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Are press releases still relevant?

We have spoken about how the media has evolved in the past year – Covid-19 has both accelerated some changes to industry practices and redefined others, giving journalists even less time and space to create. But what does this mean for PR and marketing tactics? The press release has been PR bread and butter since Noah built the ark, or at least since he told the newspapers he was building it, so does it still have a place in today’s fast-paced world? 

Journalists receive hundreds if not thousands of press releases every week, so it is inconceivable to believe they read every one. This may call into question whether it is worth spending time crafting a press release or whether there is another way to engage media in your story. Short pitch emails or phone calls successfully secure media interest, but we also firmly believe press releases should remain part of the PR toolkit, just not as the only tactic.  

It ensures everyone is on the same page
There are often multiple stakeholders that want a say in how news is released and messaged. A press release provides one central document that can be viewed and signed off by all parties. It also enables supporting web pages and social media accounts to be included and the right spokespeople to be properly referenced – having all the facts in one place is useful and can really help when a journalist is up against deadlines.

It helps build existing relationships
To stand out in a journalist’s inbox, we often condense stories into a couple of sentences that appeal to their specific interests, attaching a press release so they can look at the bigger story if helpful. When journalists get to know and appreciate that you will provide them with interesting stories and accurate information, they often request to be added to press release distribution lists. 

It can increase coverage results
Working as smaller and tighter editorial teams with a focus on content generation, regional and trade publications are more likely to run press releases as full articles. If they are carefully written and have a strong headline, a press release can be quickly adapted, so it is fit for publication. It’s a win for everyone as these titles get quality written content and brands get more exposure.

It can be passed on
Stories can be easily passed between journalists and content writers before being written up. The beauty of a press release is that your messaging remains consistent, with all key information and weblinks to hand for the write up. This also applies to wider marketing activity, once you have a press release written and approved, it can easily be shared with partners, stakeholders and internal teams for promotion. 

It can be shared easily
Publishing a press release online gives your business website updated content and can offer SEO benefits, it also makes it easier to share with journalists and influencers via social media. Increasingly, we reach out to journalists on Twitter or LinkedIn, which can be more informal and achieve an immediate response. From a media distribution perspective, a press release enables us to send out information to a huge range of press efficiently at the same time, which is hugely important for time-sensitive news.    

In the same way that a CV is not a job application, a press release is not a story. It is a tried and tested method of communication and is still widely accepted (and expected) by journalists when it comes to announcements. Tailoring your approach for specific media contacts still yields the best coverage results, but the press release certainly remains relevant for at least a while longer.

Discuss your next PR campaign with Caroline Walker by email or call 01732 779 087

Using calendar hooks for PR and content

From headlining seasonal events such as Christmas to dedicated awareness and national appreciation days, barely a day passes that doesn’t carry some significance. 

For brands, important dates can be used to make stories newsworthy – giving journalists an extra reason to write about a specific topic and use your spokesperson to lead. In wider marketing, it provides another opportunity to repurpose existing content, tap into trending hashtags on social media or launch a time-sensitive promotion that stands out in recipients’ mailboxes. 

Be selective
It’s easy to become overloaded as you try to tap into every calendar hook. Lack of focus can steal time and budget from marketing teams and bombard customers with multiple messages. Focusing on a few key dates spread throughout the year enables you to maximise resources, make a greater impact and establish stronger links to specific topics. 

Stay relevant
It can be tempting to jump on the latest trends and capitalise on interest surrounding big news stories and emerging social media hashtags. While it pays to be reactive on some occasions, it is important that the hook you are tapping into is relevant to your brand and aligns with at least one of your key messages. Building a recognisable brand means the stories you share must make sense to your audience and continue to add to your brand persona. Does it align with your corporate values or highlight your key message(s)? Can the date help you inform, educate or entertain your target market? If not, concentrate on other activities.

Boost existing activity
A lot of time and energy goes into creating content, and we’re great believers in getting as much mileage out of it as possible. In an age where the news agenda is constantly shifting, it pays to be flexible when launching your story but also identify multiple opportunities across the year to promote your material. For example, if you have launched a report looking at wellbeing, repurpose the content around mental health awareness days, giving you another chance to approach the media. 

Put it in the diary!
To stay on track, create a PR calendar highlighting important dates and fitting these in alongside planned launches, events and campaigns. This ensures you have enough time to develop assets and content and helps you to maintain a steady flow of activity across the year. 

It is worth looking at the amount of engagement specific calendar hooks have received in previous years, whether on your own platforms or in the wider media. Some prominent dates command media attention every year and gain momentum. International Women’s Day is a good example, while 8th March has been marked by UK business press for more than a decade, mainstream coverage has continued to grow since the #MeToo movement hit the headlines in 2017.

New awareness dates take time to establish, so coverage opportunities are likely to be limited in the first few years but should grow in reach year-on-year. If it is a cause particularly close to your brand, it can be beneficial to associate yourself with a date early on, fixing your connection in people’s minds and incorporating it into your brand’s identity – such as M&S’ partnership with Macmillan Coffee Morning. 

To discuss your brand’s PR calendar, contact Caroline Walker on 01732 779 087. 

Using research for PR

Storytelling is a fundamental part of PR and journalism and when crafting stories that carry fact and meaning, using data adds credibility to a story. Research findings can underline the importance of an issue, giving the story more weight and, in some cases, form the basis of a news story alone.  

Traditionally, PR professionals have commissioned research agencies to survey sample groups or purchased industry reports to source these facts. Yet, in an age where mobile and online surveys are easy and inexpensive to run, we are increasingly seeing brands polling their customers and using their own data to create news stories. This activity can also foster relationships with existing customers, securing feedback on your brand and products. 

Focus your research
While it can be tempting to find out as much as possible from a research project, lengthy questionnaires turn respondents off and give you a smaller sample size or, potentially less reliable responses. It’s better to focus on one area, understand your audience’s attitudes and understanding of a particular topic, and limit surveys to between 10 and 20 questions. When developing research campaigns, we work with clients to choose an area that best represents their services – supporting thought leadership activity – and is topical to gain media traction. 

It’s also important to consider the demographic of people you are polling. Typically, for a consumer campaign, a sample size should exceed 2,000 respondents from a cross-section of genders, ages, household income and locations. However, it can be beneficial to poll specific groups such as homeowners or professionals in a particular industry. If interesting, we sometimes split findings to highlight difference of opinion between different demographic groups, e.g. only 20% of business owners in the North West are currently investing in AI compared to 60% in London and the South East. 

To run an effective research project, we recommend using the questions to gather useful insight for wider marketing purposes as well as for PR activity. It could help understand consumer needs, to support product and service development, or provide insight that could be shared with clients and prospects via your sales and client relations teams. 

What’s your headline?
We know how important headlines are for grabbing media attention. Lead with your strongest statistic. Especially high or low results make for the best headlines, and we look for findings that will shock or surprise. Avoid “No sh*t Sherlock!” stories – stating the obvious is not interesting. 

When developing a research questionnaire, we always think backwards, considering the stats we want to report in the final press release to engineer the right wording. Accurate reporting of survey results is key, it is misleading to stray too far from the wording in the original survey question. For example, if you want to report “three quarters of Brits plan to holiday in the UK this year”, your question needs to poll UK consumers and ask: “Where do you plan to holiday this year?”, with appropriate multiple-choice options including “UK”. You will not be able to report the response as: “three quarters of Brits are holidaying in the UK this year”, as the question specifies plans – the difference is subtle but important. For this reason, when working with a research agency, we always run final press releases through them to check compliance. 

Releasing your findings
Once collected and collated, make your research work hard. This is your brand intelligence and can be used across all internal and external communications for at least a couple of years as long as you properly reference the sample size and date of activity. 

Creating a research report can effectively showcase your findings and help to share surrounding insight from brand spokespeople. Using infographics and graphs to make the information easy to digest, the document can also be handed out at events and meetings or circulated to your email database. As well as opinion articles and blogs, we have also incorporated facts and figures into corporate videos, which sit on brand websites, exhibition stands and social media platforms. 

For PR purposes, a press release is still the best way to distribute news to the media and secure that all important media coverage. Clarity and brevity work best. While it can be tempting to include all findings, over-saturating the release only muddies your story. If the research creates several interesting stories, it is often better to stagger the release across a series of press releases, generating more coverage opportunities. We also tweak press releases and tailor our approach to individual journalists to secure articles in a range of target publications – depending on our clients’ audiences. This could include sector specific press as well as general business pages and regional press. 

Running a headline-stealing research project? Contact Caroline Walker on 01732 779 087 to discuss your media strategy. 

What makes a good story?

We are conditioned to respond to stories, they help us to remember facts, understand morals and develop emotional connections. For brands and businesses, storytelling is an incredibly powerful and influential device. Stories help to build trust and promote new concepts and services but also help others to share and advocate on your behalf. 

All company news can be the basis for a story, from award wins, product launches and new appointments, to research reports and industry insight. Yet, just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a story is deemed “good” by an audience. Finding a fascinating angle is the key to capturing reader interest, therefore understanding what your audience finds interesting and important is a key starting point. 

Not all news stories are newsworthy
As PR professionals, we focus on developing newsworthy stories – stories that are relevant to the reader but also appeal to journalists at the same time as fulfilling our client’s agenda. Where the media is constantly adapting to meet reader and commercial needs, we need to be mindful of the stories that sell, capture journalists’ attention and secure press coverage for our clients. Therefore, we need to craft a narrative that communicates our client brands’ key messages, engages their target audience, but also offers value to the media. Juggling these three audiences requires creativity and a lot of empathy. Furthermore, to appeal to different types of media, we often need to present the same story in a variety of interpretations.

Capturing media interest
PR stories are succinct. They are primarily there to quickly share the facts and must answer fundamental journalistic questions – who, what, where, why, when. A press release is there to inspire the recipient to write it up as a wider story and allow reporters the opportunity to apply their own creativity. That being said, faced with time pressures and shrinking editorial teams, the media are increasingly looking for fully formed content that requires minimal tweaking before being print-ready.

The recipients of hundreds, if not thousands, of press releases every day, journalists are looking for something different. It pays to be mindful of the type of content your target media usually covers – this is their specialist area and reflects the stories their readers seek. However, it is important to add to the conversation and introduce a new perspective, rather than simply parrot existing opinions. This is more important now than ever, after more than a year of lockdown the press has been confined to cover topics that apply during restrictions, there is a sense of pandemic fatigue

Headlines play an important part in helping journalists to immediately understand the content and convince them to cover the piece. Interesting titles stand out in a reporter’s heaving inbox and helps them to envisage how the story will look on the page. 

Add to your brand narrative
At their base, company news stories should contribute to building brand identity. Constructing stories that communicate key messages and brand values will lift your marketing strategy off the page and realise marketing objectives. While editorial teams do not like to use heavily branded diagrams and logos, they do appreciate images and statistics that support a story. Offering high quality, copyright-free pictures and videos – particularly those that represent a diverse range of people – to accompany a story not only helps to secure greater inclusion in articles but is another way to show the world exactly your brand’s character. 

Looking to tell your brand’s story, contact Caroline Walker on 01732 779 087. 

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When crafting stories, research findings can underline the importance of an issue, giving the story more weight and… https://t.co/aRgBW9BvIr

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