The more people we speak to about media relations, the more we discover some commonly recurring themes and beliefs people have about the way things work – many of which aren’t true. So we thought we’d take a moment or two to bust a few PR myths.
1. Your press release will run in your target media, in full, exactly as you supplied it, with no changes.
Whilst a well-written news release will require minimal editing, more often than not a journalist will change the headline (often to fit the available space in a printed publication – there is more freedom online), edit the story down (again, this can be down to space availability), add their viewpoint to the story, or simply not run it at all. Once your press release has gone to a journalist, what they run is completely out of your control. As long as the writer doesn’t alter the facts of the story, they can edit it in any way they see fit. There is no such thing as ‘guaranteed coverage’, without booking and paying for advertising space, but a good PR agency will have an eye for a story angle, great writing skills and strong relationships with journalists, which will enable them to ‘sell’ the story to journalists in a way that will minimise editing.
2. Journalists are sitting and waiting to hear from you.
Journalists do rely on outside sources to flag up interesting stories for them to cover, but they are working, often under pressure, to tight deadlines (particularly when it comes to daily news media) and so you might find yourself getting short shrift if you pick up the phone to them. Knowing when to call – and when not to – is an important part of building relationships with journalists, as is knowing the kind of stories that interest them. Emailing isn’t the ideal solution, either, as many journalists will face a barrage of stories by email and it’s easy for yours to get lost in the pile – particularly if they’re not expecting it or don’t know who you are.
3. I don’t want to give away financial information – nobody will ask, anyway.
Telling journalists half a story can be immensely frustrating for them. If you’re shouting about a new contract win, but you’re not happy disclosing the contract value; or if you’re talking about rocketing sales figures, but you’re not prepared to include the numbers, often the story will be spiked. Certainly, it’s the first question a journalist will come back and ask – if they bother asking at all. They may choose to run your competitor’s contract win story, which has given them all of the information they are looking for.
4. This is new and exciting – everyone will be interested in our story!
That could well be the case, but new to you doesn’t necessarily mean new to the market, to the industry or to the media. What makes it newsworthy for them might not be the same thing that makes it new and exciting to you. The most effective test you can run to help drill down into a potential story is to put yourself in the shoes of the person you want to read the story and think from their point of view, and ask “so what?”. And keep asking the question until you get to the news. For example:
“We’ve just started a training programme for all of our call centre staff.” So what?
“Well, it shows we’re committed to investing in and developing our team.” So what?
“It means that in three months’ time, every one of our 25,000 customers who calls our service line at any time, day or night, will have their call answered within 30 seconds and speak to a real person with at least five years’ experience. We’re the first in our industry to do it.” Now you’re talking!
5. An official press release is the only source of information journalists will use.
If a journalists sees a disgruntled former staff member tweeting their dissatisfaction at losing their job, along with their 150 colleagues, you can safely assume a phone call from a journalist to your company could well be on the cards to find out more. Journalists use a range of sources to identify stories (social media, freedom of information requests, minutes of council meetings, court reports), and whilst this can be useful when you want to try and engage them with a story; it can also put you in a sticky situation if others are using those channels and you are unprepared. Different journalists use social media to varying degrees to source stories. A news writer will often say that once a story has broken on Twitter it’s old news; whereas a features writer may look at what’s trending on Twitter and use it as the basis for a more in-depth feature giving a range of viewpoints on a topical issue.
6. Journalists are only there to find out what you don’t want to tell them.
Sometimes it might feel that way, but journalists aren’t always out to get the bad news story. There are certain organisations who are more likely to be given a hard time by the media: local and national government, big business ‘fat cats’; but there are journalists looking to champion the positive, too: local people succeeding in the face of adversity; Yorkshire businesses innovating and leading the fight against Covid-19.
7. I’m not a big brand so people won’t want to hear what I have to say.
Getting onto the ten o’clock news with your latest ‘me-too’ product launch when you’re a manufacturer that nobody outside your industry has heard of is unlikely. It’s all about finding the right angle. Why would you want the ten o’clock news to be interested? It may well be more beneficial for your business if potential customers (the people who require your widgets to make the machines they sell to their customers) knew about your new product. Identifying your audience, selecting target media and developing the story angle accordingly is the key to successful media relations activity that will deliver meaningful benefits to your business.
8. Let’s fill our press release with puffery and jargon to make it look impressive
Saying that your new product is ‘world-class’, ‘innovative’, ‘revolutionary’ or ‘unique’ doesn’t make it so. Using those words, and others like them, immediately trip a wire in a journalist’s brain, which instantly makes them want to either disprove or ridicule them. As such, using them without strong evidence to back up your claims is inadvisable. Likewise, cramming a press release so full of industry acronyms and jargon that it’s impossible for anyone without a dictionary to hand to understand what you’re saying will not endear your product to a journalist, who wants readers to be able to quickly understand how this new innovation will benefit them.
Glad to hear it.
9. My business is doing well, I don’t need to promote it in the media.
But what about when that thing happens. You know, the one that could grind your business to an instant standstill. Your crisis. Every business has one. If you’re a construction company, it could be an accident or - worse still - a death on site. If you’re a manufacturer, it could be a product recall. If you’re a big local employer, it could be a round of redundancies that will affect the lives of a significant number of people in your local area. And the media could well pick up on it. If there has been a steady stream of positive stories about your business in the media – all of your charitable work, your support for local community initiatives, your strict focus on health and safety – then that incident will be seen in context as a ‘blip’, a one-off. Without that general backdrop of positivity to fall back on, the crisis could become the thing that defines your organisation, rather than all of the good things you are doing 99.99% of the time.