Clients sometimes expect the impossible, and are surprised when their latest announcement isn’t all over the press, even though there is nothing remotely interesting about it. If there is a nugget of a good story, however, it is up to PROs to show it in its best light to the right publication, using all their powers of persuasion. Winning people over is not a science, but social psychology offers a few pointers:
First create a need for what you’re selling, or tap into an existing need.
Play up to people’s desire to feel part of something – being similar to others and popular.
Use powerful, loaded words and images to argue your case.
Discussing these points, Katie Peden, account director at PR agency Kindred, says that offering an interview with someone famous is always the trump card. She says: “We’re all familiar with journalists going from thoroughly disinterested to biting your hand off if you can get them access to a proper celebrity. Celebrities are the embodiment of popularity – people want to read about them, be like them and (sometimes scarily) people really listen to what they’ve got to say. For a journalist, a celeb equals a bigger audience/readership.”
Peden says that without a celeb, a solid PR plan and thorough research into the target media and journalists are the best foundations for a successful sell in: “Selling in to a journalist who doesn’t have a need for your story is incredibly difficult, frustrating for them and you, and likely to fail. Too many people waste time giving the hard sell to the wrong people and manically following up when their time would be much better spent working out which media have an interest in their campaign. In addition, through becoming a consistent resource of helpful information for journalist contacts, you naturally create a need in them for stories from your client.”
If you do succeed in selling in a story that lacks genuine merit, this may give you a short-term boost, but could damage your reputation. As Yiannaki Loizou, creative and research consultant at PR agency Footprint Communications, says: “Long-term, this approach often leaves journalists reflecting on whether a PR equivalent of the Trades Descriptions Act would be a useful protective measure. And even magicians know that you can only play the same card trick once.”
Loizou believes that the best PROs guide clients effectively towards genuine newsworthiness and work closely with journalists, understanding their needs and getting to know how they can contribute to their news agendas. This is less an act of selling in as it is a job of working closely together for mutual benefit. In terms of the actual skills this demands, Loizou lists them as: “Effective client management, listening to journalists, an understanding of industry context, a clearly defined narrative strategy, investment in research and that bit of creative spark that allows the best PROs to see a news angle where others see a blank piece of paper. In short, all the things that make journalists and clients happy people.”
Top tips for selling in (suggested by Amy Ronge, account manager at PR agency Skywrite, and independent PR consultant Jeremy Walters):
- First of all establish contact with the journalist and begin a dialogue.
- Do background research. Look at what they’ve written in the past, and ensure your client is relevant.
- Get to know them on a personal level, catch up over a coffee, go out for a drink, whatever way they suggest – it’s all about putting a name to a face.
- But no matter how friendly you are, remember that nothing beats a good story.
- Don't exaggerate, as journalists find it patronising. Just be factual.
- Last of all accept the journalist‘s decision. If the story is not good enough, accept the journalist's point of view and don't challenge it.
Written by Daney Parker
If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our twice weekly event and subscriber alerts.
Currently, every new subscriber will receive three of our favourite reports about the public relations sector.