckoned simply that “The press is the enemy” although he offered that verdict before Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post began their epic

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investigation into the Watergate scandal. More recently, the former British prime minister Tony Blair, widely recognised as a master exponent of the black arts of media spin, said in one of his final speeches in office that today’s media, more than ever before, hunts in a pack: “It is like a feral beast, just tearing people and reputations to bits”. In her 2002 Reith Lecture political philosopher Onora O’Neill opined that the licence currently extended to journalism in the UK amounts to the following: “We apply 19th century liberalism to 21st century scumbaggery”, while George Bernard Shaw’s views on the sensationalism attached to the trade show how little has changed in the 70 years since he observed that journalism is “a device unable to distinguish between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilisation”. The history of journalism has been very well documented in a raft of superb memoirs and histories (see Andrew Marr’s excellent My Trade; Point of Departure by the legendary foreign correspondent James Cameron; and the comic classic Scoop by Evelyn Waugh for recommended further reading) so there is little point in offering a rehashed, bowdlerised version here. What matters is how the changing nature of journalism has affected the rules of engagement and the laws of production. This trend has affected all news outlets. Back in the glory days of newspapers, when the New York Times was offering all the news that’s fit to print, the press barons used their titles as a way of conducting politics by other means. The power and influence of

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such men as America’s William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for Citizen Kane, and Lords Beaverbrook, Rothermere and Northcliffe in Britain was incredible and their heavily staffed papers meant that journalists could get a specialist beat, build up their contacts and take time to research stories. The press barons’ main objective was influencing power and the need to make money was secondary. The fact that newspapers had a near monopoly on classified advertising in those days, an income stream that Rupert Murdoch famously referred to as “the rivers of gold”, meant that the titles were very lucrative indeed. As the BBC had a monopoly on broadcasting until the 1950s there was no competition from commercial radio or television and the multi-channel world of cable, satellite, digital radio, web and mobile telephony still seemed as remote as the science fiction fantasies of Flash Gordon in the 25th century. Stories about journalists spending more time filing their expenses than their copy are slightly exaggerated but it is true that when Fleet Street was still literally, rather than metaphorically, the centre of the news industry, much time was spent in notorious watering holes digging up stories from a range of contacts in the law, politics and the City and the more nefarious demi-monde of the crime beats. Although the tyranny of the deadlines loomed the industry had plenty of staffers, stringers and freelancers to fill a paper with news. Nowadays ‘however’ the economics of newspapers are

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radically different. While we now have media tycoons rather than press barons, the big groups are consolidating their hold. Unlike the press barons, the media tycoons have shareholders to answer to. The demand for shareholder value has seen the required return on investment in newspaper groups driven up to an average of 35%. With advertising revenues being squeezed, circulations falling and the price of newsprint rising, the bottom line targets could only be achieved by cost-cutting. And the number one cost, in an industry that long regarded the electronic typewriter as innovative investment in highend technology, was in the head-count. The day of reckoning came in 1986 when Rupert Murdoch literally drove his tank into Wapping, with Sun Page Three girl Sam Fox in the turret, and led the exit from Fleet Street, physically, emotionally and financially. Murdoch broke the print unions but then journalists followed. The trend was to achieve economies of scale through consolidation, most clearly seen in the regional and local newspaper market. According to Mintel some 200 companies owned local newspapers in 1992. By 2005, this had been whittled down to just 10 corporations owning three quarters. More than half of the 8,000 regional journalists working in 1986 had lost their jobs by 2000. And it tended to be the older, more experienced and therefore higher paid journalists who departed. On the nationals there was a similar trend, to such an extent that the concept of the

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newspaper man as a newshound, sniffing out exclusives, has all but gone. The modern newspaper owes more to the practices of Henry Ford’s mass production lines than to anything that would be recognised by the doyens of journalism such as James Cameron or Charles Wheeler. The image of Our Man in Vienna is long gone. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward spent two years working on the story of the Watergate burglary and cover-up before breaking it in the Washington Post, a feat immortalised in the Oscar-winning film All the President’s Men. Journalists watching the film today would regard it almost as a fairy tale. Two days, never mind two years, would now be considered a luxury for reporters who can average up to 10 stories a day. That means very little time to get out of the office, meet contacts or even to develop a remotely specialist knowledge of any field. There are still a lot of gifted, committed journalists working in the industry but they are under such severe pressure to deliver that investigative journalist Nick Davies has coined the phrase “churnalism” to describe the battery hen, sweatshop conditions of the dark satanic newsrooms that are often today’s reality. Indeed even leading quality broadsheets, which campaign against the third world slave labour in the consumer goods industries, supplement their manpower with dozens of unpaid graduates on work-experience, who nevertheless put in full days for months and even years just for the reward of a by-line. 31


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The traditional disciplined hierarchy and separation of roles is vanishing. Whereas until recently there existed clearly demarcated lines between editor, sub-editor, picture editor, reporter and lay-out, these roles are all being crashed into one. The Telegraph Media Group recently advertised for candidates to fill 18 new posts for ‘content editors’ which it described as:

“Multi-skilled journalists who are able to do everything from write to commission to edit to produce both online and print”. While the circulations of the big daily papers may have been in steady decline, there has been a proliferation in media titles and an expansion in the existing ones. For instance, when Harold Evans was editing the Sunday Times in the 1970s it contained a main paper, business section, news review and a magazine supplement. Under his successor Andrew Neil the paper grew to 16 different sections and magazines. The result is fewer journalists having to fill more space even if the copy is increasingly regarded by management as what Lord Beaverbrook called “the filler around the adverts”. Even in an age dominated by circulation-boosting gimmicks like bingo scratchcards, cover-mounted DVDs and free wallcharts, content may still be king but the balance of power in providing that content has shifted. According to research conducted by the journalism department of Cardiff University: 60% of stories in

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quality UK broadsheets come wholly or mainly from PR sources or newswires such as PA, Reuters, Bloomberg or City Newswire with a further 20% containing a large of element of PR/Wire copy. That will be even more the case in the booming business and financial magazine market. According to BRAD and the Advertising Association There were 4,917 (that precise!) business media magazines published in the UK in 2007, by some 700 companies. The market is continually segmenting and specialising with a range of successful titles focused on everything from personal finance and management to crochet and yachting. They may be niche but titles like What Anorak? Extreme Knitting and Amateur Underfelt Enthusiast are crying out for relevant copy. More important for the media relations professionals are the hard numbers: 87% of decision makers use business and professional media publications regularly for work purposes which is more than any other medium. But while the big newspapers may have passed their glory days they are still extremely influential and the print media sector is booming. They have survived several assaults on their hegemony from the launch of radio in the 1920s to the massive television-led decline in circulation since the 1950s. More recently ink has faced the advent of newsaggregation sites such as Google News which pull together multiple news sources from everywhere on the planet. Beyond this an emerging band of bloggers, more akin to

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the 19th century concept of a correspondent, is actively commenting and posting on the worlds of politics, business, finance and many more arcane and esoteric topics. The closed shop of the indentured editors and reporters, which to some resembled a medieval craft guild, has been bust wide open to embrace anyone with a keyboard, a modem and access to a wordpress or typepad blog template. While individual bloggers may be guilty of libel, vendetta, misrepresentation, poor grammar and lack of perspective, it is nevertheless true that as a collective, bloggers offer the seeker after truth a vast repository of comment and information over which to pore. And indeed, great journalists from George Orwell to James Cameron have looked askance at the notion of objectivity, arguing that all journalists have a view and should be open and forthcoming about their standpoint. However perhaps the greatest threat to the traditional newspaper has been the boom in free daily newspapers. Within the last decade these papers have been introduced to virtually every market in Europe and across the Americas Australia and Asia. Pioneered by Metro International of Sweden, which distributes some 7 million papers, there are now some 22 million copies distributed every day which are read by an estimated 45 million people. The killer metric for management however is the fact that a freesheet, relying entirely on wire and PR copy, employs about a tenth of the number of editorial staff of a paid-for rival. Less time and more space to fill has had a huge impact

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on the journalist’s day and his or her ability to meet the KPIs outlined earlier. Days used to begin gently around 11am with the morning conference: which was, and still is, a ritual occasion when section editors would convene in the editors office to offer up their story leads for that day’s paper. On Sunday papers the conferences were held on Tuesdays/Fridays and Saturdays while on weekly magazines the conference would be held twice a week as well. These days the journalist is expected in the office at about 8.30am, given the demands of 24/7 news media, websites et al and they are soon scurrying into rewriting wire copy, picking up on overnight stories from the wires, television and rival papers, rewriting or merely importing PR copy from electronic news releases and taking calls from PRs. Many phone calls are made but few are taken and those which are may not be much help. If they get out for lunch it will be brief, generally sober and must have a story attached. The days of the legendary three bottlers lasting four hours are largely gone and it will be a quick sandwich and mineral water before running back to the office (often literally as taxi chits are no longer a widespread perk). It’s a heady cocktail of long hours, chaotic schedule, low pay, chronic deadline pressure and uncertain, and sometimes dangerous, conditions. Journalists lose touch with family and friends, spend hours chained to their desks, churning out news that is guaranteed to annoy someone somewhere and generate those fabled handwritten

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letters in green ink from disgusted of Tonbridge Wells which are the only feedback they get apart from being bawled out by the editor. Understand this, make the lives of your journalistic contacts easier and you will enjoy a fruitful batch of positive headlines and become the commentator of choice on your industry sector for ever more.

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THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT


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The Rules Of Engagement When a journalist comes to see you they want a story: have something fresh to say and say it in a memorable way. They are also looking for something that will be relevant to their readers so make sure your pitch is audience-centred. Remember you can’t control the press. We don’t have Pravda in this country and press freedom is the price we pay for democracy. Journalists are working on deadlines of hours to produce their first draft of history. Threatening to pull your advertising or asking to see copy before publication is not going to ingratiate you, although the latter practice is becoming more common as a means of gaining admittance to celebrities and prominent individuals. Increasingly too, the email interview is becoming more frequent. In the US this is often standard practice and 38


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journalists frequently never even speak to, never mind meet, their interviewee. All questions are submitted via a gatekeeper and, indeed, there is a suspicion in some cases that the answers are in the name of the interviewee only. Sometimes journalists do get it wrong but the worst thing you can do is have a tantrum, phone the journalist or editor and demand retractions. If you do get a retraction it will be a paragraph long and buried on page 47. Instead it is better to take the opportunity to build bridges. As journalists rarely get any feedback it is best to thank them for the piece, gently point out the error, say that perhaps you did not make yourself clear and then add that the major shareholders or board are baying for your blood. Then volunteer some information that takes the story further, or gives it legs in the newsroom parlance, and correct the errors tacitly in the next story. You will have won an ally rather than erecting a barricade. Also acknowledge the journalist’s point of view: Ask the journalist for his or her opinions and you may learn something to your advantage regarding a competitor for example. It will also help you gauge the journalist’s own prejudices and interests and allow you to pitch your story accordingly. Journalists are overworked and poorly paid and they are liable to resent, either subconsciously or overtly, your huge salary and pristine luxurious working conditions with equipment that works and flexible benefits. The only benefit many journalists get is a copy of their own paper.

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You may be anxious about meeting the journalist but this will be mutual. You are seen as an expert in an area that the journalist may have written about twice in their life (which doesn’t stop them being considered the paper’s leading authority in the field). There are several things that a journalist hates about the PR process and that will serve to alienate an otherwise amenable reporter:

1

2

Journalists work to the clock while you work to the calendar. They are under pressure to deliver in newspaper time with deadlines measured in minutes and hours rather than ‘corporate time’ which is calculated in weeks or months. Therefore things that get in the way of them getting their job done are going to annoy them considerably. PRs who are constantly phoning up to check whether the journalist received the press release or are considering using it are seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. There has never been a case in history of a journalist saying: “I thought it was a useless story with no news value but now that you’ve interrupted me right on deadline I’ve changed my mind and decided to make it a page lead.” Don’t pitch what we call ‘ driving test’ stories – in other words, ones that are of great importance to you personally but are completely uninteresting to anyone else. This goes for your company getting

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BS5750, ISO 9000, Investors in People or appointing a regional sales director for Dumfries and Galloway. The only headlines merited by such banal announcements is “A Nation Shrugged.” We are not interested in your internal agendas. The fact that you have appointed a new senior marketing manager for Asia Pacific is a big deal for you but of no conceivable interest to the readership.

3

4

Emotional blackmail and sob stories do not cut it with journalists. There is no worse pitch from a PR than “Can you do me a really big favour and run this?” or “You’ve just got to help me out with this really difficult client.” The diligent scribe got into journalism to tell truth to power, to write the first draft of history or to bring down corrupt governments armed only with a trusty Remington typewriter. They did not do it to become a help desk for PRs trying to hang on to their retainers. Your average journalist does not appreciate being used as surrogate corporate Viagra to make selfobsessed management feel good about itself. Journalists greatly resent being used as the equivalent of a cheerleader at a US university frat house party. They know when PRs are using them as minor celebrity substitutes, when board members want to do their simian power walk and strut their machismo. Make sure there is a real

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story there and that the executives are briefed on what the journalist is looking for. If you invite a reporter out to meet your company then make sure there is a genuine story to come out of it. Don’t have interviewees who are uncommunicative, unbriefed, anal retentive or completely unoriginal. Do not be a purveyor of utter crap.

5

6

7

8

Embargoes are annoying as they are generally broken by someone and are there for the convenience of the marketing department rather than the newsdesk. Don’t tell journalists how to do their jobs and don’t tell them what they should be writing. Just because it is in your interest to get the story written doesn’t mean it is interesting. Most of the time it is clear that the PR is not familiar with the editorial line of the publication and the particular hobby horses of the journalist. Dont get in touch at completely inopportune of inappropriate moments such as when deadlines are looming or just before the editorial conference is due to take place. Do not be surprised if you’re cheery “Hi, how are you?” is met with an expletive and click, brrrr. Don’t send huge files full of hi-res jpegs that will

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crash the state-of-the-ark computers used by most hacks. And don’t send over photographs that are embedded in word documents or web photos that looked great on the website but are too small to reproduce above postage stamp size. On the subject of electronic media, there is nothing more irritating than going to a corporate website and finding it harder to navigate than the Straits of Magellan in a Force 10 or, just as bad, having to register to get access to press material. All press resources should be readily available with easy sourcing of releases, company backgrounders, hi-res photography, biographies and downloadable footage as standard.

9

10

Don’t demand to know what the journalist is working on: Such matters are strictly forbidden. The editor might as well email his schedule to his biggest rival with all possible exclusives highlighted in red. Do not confuse journalists with advertorial, advertising features and special supplements, which are the preserve of the advertising department. Don’t promise a good story and then fail to deliver, backslide or give it to another publication. This will severely antagonise the journalist and, in the spirit of karma, they may well become a source of negative coverage rather than positive reporting. You could even be boycotted. Journalists all swap horror stories about dire PRs who are borderline stalkers, verging on psychopathic or able to suck 43


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your will to live with pitches that last longer than the lifespan of fruitflies. (“I spent a week with them one evening� is not an epithet you want attached to you.)

The secret of good press coverage is basic emotional intelligence and good customer relationship management. The journalist is your customer and you must identify and cater to their needs, presenting yourself, in the terms of famous 1960s counter-culture slogan, as part of the solution and not part of the problem. Journalists realistically don’t have room in their little black books, or little black berries these days, for more than a couple of key contacts in each sector. The contacts who achieve this exalted status, and therefore the valuable comment and repeat business are those who become allies, whether for background briefings, industry overview, research explanation of difficult concepts or, best of all, tip-offs and alerts to news. Being available and happy to take their calls at weekends, evenings and at the crack of dawn is part of the care and feeding of journalists. Building trust is the core of a good relationship between journalist and contact, whether that contact be a campaigning activist, a disgruntled employee or a media relations manager. Experienced PR managers are generally of the opinion that things have changed over the last few years and that they are obliged to deal with journalists who are younger,

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less experienced and more cynical. These journalists are hungry for stories but have little time or resources to devote to digging them out or checking facts. This often manifests itself as aggression. Classic stratagems of the old-style PR are evolving. The days of the so-called Friday night drop, when business journalists were fed inside information for the Sunday papers, is being applied across a wider cross section of media. Those companies that can deliver packaged content, plug-in-and-play stories-in-a-box comprising copy, good photos, graphics, case studies and surveys are often looked upon more favourably than those merely pitching story ideas that the paper’s journalists will actually have to spend time developing. But despite the quality of the press office it is the CEO rather than the head of media relations who determines the sort of coverage a company gets from journalists. A media-savvy, quotable and accessible CEO is crucial to getting a positive press. The press has largely moved from reporting facts as a paper of record to anticipating what is going to happen. Speculation rather than actuality is the stock-in-trade these days. Business journalists are under constant pressure to break stories, ramp stories and lend all stories an air of criticism, conflict or controversy, the trinity of 3Cs that makes readers buy the papers. As journalists become increasingly deskbound and more dependent on electronic media sources it is in your

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company’s interests to cater to their needs with effective, efficient and easy-to-use electronic media. While journalists may be loathe to admit it, the trust between them and the corporate media relations manager is a symbiotic relationship that is in both parties’ interests. What any PR has to realise is that the default assumptions to make about the journalist are that: they are coming to the interview with a preconceived opinion about the company, not much research beyond a Google search and a flick through the cuttings, and a first draft of the story they are going to write already in their heads.

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ON MESSAGE

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On Message Most corporate pronouncements and releases are really about as effective as Elizabeth David Greetings Cards when it comes to creating the value that really matters: an improved bottom line. That iconic management book The Dilbert Principle had it about right with the assertion that a business spokesperson is: “Someone who make superficial statements about how good the company is, then hopes something lucky happens and profits go up.” The great Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post in its investigative heyday, said that good stories fell into the category of “F*** me, Martha” (again apologies for the direct quotation of newsroom vernacular). Too many pitched stories elicit a response of “So what?, big deal” from the journalist before they get anywhere near the page and are filed in the bin.

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Too often, the spokesperson dives headlong into the trap of Me, Me, Me. Too many organisations are self-obsessed and inward-looking. Indeed Joel Bakan, in his recent book, The Corporation, goes as far as saying that public companies have all the characteristics of a psychopath. However for our purposes we’ll stick to the fact that corporations constantly fail to realise that the rest of the world does not find them nearly as interesting as they find themselves. It is certainly true that you are not turning up at the interview and giving a reporter a valuable hour of your time just to help them file copy. On the other hand, in order to create value for your organisation, you have to have some worthwhile messages that are of interest to the readers. You get the coverage you deserve: be proactive and get to know the journalists who cover your sector. If you show you understand what they need and can provide it they will come to you instead of your competitors. If you don’t speak up for your company then nobody else will. Remember that everyone’s favourite subject is themselves. Everyone looks for themselves first in a picture but they would rather jump from a fast moving car than look at your holiday snaps. This is a fact of life rooted in evolutionary psychology. Unfortunately too much corporate communication, from humble press releases and podcasts, to keynote speeches and primetime interviews, falls into the trap of talking about the company’s own agenda and not offering a key benefit or interest for the reader, listener or viewer. Unless you are actively seeking to avoid coverage, then

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you should tailor all your content around the question that all audiences always ask: “What’s in it for me?” No matter how interesting your own internal agendas are to you they are of very little interest to anyone else. Everyone remembers where they were when Kennedy was assassinated - even people who weren’t born. They don’t remember where they were when you appointed a regional sales manager for the East Midlands or when you got Investors in People accreditation. Speaking of US presidents, Abraham Lincoln, scribe of the eloquent and unforgettable Gettysburg Address, had words of wisdom for all spokespeople: “I spend twothirds of my time on what the audience wants to hear and one third on what I want to say.” Mr Lincoln may have lived at a time when the telegraph was the most sophisticated form of media technology but his grasp of mass communication was unimpeachably modern. This is borne out by the fact that news teams had a simple four-letter abbreviation that they used to scrawl across the majority of press releases that come across their desk: The abbreviation was WGAS and it stood for, with apologies for the newsroom English, Who Gives A Shit? That question should underpin all communications with the media. Indeed companies need to stop telling the world about what they do and start talking more about what problem they solve. One of the biggest questions we were always asked as

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journalists and editors, along with “How does it all fit so neatly on the page?”, was: “What is news?” Now there are a number of cute one-liners that journalists are in the habit of firing off in answer to this existential question: One is that news is any information that someone, somewhere would rather you didn’t know. Another is any headline that gets someone spitting their cornflakes out the next morning. Perhaps the most famous distinction is the classic: Man Bites Dog is a story; Dog Bites Man is just a piece of information. In fact there are a number of things that make news (see table). Just as there are reckoned to be only six basic plots for any novel or play so too are there a very limited number of core types of business or financial story. However, as with the blues, these can open up an almost endless possibility of improvising around the basic riffs. Business journalists basically have a mental Rolodex of angles that work for them and they will be mentally trying to crowbar every story into one of those preordained templates. In business the classic angles are:

❑ ❑ ❑ ❑ ❑ ❑

Jobs Joy/Jobs Shock

Record Profits/Losses Fat Cat Bonuses Strike

Fraud/Insider dealing/Sleaze Takeover Bid

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❑ ❑ ❑ ❑

❑ ❑ ❑ ❑ ❑

Receivership/Bankruptcy Pension Scandals Price War

Interests Rates Hike or Plummet Shares Soar/Collapse Flotation

House Prices Boom or Bust Rip-off Britain Tax Burden

In our days on the business desks there was a golden rule for a headline: Try and get a number with a billion in it. Whether it was an investment, a sales figure, the size of a potential market, it got the page lead. The more billions, the higher the prominence. There is also a myth that business and finance journalists prefer to write complex analysis of economic trends. They don’t – that’s just a device to fill space. What business journalists are really interested in are stories about people. The pink pages are just as much about the soap opera of human aspiration and failing as the National Enquirer or Heat magazine. They just do it with more statistics. You do business with people and not with faceless monolithic corporations. As the venture capitalists are fond of reminding us, it’s about backing

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the management. Business plans that predict beyond six months are basically in the realms of science fiction. If we remember that, as consumers, we buy on emotion and then justify on facts, then we’ll understand exactly how to perform in an interview situation. Stories also need legs. If in doubt about the news merits of your latest corporate manoeuvre run the 5W test:

WHY IS IT OF INTEREST?

WHERE SHOULD IT APPEAR? PUBLICATIONS, TV CHANNELS, BLOGS? WHAT IS THE RIGHT PACKAGE, THE RIGHT FORMAT, THE RIGHT ANGLE?

WHO IS THE RIGHT EDITOR OR

CORRESPONDENT TO RECEIVE IT?

WHEN SHOULD IT APPEAR?

Part of the trouble for senior partners and CEOs is that they are all-powerful within their own domains where the corporate culture means that most internal audiences are familiar with the issues and how they are framed, even if they are dissidents. Unfortunately this master-of-the-universe approach does not work with journalists. To them you may be the third company boss they have spoken to that day and the 11th

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that week. Journalists work in very non-hierarchical structures and do not share the deference shown to the big boss by his corporate staff. For all the influence of the Russian oligarchs in the UK and the politicisation of several leading newspaper titles by their proprietors, journalists will not print what you want: The familiar complaint that “you should have printed what I meant and not what I said,� is as hollow as it is ineffective. Journalists are not there to peddle your corporate propaganda. If you have a problem with this then the best advice we can offer is to walk softly, retain integrity and buy a newspaper group.

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TEN WAYS OF ENSURING GOOD COVERAGE


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TEN WAYS OF ENSURING GOOD COVERAGE Exploiting the media may be more art than science but that is not to say there are not some sure fire ways of ingratiating yourself with journalists and giving your organisation’s stories a better chance of front page billing than your competitors. Like any self-respecting publication, from Good Housekeeping to Heat, we love our top 10 lists. In this case it’s on how to ensure good coverage:

1.

BE PREPARED Know the 3 key things you want to say – and say them again and again. Brush up on useful facts and figures that show you in a good light. 56


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Research previous stories by the journalist sent to do the interview and be aware of the editorial lines taken by the publication or programme. The motto of the SAS is proper preparation prevents poor performance and the preparation is the key to a good interview or story pitch. Find out beforehand what angles the journalist is keen to pursue and also which part of the publication it will be used for. A general profile piece will differ considerably from an issue-driven or muckraking story. If the interview is for radio or television then ask whether it is taking place live or being recorded. It is better to develop good story lines before meeting the journalist and to rehearse Q&As, anticipating the toughest questions. News agendas are largely governed by calendars of events from big set pieces like The Budget, Queen’s Speech, the Oscars and the start of the football season to anniversaries from Armistice Day to 9/11. Finding a peg that meets with the journalist’s own requirements is a big part of getting good coverage: that way you are pushing at an open door and are showing yourself to be taking away pain rather than creating headaches – always a good move. Having a narrative ready is crucial. Journalists will be looking to fit your story into one of their standard storylines and may come to the interview with a set of pre-conceived notions. The secret of good coverage is to make the journalist an offer he can’t refuse (in a positive rather than Mafioso fashion).

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Often the journalist will be asking you questions based on what has happened and is already public domain rather than what may happen. One of the best things you can say to a journalist is: “These are good questions but the really interesting story that nobody’s picked up on yet is…” The journalist is there to get a good story, not to conduct a McCarthyite witch-hunt. If you give them what they want by understanding their beat, anticipating their needs and delivering a ready-to-go story, then everyone gets what they want.

2.

DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY Journalists may try to rile you for a reaction – don’t respond. Even friendly journalists may be required to “stick the boot in” occasionally.

There is still a certain school of journalism, usually among what Nigel Lawson dismissively called “the teenage scribblers”, who confuse aggression and rudeness for tough, hard-bitten interviewing. It has become a standard of the political world to criticise interviewers, usually on the Radio 4 Today programme or BBC2’s Newsnight, for being hostile attack dogs. Neil Kinnock complained of being ‘kebabbed’ on Radio 4 while Alastair Campbell famously turned up unannounced on Channel 4 News to deliver a twominute hate tirade against the BBC during the time of the Hutton Inquiry.

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In such circumstances the best thing is to take the moral highground and refuse to be drawn into a personal argument. Television and radio audiences are very sophisticated these days and it is the case that aggressive interviewing more often elicits sympathy for the interviewee rather than respect for the interviewer. The classic case was the famous 1997 edition of Newsnight when Jeremy Paxman interviewed Michael Howard, who had been home secretary until a fortnight previously, over a meeting Howard had held with the head of the prison service regarding the dismissal of the governor of Parkhurst Prison following a jailbreak. Paxman put the same question to Howard 12 times “Did you threaten to overrule him?” Howard, to his credit, remained calm and continued to answer, sticking with variations of his line that “I did not overrule him,” which was not the precise point Paxman was making. It later emerged that the grilling was less to do with tough interviewing technique than with Paxman buying time because of technical difficulties with the videotape for the next report. Storming out of interviews, as the Bee Gees did with Clive Anderson, leaves you looking petulant and childish. Interviewers will respect an interviewee who plays the game, even if they take a confrontational approach. In fact, aggressive interviews are reasonably easy to handle as the hostility is overt. Far harder are the honey-

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trap interviews where a gushing, effusive reporter praises you and gets you to drop your guard so that you let slip things that should have been left unsaid. Remember that reporters have only hours in which to research, interview and write their stories. Given their wide-ranging beats it is inevitable that truth is occasionally the first casualty of the deadline. If a mistake is made then by all means contact the reporter but don’t shout. Instead, thank them for the coverage and then gently point out an error that has created problems for you among your suppliers, customers, employees or other stakeholders. You should also allow that: “Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear,” or “Maybe I didn’t explain that too well.” In nearly all cases the reporter will be mortified by the error but grateful for the approach. If you then suggest a good follow-up story, in which the reporter can tacitly correct the error, then you will have achieved additional coverage and won an ally.The Kennedy clan’s maxim of “don’t get mad, get even” is your best guide in this area. Finally don’t get upset when your carefully prepared aphorisms, epigrams, soundbites and anecdotes may be whittled down to a one-line quote. It is sadly the case that your wonderfully crafted soundbites may not make the cut. Indeed part of the journalist’s skill is in rendering Hamlet’s poetic but wordy soliloquy “To be or not to be..” as: “Danish Prince: Yeah, No, then again, Maybe.”

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3.

DON’T LIE OR EMBELLISH It is often tempting to lie or embellish to get out of a tight spot. Don’t. Journalists will exact revenge if you make them look foolish.

The great Groucho Marx once said that it is not a sin to tell a lie to someone who asks a question to which they have no right to know the answer. That is a cute oneliner for a Marx brother but unfortunately, despite its inherent attractions, no strategy for a corporate representative. Too often, if you are blindsided or caught off guard by a member of the fourth estate, it is tempting to play the get out of jail free card by telling lies. Even Mrs Thatcher recognized the seductions and limitations of this approach when she said that “You don’t tell deliberate lies, but sometimes you have to be evasive.” In the US politicians have frequently fallen foul of this rule to their detriment. President George W Bush admitted lying to the press while Bill Clinton’s riposte to questions about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was the famous: “I did not have sex with that woman.” His wife Hillary came up with a new take on the economical with the truth circumlocution. When her claim to have come under sniper fire when visiting Bosnia was shown up as a clear lie she coined the phrase: “I misspoke.”

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Whether claiming the Groucho defence or citing national security, all of these incidents had the effect of destroying trust and losing the personalities in question the benefit of the doubt. It simply comes down to crying wolf. As US secretary of state, Alexander Haig came up with a formulation which was the modern equivalent of Orwell’s doublespeak . He volunteered that statements were not lies but rather: “terminological inexactitudes” or “tactical misrepresentations.” This may hold true in the Kafkaesque world of politics or global corporations but in the newsroom a lie is a lie and a liar is a liar. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s official spokesman, showed the head-on way to deal with difficult questions that other politicians might have addressed with equivocation or downright falsehood. When asked about the famously religious Blair’s views about religion, Campbell intervened directly with a story-killing line: “I’m sorry, we don’t do God.” As an object lesson in not accepting the premise of the question or the reporter’s right to ask it, there have been no better examples.

4.

NEVER SAY “NO COMMENT” This is tantamount to acknowledging guilt. Refer difficult questions to the PR team.

Anyone who has watched the comedy quiz show Have I Got News For You, will be familiar with the phrase “No Comment”. In the context of the programme it is used as a jokey formula but it should never be used in real life by

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any media relations manager or spokesperson who wants to eat lunch in this town again. Always talk around the subject. Give a general answer and, if pushed, explain that you cannot answer the specific point because it is price sensitive, subject to legal proceedings, or breaks confidentiality. No comment is just a plain wrong response on so many levels. For a start it means only one thing to any journalist who has more than a week’s experience and that is: “guilty as charged” or “we have some real skeletons in a lot of cupboards”. Journalists actually want you to say “no comment” when they put awkward questions to you because it gives tacit endorsement to the story they are writing. What better kiss-off line to a putative expose or ‘Shock Horror Probe” headline than, “The corporation refused to comment”. Much better is to give a fulsome comment extending to the length of Shakespearian soliloquies. This has numerous advantages. For a start if the reporter has 600 words to file on the story then ‘No comment’ leaves her with 598 to find. Those will either be composed of speculation or, worse, detailed comment and background from a rival corporation. Even if your comment is not rocket science – and unless you’re talking to the Scientific American or The Journal of Quantum Mechanics it doesn’t have to be – it can still fill valuable column inches. Don’t feel you need to respond to the question asked. Instead offer a good answer that will satisfy the journalist’s needs and perhaps spark a different and more positive line of inquiry. 63


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The typical kinds of questions that can prompt the urge to say no comment are legion: “Are you planning a bid for company Y?”; “Are you about to hire a new finance director?”; “Can you confirm that you are about to launch a joint venture for a new finance product?”; or “Has your head of security been fired for selling customer data records?” In such instances it is perfectly legitimate to cite superior forces constraining your ability to comment such as the Takeover Code (The Yellow Book), customer confidentiality, sub judice etc but you should still comment. Remember that journalists will often have no knowledge of the regulation, compliance and governance issues that limit a company’s ability to comment on topics. Volunteer this information without making the journalist feel stupid. A statement should look something like this: “As you are aware, as a publicly quoted company we would be breaking the law by giving the press information before it has been announced officially to the Stock Exchange. However I can confirm that we have been looking at a number of opportunities to extend our market share in the financial derivatives market and are actively looking at a number of potential partnerships.” Remember journalists are worried that they will be scooped on the story by a rival so it is important to offer reassurance that they will get any story first when the company is in a position to release details.

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5.

NEVER GO OFF THE RECORD Until you have built trust, keep everything on the record. 95% of journalists respect off the record – but you don’t know which ones won’t.

“Off the record” is a phrase that means different things to different people. It is often confused with ‘unattributable’ and ‘Chatham House Rules’. The golden rule is that if you don’t want to see it in print, then don’t say it. Journalists will often ask you to give them a little more background information off the record. When asked to go off the record your best response is to say that “I’m happy for everything I say to be printed (or to be broadcast).” Just make sure you don’t say something highly sensitive. Careless talk can cost careers as Gerald Ratner found to his cost. Strictly speaking, off the record means information that won’t be used in the story but will be taken into consideration when slanting the way the story is written. Some journalists mean ‘unattributably’ which means that they will use the information you give them in the article but will not attach it to your name. Instead it will come from “industry insiders’, ‘sources close to’ or ‘commentators’. Anyone with a working knowledge of journalism will immediately guess that the person giving the anodyne ‘God, mom and blueberry pie” quote in paragraph three is the same person dishing the anonymous dirt in paragraphs five to 12.

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There are of course times when it is necessary to go “off the record” and offer a little more insight and context than is wise to do so overtly. However this should only be done in the case of journalists with whom you have built up a relationship of trust with over several years. Ideally, in the case of board members and management, it should be left to the media relations or PR manager who is dealing daily with the journalists and who has calculated the risks involved. It is also crucial to remember that the interview is not over when the reporter closes his notebook or the tape recorder is switched off. The fat lady may not sing but you are on your best behaviour until the reporter has disappeared in the taxi. Beware the famous ‘Columbo question’ asked on the way to the lifts or while walking out through reception to the car park. You believe the formal interview to be over and have relaxed into a euphoric, post-match elation. As such your guard is down and your antenna are not sensitive when the reporter does his best Peter Falk style “One more thing…” in the best traditions of the great 1970s cop show.

6.

AVOID USING JARGON

Journalists will never ask for an explanation – and may make up their own. If you have to use jargon explain what it means in the next sentence. Every area of life has its own specialist vocabulary, which is second nature to initiates but as meaningful as ancient

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Sanskrit or Egyptian hieroglyphics to the neophyte. Journalists speak in an arcane and esoteric language to each other, blithely discussing when the back bench will be able to get the galleys off-stone for example. Jargon is the enemy of comprehension. The White House under George W Bush made frequent reference to phrases such extraordinary rendition (kidnapping), noneffective combat personnel (dead soldiers) in order to obfuscate meaning. The trouble is that using jargon and techno-babble to a non-expert journalist will prevent you getting your point across and may even be counterproductive. It may be obvious to you that EBITDA is earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation but not necessarily to the 3 months out of college arts graduate who has come to interview you for a business profile. Similarly mezzanine finance with an equity kicker is the equivalent of the famous Gary Larson cartoon of people talking to their dogs but what the journalist may be hearing is “Blah, blah, blah, finance, blah, blah.” If you are in the habit of saying “core competency” when you mean things we do best or “wetware” when you mean human beings then you may wish to reconsider your approach to interviews and corporate releases. If you say C-suite when you mean the top management then you are asking to be taken out by snipers next time you head out for a strategic interface. Of course in some professions it is impossible to avoid the jargon. Rather than risk the reporter pretending to know what you mean and then relying on Google or

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colleagues to fill them in, it is better to provide a crib sheet. This can be specially drafted for the reporter but should be passed off as an internal document that they might find useful for background.

7.

RESIST COMMENTING ON SPECULATION Do not even entertain a journalist’s “What if…” questions. Reframe the question in terms of your key messages.

Futurology and scenario planning are vital parts of any company’s risk management. However doing it in off-thecuff way with a reporter is a random walk into a minefield. Improvisation is great for a stand-up comedian but not for a corporate spokesman. Often however, a journalist will do that famous HG Wells leap into the shape of things to come and pose a question that requires you to talk about what might or could be rather than what is or will be. Examples are: “If you were to bid for X, what would happen…?”; “Supposing avian flu struck the UK, would you…?”; “Assume for the moment that the strike goes ahead; how do you…?” These inquiries make for an interesting panel game but are deadly if you accept the premise in real life. The problem is that the journalist may omit to include an explanatory paragraph putting the exchange in context. Rather than “I asked a hypothetical question of the CEO of Megacorps regarding what he might do in an academic

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situation in which…” the headline is likely to be “Doomed CEO slams rivals” with none of the weasel words included. City commentators are past masters at avoiding being crucified on their own forecasts. The acres of coverage dedicated to the credit crunch and sub prime liquidity crisis of 2007 onwards was notable for the lack of pundits willing to call the recession until it was well and truly under way. Nobody wanted to risk their reputation as the scaremonger who got it wrong. Thus we saw many cautious formulations along the lines of “this is not necessarily a recession though there are some recessionary tendencies”. This is akin to describing a lady as “not pregnant but with several pregnancy indicators”. However the risk management angle comes into play; hedging your bets is better than betting the farm on black when it comes up red. One of the most immediate examples of a speculative analysis being immediately, spectacularly and publicly contradicted was when Al Shahaf, the Iraqi spokesman during the second Gulf War, was asked to comment live on camera on the possibility of Coalition forces entering Baghdad. He had just completed an impassioned rebuttal of this suggestion – “My feelings, as usual, we will slaughter them all” – when an American army tank, flying the Stars and Stripes, crossed a bridge on the Tigris River behind him.

8.

DON’T COMMENT ON RIVALS The same rules apply as above for speculative questions.

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Once again, cut across the question and get back to your agenda. Talking about the opposition is de rigueur in some fields. Business journalists have long envied their colleagues on the sports desk, especially the football writers, who can manufacture headlines at the drop of a hat: “Why I don’t Fear Chelsea” or “We can beat Ajax”. These are of course manufactured at press conferences where the reporter asks: “Do you think Manchester United will hammer you on Saturday?” The almost inevitable monosyllabic negative reply then produces the banner headline “Man Utd Not Invincible – Rovers Boss”. In the celebrity world it is the job of everyone from the B-list to the Z-list to badmouth their wannabe competitors from Big Brother, girl bands, daytime TV or, soap operas in order to garner column inches. While it would be enjoyable if such values obtained in the business world it is sadly not the case, given that all statements have repercussions for stakeholders, corporate reputation and shareholder value. The wisdom of this approach is best appreciated from the occasions when the rule is breached. A couple of years ago the CEO of one of the UK’s biggest retailers had a rush of blood to the head and attacked the procurement policies of a rival, observing that it employed slave labour in the Philippines. The rival, unsurprisingly, did not take kindly to these revelations and countered that the CEO’s own company were hypocrites as they sourced some of their fashion

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lines from nearby factories on similar terms. The result: both sides aired their dirty linen in public; corporate reputations and corporate social responsibility credentials tarnished and nobody benefitted. If asked to comment on a rival there are only two nonrisk routes to take: One is vague, unspecific and brief praise as in “X is a good company and a long-term competitor…” before getting back to talking about your own agenda. The other is to say: “I can’t speak for X, you’d have to ask them about that. However I can say that we at Y are…” and deliver your own key messages.

9.

BE AVAILABLE Always return calls from journalists you have built a relationship with. If it’s a call about something you are not familiar with, contact PR.

Remember journalists work on media time, measured in hours, rather than corporate time which is measured in months. If you can imagine dialling 999 for the fire brigade when your house is burning down and getting an answering machine then you have some idea of how a journalist on deadline feels when they cannot get you to return their calls or phone back with the information you promised hours/days ago. If you let journalists know that you are ready and willing to comment on issues, and provide them with full contact details, then they will beat a path to your door

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10. REMEMBER IT’S A GAME Journalists are not out to get you, they are out to make their names. They will always return to someone who helps them. Media interviews are not exams, which is a difficult concept for those with professional qualifications and years of university and business school under their belt to get their heads around. There are no right or wrong answers. Remember that a question is merely an opportunity to make a point, not necessarily to give a direct answer. Also bear in mind that you are not having a conversation. No matter how friendly the interviewer, how convivial the setting or how auspicious the occasion, you are there to represent your organisation’s interests and the journalist is there to extract information of interest to his readers or viewers. Ideally these two objectives will be mutually compatible but this may not always be the case. Beware, too, of coming straight out of an important management meeting and going straight into an interview. Allow yourself time to decompress so that you don’t muddle confidential information with PR messages

Your Message

Sticking to these simple principles will help you establish

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rapport with important journalists but you still have to tell them something of substance. Political sophisticates inside the Washington beltway may have viewed him with snobbish disdain as a Beverley Hillbilly but Ronald Reagan was one of the most effective communicators in history and there is much we can all learn from The Gipper. For all his folksy, down-home style he was skilled at getting his message across. Indeed his press team were the forerunners of the modern West Wing beloved of television audiences and they created a formula HPS, or Headline-Picture-Story, that remains a powerful tool today. Basically, the logic behind this stratagem was to leave nothing to chance – part of Reagan’s approach that earned him the title the “Great Communicator.” His team prepared carefully for every appearance. Applying the HPS formula they planned what the message was, what the headline would be and crucially, what visuals would be available to drive home the message. They understood that a picture is worth a thousand words and powerful images have a visceral, enduring effect that words don’t. When challenged as to how an actor could be president Reagan’s comeback was to ask how somebody could be president without being an actor. David Ogilvy, Scottish-born founder of advertising giant Ogilvy and Mather, took a similar view about the impact 73


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of headlines: “On average, five times as many people read the headlines as read the body copy. It follows that unless your headline sells your product, you have wasted 90% of your money.” In the newspaper world, overworked editors will generally spend no more than five seconds looking at a press release and at least three seconds will be devoted to the headline. It becomes obvious that the slogan or headline is the key to your entire marketing strategy. Remember only around 20% of press releases are used and many adverts fail to grab the audience’s attention. Slogans and headlines are more than just snappy attention-grabbers. They are the essence of your entire strategy. While it may be anathema to reduce the complexities and nuances of your strategy to a glib oneliner, an inability to do so suggests that your organisation has no clearly focused idea of what its Unique Selling Point is. And if it doesn’t have a clearly articulated USP then it is dead in the water. The apocryphal tale of the civil servant who wrote a long report because he didn’t have time to write a short one serves as a cautionary tale for all media relations and PR people. The reality is that you have to pitch your story the way a scriptwriter would pitch an idea to a Hollywood producer. You have to nail it in 15 words or less.

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The Multimedia Challenge to Companies

Ever since Johannes Guttenberg invented his printing press in 1440, knocking the bottom out of the monks’ stranglehold on illustrated manuscripts and creating a media boom and information revolution, people have been using mass media for PR purposes. But while technologies change, people don’t. They still want as much gossip, news, insider tips, price sensitive information and advance notice as they always did – not to mention the millennia old maxim that every media, from cave painting onwards, will be used to facilitate the propagation of dirty pictures. The management guru Michael J Wolf observed that:

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“The most important thing to bear in

mind, in the midst of Internet hysteria, is that no new medium has ever killed off another; it has only influenced changes in it�. The key concepts in the near future are not obsolescence of traditional media but fragmentation, boundary blurring and cannibalisation. The rules for grabbing attention remain the same whatever the media, as does the reader’s need for narrative. Anyone looking for information has never had it so good. People no longer have to rely on the monopoly of a few national papers or, worse, their local city paper. News-aggregation sites such as Google News pull together thousands of sources from around the world. The good news for the media relations expert is that people are consuming more and more media, only in different ways. According to the MediaPhile Report, by media analysts Screen Digest and investment bank ABN Amro, the average person will be spending 60 hours per week consuming media by 2010. Reading books, magazines and newspapers combined will account for just 72 minutes per week, while we could be spending eight and a half hours per week on either mobile telephony, online or using leisure software. Remember, however, that most magazines and newspapers have online offerings. The turbulence of the media world can be seen in the apparent contradictions and paradoxes of consumption.

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According to Ofcom’s 2008 UK Communications Market Report, for the first time in 2007 the internet outstripped the combined net revenues of ITV1, Channel 4, S4C and Channel Five - £2.8bn compared to £2.4bn. Yet television remains the medium that most people say they could not do without.

Channel-hopping: Media 2.0 The media world - like everything else - is becoming more fragmented, The agenda domination of the major terrestrial news bulletins is fading as their mass audience fragments, becoming more diverse and being transformed by technology. The main BBC and ITN news bulletins have seen their audiences drop dramatically in the last decade, although this same period has seen the rise of dedicated news channels, including BBC News 24, Sky News, CNN cover the headlines on a rolling basis. We have seen a proliferation of television channels from three in the early 1980s, two of which closed down in the afternoon and all three of which disappeared into the little white dot after the national anthem around midnight. Today there are hundreds, including many overseas channels and specialist business, financial and professional channels like Bloomberg, Reuters and even Teachers TV. In the mid 1990s more than 200 television programmes had audiences of more than 15 million. Currently only the occasional big sporting event garners that kind of audience.

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Newspapers continue to battle for share of a declining market and much of their readership has migrated online or on to news aggregator sites like Google News. They remain influential despite predictions of their demise from prophets of doom such as leading American journalism academic Philip Meyer who forecasts with unnerving precision in his book “The Vanishing Newspaper�, that the dead tree press will die in the US in the first quarter of 2043. Internet is growing as a source of information with the interactive and community elements proving particularly compelling. Some pundits predict that social networking is the future of media relations with all communications taking place through groups on social networking sites. That is certainly overstating the case, although organisations need to work out their attitude and approach to using such platforms. (see below). What remains true is that the pitching and presentation skills and strategies for exploiting web 2.0 are little different from those that have endured since the early days of the press. Your messages are still aimed at people, not robots. What is happening is that the traditional tablets of stone view of news is being redefined by opinion. Reader comment is making the boundary between news and opinion more fuzzy and the role of comment is becoming much more influential. Some websites and blogs are read as much for the dialogue in the comment boxes as for the original text. In some cases readers are drawn to columnists to whom they are antipathetic in order to read the rebuttals. 79


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It is true that newspapers are seeing their overall market share decline although rumours of their death are greatly exaggerated. The best are harnessing blogs, podcasts, content rich websites to maximize the reach and flexibility of their brands. Many are now read on-line and are blurring the distinction between themselves and broadcast media. However the British remain among the most avid newspaper readers in the world. It is just that the market is shifting. 65% of British adults read a national newspaper while 84% (41 million) read regional newspapers. Since 2000 total readership has actually increased by around 1.5 million readers.

BLOGS Before blogs came along an awful lot of corporate websites were rather worthy, self-important and dull, like a meeting of the Greenock Rotary Club on a wet Wednesday afternoon. Then the blogorati came and it was like an online version of Withnail and I with the bloggers’ implied promise to “liven all you stiffs up a bit”. Bloggers are no more than the 21st century online heirs to the pamphleteers of the 16th and 17th centuries, polemicists like Thomas Nash and Daniel Defoe. In a recent report Gartner expected the blogging mania of recent years to peak and level out at around 100 million active blogs globally. At the height of the blogging frenzy blogs, short for weblogs or online journals, were

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proliferating faster than rabbits on Viagra with up to 100,000 being created every day. However Gartner pointed out that there are more than 200 million abandoned blogs out there littering the blogosphere the way obsolete satellites are clogging up the orbits around Earth with space junk. Everyone leapt on blogs the way kids dig out tennis racquets when Wimbledon fortnight dominates the television listings. Boardrooms have become aware of the blogs as a powerful communication tool. Euroblog 2007, a research project, found that 79% of senior management recognise the potential. This is no more than creative destruction. All industries from automobiles to dot.coms have gone through this Darwinian process, leaving the fittest to thrive. It is a sign that even if the blog is not yet mature, it has at least reached adolescence. The fact is that, used properly, blogs can be a powerful business tool with which you can communicate directly with stakeholders and share knowledge and insight. Jonathan Schwartz, President and Chief Operating Officer of Sun Microsystems, has proved a good role model with his popular blog, titled simply Jonathan’s Blog.

“We’ve moved from the information age to the participation age, and trust is the currency of the participation age. Companies need to speak with one voice and be authentic. Blogging

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allows you to speak out authentically on your own behalf, and in the long run people will recognize that. Do it consistently and they trust you.� The leading players in the blogosphere reckon that blogging can help them network, increase sales, and even influence key targets such as regulators and politicians much more effectively and directly than traditional media. Some refer to business blogs as b-blogs but that just sounds like the term was coined by someone with a speech impediment. The danger with a corporate blog, as opposed to the independents who are making all the running in the political sphere and leaving the so-called dead tree press standing, is that it turns into a bland PR tool, full of anodyne brochurewear and messages about as controversial as clean tapwater. Choosing the right person to blog is crucial. They must have something worth saying in a stimulating way as blogs thrive on reporting the classic trinity of journalism: controversy, conflict and criticism. Microsoft achieved great credibility with the Scobleizer blog. Unfortunately, this is likely to be hijacked by the vetting processes of governance so that the end result can read like a statement from the Supreme Soviet. Blogging is less time-consuming and more direct that media interviews. It also tilts the playing field in favour of senior business figures as they don’t have to risk having their Olympian pronouncements queried and

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refracted through pesky reporters who are not necessarily with the programme. The downside of blogs is exactly the immediacy and profile that they give: while everyone would like to think of themselves as witty, perceptive and trend-setting it is notoriously difficult to sustain the level of interest. Even writing a weekly newspaper column can become daunting for experienced journalists – George Bernard Shaw spoke of the deadlines coming round as relentlessly as the blades of a windmill. The risk is that by getting the tone or content wrong you can lose clients and alienate customers rather than winning friends and influencing people. There is a temptation among some CEOs to have their blog ghostwritten for them but this can easily backfire as the medium is so personal. Authenticity and an engaging persona are vital ingredients of a good blog. Before going anywhere near a keyboard you should ask yourself why you are blogging; who your blog is aimed at specifically; what your core content is going to be (and just as importantly what areas you will be steering clear of); when you are going to get the time; where you are going to get the flow of new ideas and posts. One of the most successful corporate blogs in history was the previously mentioned Robert Scoble’s Scobleizer blog, written while he was an employee of Microsoft between 2003 and 2006. Scoble was unusual in that he would criticise his own company and praise arch-rivals like Google and Apple. Even he was not immune to criticism of corporate blogs and was the first to be dubbed

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a spokesblogger. However no less an authority than the Economist recognised in 2005 that:

“He has also succeeded where small armies of more conventional public-relations types have been failing abjectly for years: he has made Microsoft, with its history of monopolistic bullying, appear marginally but noticeably less evil to the outside world.” One of the distinguishing features of blogs is interactivity. You will get an immediate response to any post so you should be prepared for some active moderating (ie editing out abusive or defamatory comments). If you have a large but fragile ego then blogging may not be for you. If any of those set alarm bells ringing then step away from the blog.

Building relationships with key bloggers Blogging has effectively returned us to the 19th century idea of the ‘correspondent’ when such people writing for newspapers and periodicals were not professional journalists but private citizens who sent in their views and analysis. Given that some bloggers have greater traffic on their sites than the established media who are their principal rivals, blogger relations is now as important as press relations.

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Knowing the main influencers in your sector is important but there is a lively anarchy about the blog world that is different from the churnalism world of mainstream newspapers. Trying to use traditional press relation methods on bloggers would be like trying to use a sheepdog to herd cats. You probably can’t build meaningful relationships with all bloggers who comment on your patch but metrics and web ranking analysis will spot the main players who should be courted. Blogs of course, as with other social media, are suspicious of corporate encroachment. Services are being developed along the lines of the PR Newswire services that exist to put corporates in touch with journalists, to create an analogous service targeted at the bloggers. How well these will be received remains to be seen. Blogs also represent excellent real-time feedback tools. Even without launching a corporate blog, organisations can use comment monitoring and data mining techniques to identify trends and learn what opinions are regarding such issues as their brand, reputation and competitiveness. Tools are available for to do this. Finally don’t overlook the fact that you could have a blogging opportunity or problem closer to home. A recent survey found that around a third of employees interviewed had blogged about their employer at some point and nearly two in five admitted that they has posted information that “could be potentially sensitive or damaging “.

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Bookseller Waterstone’s sacked an employee in its Edinburgh branch because it alleged that comments on his blog, the Woolamaloo Gazette, had brought the company into disrepute. Although references to his workplace constituted a small percentage of his output he admitted that he had coined the alias “Bastardstone’s” and made references to a character called “Evil Boss”. He was later offered his job back.

Podcasts and videocasts A podcast, m’lud, for those who have been living in a cave on the Flannan Isles for the last five years, is basically a fusion of the words iPod and broadcast, and describes a highly personalised new medium. Podcasts democratise broadcast in the way that blogs have done for print. Basically it is an audio or video recording that has been converted to a digital file format such as MP3 for distribution over the internet via an RSS feed. It can be downloaded and played back on a computer or on a mobile device like an iPod. The big advantage of podcasts over other media is that listeners or viewers can listen or watch at their own convenience. Podcasts are simple to make and use and are proving very popular as anyone who has used YouTube will know. Independent podcasters can attract audiences into the tens of thousands. Some podcasts are attracting

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sponsorship. One of the first was autoblog in the US whose monthly podcast was sponsored by Volvo for six months in a $60,000 deal. As with blogs the trick is to have a clear strategy and expectation upfront. The trap with pods is that they are easy to do badly but less easy to do well. The classic skills of content and presentation are vital just as they are in every medium going back to Cicero’s oratory in the Roman forum. The structure of a podcast is different from a blog or a news article. Simply reading out a sermon from a prepared text is dire unless you are a skilled actor and the text is a best-selling novel. Think of your podcast as a mini-radio show and you will not go wrong. Likewise the last thing the world needs is another corporate videocast that features a member of the PR team talking in front of a white background with all the stagecraft of a Thunderbirds puppet. Scripting is crucial and remember its all about how you leave the audience feeling. As Lord Reith said back in the days when the BBC had a monopoly on this sort of thing, you must inform, educate and entertain.

Social Networking

“Social networking sites are the reality television of the Internet. The content is relatively inexpensive for publishers to produce and social networking is not

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a fad that will disappear. If anything, it will become more ingrained in mainstream sites. “However…the concept of social networking is not enough. In this competitive marketplace, sites also have to provide consumers with distinct content they can identify with.” – Jon Gibs, senior director of media, Nielsen NetRatings Before getting sucked into the cult of social networking it is again vital to remember that it is just another channel to market. Benchmark it against your own criteria for target audiences and influence and act accordingly. The real lure of such sites for marketeers is the ridiculous amount of personal information that users give away for free. Companies are muscling in on these sites, much as the big chains are taking over the high streets of picturesque villages. For instance TopShop, the high street fashion retailer, reportedly generates more than 5% of the web traffic to its site from MySpace, using its profile for promotional purposes. Some commentators believe that social networking sites like Facebook will replace e-mail, help create and maintain relationships between journalists and PR professionals, and provide up-to-date contact information. The danger is that the qualities that initially made

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Facebook attractive will be usurped by commercialisation. It happened to punk rock so it can happen to websites. The initial pioneering frontier spirit becomes contaminated by interloping plagues of advertising, sponsorship, viral marketing, spam and corporatism. It was ever thus. Media 2.0 is forcing the PR community to think hard about how it adapts its traditional approach. The twoway feedback, interactive model is remote from the longstanding command and control, push model of PR. Media 2.0 has democratised communication, blurred boundaries into communities, toppled hierarchies. The space-time continuum has shifted. Audiences can be reached globally and in real-time rather than discretely and in controlled drip-feeds via tonight’s TV news, tomorrow’s broadsheets and then the Sunday papers. Communication is migrating from the tangible, physical sphere to the online, virtual realm with all the implications for rapid evolution, corruption and mutation of news values. This requires more robust and adaptable corporate messages but it also means that effective communications does not have to be about huge spends. Targeting forums, chat rooms and comment boxes of blogs can provide huge leverage to small companies who are smarter and more original in their approach. Traditional media outlets are relying more heavily than ever on blogs for their sources and are lifting stories

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broken by bloggers. The distinctions are blurring. Bloggers are increasingly being hired by mainstream media outlets as regular columnists, bringing their own readership with them and providing promotional boosts to newspapers on their own sites.

Essentials for Good Headlines Journalists and editors, whether of newspapers, blogs or Facebook pages, don’t want dry facts or ho-hum comment. Prominent news stories all have the same key elements, namely….

❑ ❑ ❑

They grab attention

They arouse curiosity

They promise answers to Thorny Questions

They are laden with benefits

They create emotional appeal

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• 98% of the journalists say they are online at least once a day to check email. • 15 hours a week are spent by journalists reading and sending email. • 76% of reporters go online to find new sources and experts.

• 73% of reporters go online to find press releases.

• 53% of journalists use email to receive story pitches. This is more than double the percent (25%) who used email to receive story pitches in 1995. • 81% of reporters go online daily to do searching.

• 92% of journalists go online as part of their story research. A growing portion of journalists use corporate websites to obtain information.

Source:The 2004 Media in Cyberspace study

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“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.� . Oscar Wilde


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Interview Technique High-rolling

CEOs see themselves as tough-talking, hard-hitting, masters-of-the-universe. They treat marketing, PR, brand and reputation management as a lot of soft soap. Too often they dismiss the idea of media training, story clinics and scenario rehearsals as strictly for the C-List wannabes. Then they go into an interview, with the potential to affect the company’s standing with all stakeholders, and the wisecracking, ball-breaking, kick-ass Alpha Male or Female becomes inarticulate jelly, destroying reputation and brand values as they take part in the media equivalent of a slow motion career car crash. They are so close to the company that they are floored by such anodyne outsiders’ questions as: “What do you do?”; “What’s your biggest challenge?” or “What’s your strategy?”

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They are completely blindsided by having to see their organisation from an unusual angle, ie that of anyone who is not living and breathing their universe. They just can’t see the wood for the trees and that is a huge risk. The point of an interview is to get your key message across to the target audience through the media. It is not to give a tutorial to the journalist or show off how clever and well-read you are. UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian’s famous studies indicated that in many cases words account for just 7% of the impact of our interpersonal communications. Tone of voice accounts for 38% and gestures and facial expressions produce 55% of the overall impression. This is sometimes reduced to the soundbite of the 3Vs: verbal, vocal and visual. How you leave the audience feeling is vital. You may think you come across as smart and incisive but the audience may just see you as smug and rude. The famous example of Kennedy and Nixon presidential debate in 1960 acts as a cautionary tale in terms of the balance of content versus presentation. Broadcast simultaneously on radio and television it showed a tanned, fit, fresh and smiling JFK up against Richard Nixon who was still recovering from a fortnight in hospital after injuring his knee. Nixon was underweight, wearing a poorly fitting shirt, sweating and had refused make-up to reduce his five o’clock shadow. He looked like a corpse.

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The 70 million television viewers, focusing on what they saw, judged Kennedy the winner by a substantial margin while the much smaller radio audience judged Nixon the winner on the substance of the argument. More than half of all viewers said the Great Debates had affected their vote with fully 6% saying that they had based their decision on the debates alone.

Ahead of the Interview You will rarely find yourself in such adversarial circumstances as a presidential candidate, even if you are scheduled to appear on Newsnight or Radio 4’s Today programme. However, no matter what the medium or topic you should always follow the same pre-interview and interview routines to maximise your performance. First, find out whether the interview is live or recorded and how long your slot is likely to be. If you’re travelling to a studio then give yourself plenty of time to get there. You don’t want to arrive breathless, sweating and stressed. Don’t expect the television or radio station personnel to defer to you or offer you VIP treatment. You may be God in your own company but here you are just one more talking head in a long queue. You may have to wait and there will be little ceremony. Beware of drinking caffeine before an interview as this can dry out the mouth and increase blood pressure which can lead to babbling. Turn off your mobile phone and make sure you’ve visited the toilet.

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If the interview is to be held at your office or workplace be ready in advance and notify everyone that you are not to be disturbed. Never take a call in front of a journalist. Apart from the risk of having the media eavesdrop on a sensitive call it is arrogant and risks alienating the journalist. If the interview is in your office, make sure that it is tidy and that you are happy for your choice in artwork, publications and family photos to be made public. Reporters will frequently use a caricature or a display item as an intro device for their article. Try not to be interviewed behind your desk as it sets up a barrier between you and the journalist and can be construed as an egotistical power play. Make sure you are aware of previous articles the journalist has written and make passing reference to them in a positive manner without gushing. Journalists welcome feedback and it will get the interview off to a good start. Feel free to ask the journalist upfront about their views on the topics that you are going to discuss. They are opinionated and enjoy the rare chance to have their expertise sought. You may pick up some industry intelligence but you will at least be able to gauge any prejudices in advance and avoid any bear traps as a result. Don’t ask for copy approval. Although this is creeping into some areas of journalism, such as celebrity interviews, it is still regarded as insulting by most

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reporters. You could instead offer to check any technicalities as a service to the reporter to ensure that they are not making a fool of themselves. Couch it sensitively. In order to get the delivery right imagine that you are talking to a trusted layperson such as a family member or a neighbour. Use anecdotes, analogies and metaphors – imagery which is immediate and not arcane. This exercise has the added advantage of preventing you corpsing when you remember that your radio or TV interview could be seen or heard by several million people. Be the real deal. Nothing sells better than authentic enthusiasm or passion. It is contagious so don’t worry about coming across as genuinely engaged. On the other hand it is better to be balanced and measured when expressing disagreement or rejecting a rival viewpoint. You don’t want to come across as psychotic or scary. Expect the unexpected: Just because you know that you are qualified to talk about banking matters in the UK consumer market doesn’t mean that the interviewee necessarily knows or cares about your corporate organigramme and media spokesperson hierarchy. Anything from the heir apparent to the CEO to the future actions of the Chancellor are considered fair game. Be ready to handle such questions with noncontroversial bridging statements before returning to your own agenda. If you are caught off-guard by a journalist contacting you unexpectedly, tell them that you are in the middle of

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something, ask what topic they wish to discuss and tell them you will call them back in 10 minutes. Then make sure that you do but use the intervening period to marshall your thoughts and decide your key messages.Ideally all media inquiries should go through the press office who can act as a valuable buffer between you and the journalist. At the end of the interview always do a recap of action points such as providing the reporter with additional information or resources. Agree a timeframe and stick to it. Also ask when the interview will appear in the media. Again, as we mentioned before, watch out for the Columbo question. The formal interview is over and you are in relaxed and relieved mode as you escort the reporter to the lift or out to reception. This is an especially vulnerable stage as your guard will be down. Remember in broadcast situations, the cameras and tape recorders can still be running even if the interview has finished as such luminaries as Ron Atkinson, Kelvin Mackenzie and John Major have found to their cost.

Interview Tips 1

Make sure you research your viewers and listeners ahead of the interview paying particular attention to the issues that matter to them. In any interview, you’re speaking through the reporter to the readers, listeners or viewers. Use your company name in answers. Don’t say

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‘we’ all the time as this is throwing away a fantastic opportunity for name recognition.

2 3

4

5

6

7

Listen carefully to the questions. Don’t feel railroaded. If necessary ask the interviewer to repeat or clarify the question. Remember that you are there to give a viewpoint. If you don’t like a particular question then use phrases such as: “I think the real question is...”, or “What we have to remember is...” to get onto talking about the issues you want to discuss. Have one or two key messages prepared and deliver them early in the interview. Do not feel embarrassed about returning to your key messages during the course of the interview. Say something fresh in a memorable way. If you can give the journalist good, memorable and snappy quotes or soundbites you are threequarters of the way to successful media coverage. Don’t feel you have to demonstrate interviewee infallibility. If you are unsure about a fact or quote don’t just make something up as a get-out of-jail-free card. Volunteer alternative information; tell the interviewer where to get the information they need; offer to find it for them once you have established their deadline (if the interview is print, blog or recorded broadcast). Remember you’re not in a fingers-on-the-buzzers

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8

9

10

11

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quiz show scenario; You don’t have to rush out an immediate response. Take your time and use bridging phrases to give you space or ask the interviewer to repeat the question. Even in a live broadcast interview do not feel obliged to fill dead air if you get a tough question. That is the interviewer’s problem, not yours. So don’t continue waffling after you make your point. In recorded broadcast interviews feel free to ask for a retake if you don’t like the way your answer is going or if you stumble. The interviewer and producer want you to look good. Speak in full sentences. That way you can be edited neatly for bulletins that are not going to run your interview in full. Try not to talk across the interviewer, even if the discussion is getting heated or they keep interrupting. They will look unprofessional: you will look professional. Don’t repeat negative statements or offer flat denials such as “Our health and safety record is not abysmal” Such defensive statements could be used as the soundbite in an edited news story. Instead, offer the correction framed not as a denial but as a statement about the facts you want to present If a reporter provides incorrect information, it is Okay to correct them with “That is not true… the facts are that….”

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.

“Journalism is a profession whose business is to explain to others what it personally does not understand.� Lord Northcliffe


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STARRING IN YOUR OWN MOVIE


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8

Starring in your own movie As we have stressed, how you say something is as important as what you say. Every interview is a performance and you need to be confident of the part you are playing and ensure your body language matches the persona you have chosen to convey. There is no particular secret to looking relaxed. Dress simply and elegantly. Self-coloured clothes work better than patterns, make-up and jewellery should be used sparingly and men should remember to shave carefully before an interview and use a deodorant. Remember to breath naturally while speaking and take your time in answering questions. This helps avoid “umm-ing and ah-ing� and stops you speaking too fast. You are allowed to smile in most circumstances - it gives you confidence and is more appealing to viewers. In crisis situations avoid smiling but look calm and alert.

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KEY MESSAGES To exploit the full potential of media interest in your organisation you must be engaging. But remember you are not there to fill space for journalists, you are there to sell your organisation. For that you need to refine your key messages. Structuring a key message is part art form but also part engineering problem. The discipline lies in not trying to say too much in a meandering shaggy dog story while you try to improvise what you would like to say. There are two main key message constructs: CLAIM – FACT – EXAMPLE

STATEMENT – EVIDENCE – ANECDOTE

The techniques work like this:

CLAIM: Smith air brakes are the most reliable in the world.

FACT: We’ve tested them to destruction in our state-ofthe-art labs and they were voted best-in-class by Car Magazine.

BENEFIT: Our brakes can save your family’s lives if you get a blowout at high speed. Or

STATEMENT: We are the number one employer of choice in the banking sector.

EVIDENCE: We have the lowest staff turnover of any major banking group. 105


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ANECDOTE: Just yesterday I met 10 of our fast-track management trainees who are all on company-sponsored MBA programmes. Work out what your agenda is and what they key communication objective is. That is if the listener or reader takes nothing else away from this interview then it should be one or two preordained facts. Frame your messages in a positive way making them highly relevant to the target audience who will always be subconsciously asking those killer questions: “So what?” and “What’s in it for me?”. Too often audiences are left with the Clark Gable response of: “Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn.” Practise your key messages before you go anywhere near the interview so that you have them off-pat and can make them sound natural. Oscar Wilde’s spontaneous witticisms were actually honed and rehearsed carefully in private. Make sure you expunge all technical or jargon expressions from your key message – these will just confuse and alienate you audience. Clearly, you will not always get it all your own way and there are simple tricks to stop the journalist getting the upper hand in an interview.

Blocking and developing Inevitably, journalists will ask you questions that wish they hadn’t which is why you prepare your anticipatory

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Q&A documents. If a reporter asks you such a question then do not resort to “no comment” but say something balanced and reasonable rather than look defensive. One of the best ways to handle a discussion is to acknowledge and answer questions with a short, neutral answer before expanding into one of your key messages. A simple and effective way to have every question become an opportunity to make your point is to try and answer a question with a very brief answer then and one of your key messages.

Highlighting

In a broadcast interview you may have very little time to get your key points across. Do not make the mistake of waiting to be asked the exact cue question that tees up your answer perfectly. Chances are it is never going to happen. Instead be proactive and take the interview, metaphorically, by the scruff of the neck. Do not make the mistake of building to a conclusion as that risks losing the audience. Instead make your key point upfront and then build the explanation in afterwards. This is precisely the technique used on radio and television news and in newspaper headlines. Think of the Bongs on News at Ten or the Chimes on Radio 4’s PM programme. Think of it as telling a joke with the punchline right at the start. You are not on Jackanory and you have to get the points in quickly. This is vital in broadcast interviews.

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Power of Three The rhetorical device of using lists of three points is especially powerful. When you have a complex message to get across in a broadcast interview, you can ensure that your soundbite is selected in the edit by enumerating three points. “Customers worried about fraud should take the following action now 1) Check your account 2) note any unusual items 3) contact your local branch immediately.” The reality is that in most of the contact you will have with the press they will not have an agenda, will not be particularly well-versed in the ways of the your industry and will look to you to help them. It is the equivalent of shooting into an open goal. That said, it is every bit as important to be on your guard as the tendency is not to sell your story hard enough if the questions are too easy. Don’t fall into that trap: use every question as a selling opportunity to get your points across. Remember, this is all about client relationship management. It is like any other sell…and if you don’t sell your version of the story to the journalist, he or she will sell their version to the reader.

Bridging In any interview situation you will be asked questions that focus on issues other than the ones you are keen to

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address. Rather than be meekly reactive and allow yourself to be led on a random walk by the reporter you can use bridging and framing techniques to move the discussion onto your preferred territory and make your key points. Remember you are not in an examination so look for the aspect or key word in the question and use that to link to your agenda.

Go Wide / Go Narrow One of the best techniques for getting your key points across, especially in a tough interview is to expand or reduce the frame of reference. Always remember that your audience may have no knowledge of your organisation other than what they have just heard in the 20-second introduction to your interview. Offer up positive background information for your company or, in other circumstances, define very precisely what your role is in the story.

Going Narrow: “The fact is that our statutory role as auditor is to confirm that the accounts were true and fair as of the year end date. That is what we did, accurately and diligently. We have no role at all in advising management on its strategy.”

Going Wide: “Megacorps has a well-deserved reputation as an active corporate citizen. In the last 10 years we have donated more than £12 million to charities working with the elderly and we are currently increasing our spend in this area.”

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LINKING PHRASES It’s always good to have a stock of phrases that allow you to segue seamlessly from the interviewer’s agenda to your own key messages without looking crass or ignorant. Here are three tried and test examples:

“We musn’t lose sight of the bigger picture which is…” “I think it’s important to remember…” “Let me tell you about what the real situation is…” Successful Soundbites

Tell the media what problem you solve, not what you do

Talk about the audience’s interests, not yours Sell benefits, not features

Sell on emotion, justify on facts

Keep it simple and direct

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Anti-role models/ Foot-in-mouth-disease. Sometimes interviewees are overcome by moments of madness 2001: In an interview with Menswear magazine, Topman brand director David Shepherd said that his target customer was “hooligans or whatever”.

He completed the brand deconstruction by adding that: “Very few of our customers have to wear suits to work. They’ll be for his first interview or first court case.”

In an infamous speech to the Institute of Directors in 1991 Gerald Ratner succeeded in wiping an estimated £500 million off the value of his eponymous high street jewellery chain after joking that it “sold a pair of earrings for under a pound, which is cheaper than a prawn sandwich from Marks & Spencer, but probably wouldn’t last as long”.

Journalists leapt on the now notorious speech in which he explained that a sherry decanter was so cheap because it was “total crap”.

With shoppers unwilling to be seen as tacky and cheap, profits dived and Mr Ratner lost his job.

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“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.�


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measuring your media impact


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Measuring Your Media Impact The great Scots-born advertising maestro David Ogilvy once claimed that news stories are six times more effective than advertising, but his seductive claim is based on intuition rather than hard science. However research from the U.S. has shown that when negative media coverage exceeds 20 to 25% of the total, a company’s image begins to suffer. Finding a single, powerful metric for measuring your media relations impact is the PR industry’s equivalent of the physicists’ quest for the unified field theory. While there are media experts who seem to work with the news equivalent of quantum theory with its’ 11 dimensions and super-string theories, we’ll stick at the level of Newton’s laws. They might not explain the universe at sub-atomic level but they hold true in the media world that you inhabit. 114


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While there is no golden rule, most players use a combination of metrics such as website impressions, sales lead generation, media coverage, Advertising Value Equivalents and so on. The truth is that the impact of media relations cannot be measured accurately because it has almost as many variables as the climate. The chain of events that sees your 90 second radio slot and your page 5 profile in the financial trade press become a contribution to net profit is as subtle and complex as the sequence that leads from the beating of the butterfly’s wings to the hurricane. Media relations is just one of many corporate communications channels alongside advertising, direct mail, call centres, sales teams, partnership marketing, customer support teams and multifarious. It cannot be isolated like a strand of DNA. However, let’s not be defeatist. The UK PR industry generated £1.1 billion in corporate profits in 2005 according to the rigorous and intensive research carried out by the Centre for Economic and Business Research for the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. The value of PR lies in getting name recognition among target customers and other stakeholders. It lies in continuously putting yourself on their radar screen and keeping you front of mind. Most people would agree that PR has a positive benefit but quantifying it is tougher. That there is a business value to getting positive messages into the most respected publications and read by lots of people is a no-

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brainer. But you’ve got to have some reliable and accurate way of measuring that worth. It is possible to measure public relations and it doesn’t have to be difficult, time-consuming or costly. There are lots of approaches to measuring media relations but most programmes and techniques will contain the following elements. ❑ The

amount of coverage; sheer number of column inches.

❑ Type ❑ Type

of media: print, radio, television, online.

of coverage – quotation, dedicated news article, comment piece, feature, exclusive. ❑ Scorecard

of the balance between positive, negative and neutral reporting – this can be segmented by news channel and area.

How often key messages were used and how often a different message was sent.

❑ Proportion

of stories appeared in core target publications and coverage by influential journalists.

❑ Benchmarking ❑ Profiling

frequency.

of media coverage against competitors.

of audience in terms of opportunity to see and

The proof of the campaign is when it has delivered on all three areas: It reaches the target audience, influences their perception and get them to act in a desired way. In most cases this will take weeks and months rather than hours or days. Media content analysis only measures exposure to PR

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messages and coverage rather than any insight into whether the target audience saw the messages and responded in any way. Like economics it is art masquerading as science. Measuring the impact of media relations there are two camps. Some ascribe greater value to PR as it contains independent third party endorsement. Others argue that a message is a message and the use of multipliers is a bit misleading. Procter & Gamble has perhaps come closest, having made headlines when it proved the connection between PR and sales, using a marketing-mix modelling formula created by the company. In three of the six brands tested, PR had the highest ROI while in the other three categories it came second. Online profiling can be measured using the sophisticated, scalable, easy-to-use and free Google Analytics. Google may be coming under attack in some quarters for allegedly not quite living up to it’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto but the metrics tools it provides are excellent and the integrity of your data is protected. It can track all online campaigns from emails to keywords. Other approaches to PR measurement include.

Audience response. Across the industry there is a general research-based rule-of-thumb that 20% of buyers will consider the company or product if they see an editorial piece. There is generally a 2-5% immediate response against around 1% for direct campaigns and advertising. AdvertisingValue Equivalent (AVE): Looking at your column

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inches and calculating how much the same impact of the message would have cost in terms of buying advertising space. AVE has come in for some criticism by industry professionals for being compromised and misleading but it remains prevalent because it is straightforward and generates sexy numbers. A television or radio AVE is calculated by measuring the number of seconds of news coverage and multiplying by the advertising rate per second or minute to reach a figure in pounds and pence. Of course, part of the problem with AVE is attributing a value for, say, a report on a BBC news programme.

Measuring your press cuttings Electronic clippings services have replaced the slightly Heath Robinson approach of old scissors, paste and back issues. They enable you to track all types of media, not just print but broadcast and online and give you daily or even hourly updates. They permit the monitoring of names, words and phrases allowing you to track issues or competitors as well. There are a number of content services but they can be expensive. If you choose to measure performance yourself you can either target the entire universe or just focus on the A-list publications and channels that are most effective and influential with your target audience. Boiling a pan is a lot easier than boiling an ocean. News aggregators such as Google News are a cheap and effective way of sourcing content free from major publications. 118


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You can set up RSS feeds from online publications via Google, Yahoo and others but there is a danger you get swamped and you miss offline newsletters etc. Measuring coverage is pretty subjective and it can be difficult for the in-house team to be objective given that it’s their stories that are being analysed. A demolition job with headlines screaming “We name the guilty men” may be rationalised as fair and balanced. It is possible however to use media measurement programmes that take the human fallibility and vested interest out of the equation. These analysis tools use algorithms to identify, and assess all manner of specific coverage. They claim to be objective and they allow you to segment the analysis to see whether the type of publication had more impact than the tone. Volume of appearance is the definitive metric. It may not quite be a case of weighing your publicity rather than measuring it but you can’t argue with a thick ring-bound book of weekly cuttings. Of course, there have to be some parameters. PRs in quoted companies would get short shrift if they counted their FT listing as a regular daily cutting. Increasingly, the more sophisticated practitioners are differentiating between outputs and outcomes. An output is when you get coverage in a target publication; an outcome is when you changed perceptions of the company in a desirable way and influenced audience behaviour.

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PR Measurement Checklist ❑ Set

your PR goals (eg product awareness; improving customer opinion) ❑ Measure

your outputs: coverage in target channels

❑ Measure

the benefit to the business

❑ Measure

your PR outcomes: impact on target audience

At the more sophisticated end, PR evaluation calculates the value or importance of a PR campaign by benchmarking it against the KPIs set for it at the very start. This usually involved a combination of different techniques including media content analysis, polls surveys and focus groups. Make sure that every objective is measurable. Set goals like improving opinion among a target audience or raising awareness of a service, product or issue. Smart pollsters can pick up subtle changes in opinion and perception and can probe what people are really feeling and why. Focus groups are useful for giving quick grass roots opinion but they are limited and discussion must be handled skillfully to avoid influencing them or letting individuals dominate. Since PR is seen as a cost centre rather than an investment then, in an ideal world every media campaign would be accompanied by a study to measure the target audience’s change in attitude, perception or behaviour. Unfortunately this is time-consuming and

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expensive so if money and resource is an issue then some of the following techniques can be used internally. Whatever your company uses to measure PR, be sure to follow these three simple rules: Choose metrics that are easily measurable and tied to tangible results.

â?‘

Make sure these metrics can be attributed to specific tactics and campaigns.

â?‘

â?‘ Make

sure that everyone in the marketing and PR team know these metrics and are held accountable for achieving them. Follow these steps and the advice elsewhere in the book and you will be well on your way to generating a hard return on your investment in corporate communications. This will allow you to create value in your organisation, manage reputational risk effectively and get the positive headlines that will generate new business and make money for the company.

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THE AUTHORS:

John Hatfield

John began his career as an equity analyst with Charterhouse Tilney before moving into journalism as European editor of Investor’s Chronicle. He has worked at a senior level as a journalist, columnist and editor on national newspapers (including the FinancialTimes Group, Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and Sunday Herald) and has substantial boardroom experience as editorial director of national magazine groups and head of media relations for FTSE-100 company ScottishPower.A regular on radio and in front of the television cameras, John is in demand as a conference speaker, speechwriter and mentor on presentational and messaging skills.

Roland Main

In a journalistic career spanning more than 20 years Roland worked his way from daily newspapers to Sundays and on to senior managerial positions with national magazine groups. His newspaper credits include business editor of The Birmingham Post and assistant editor of Scotland on Sunday, which became the 5th largest selling Sunday broadsheet in the UK. Roland is an expert on corporate publishing and new media communication methods, such as podcasting and blogging. He regularly audits the communications functions of blue chip clients and has advised on the innovative use of digital and traditional media as part of their overall strategies.


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Notes

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Notes

www.second-city.com

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In the fast-moving, 24/7 digital world, a strong media presence is vital to raise your profile, build trust and boost sales. If you’re serious about creating real value in your business and minimising risk to your reputation this is the book you’ve been waiting for…

YOU’LL LEARN HOW TO ENGAGE WITH THE MEDIA TO FULL ADVANTAGE AND GET THE COVERAGE THAT WILL GENERATE BUSINESS.

YOU’LL

YOU’LL

DISCOVER THE LATEST TECHNIQUES TO MAXIMISE THE RETURN ON YOUR INVESTMENT.

Maximise Your Media Impact Making the media work for you

Grab the headlines that will boost your bottom line !

MAK ING THE M EDIA WOR K FOR YOU

GET THE KEY SKILLS AND KNOWLEDGE TO EXPLOIT THE MEDIA AS THE POWERFUL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CHANNEL IT CAN BE.

cost-effective way of building that all-important goodwill and influencing your target audiences. From key messages, soundbites and interview skills to social media strategies, Maximise Your Media Impact gives you the top tools, techniques, tactics and secrets to outperform as a communicator and beat the competition. John Hatfield and Roland Main, both award-winning former journalists, are founders and directors of Second City Creative, one of the UK’s leading strategic communications consultancies, with a list of blue chip corporate clients.

JOHN HATFIELD & ROLAND MAIN

Maximise Your Media Impact gives you the inside track on the most

I S B N 978-0-955345-91-3

9

780955 345913

www.second-city.com

JOHN HATFIELD & ROLAND MAIN

MAXIMISE YOUR MEDIA IMPACT  

From key messages, soundbites and interview skills to social media strategies, Maximise Your Media Impact gives you the top tools, technique...

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