The impact of the tabloid news agenda on public relations

Getting positive business news stories into the press is no easy task when news agendas seem to be all about disaster, scandal and intrigue.

As Alex Blyth, director at agency Red Setter PR, says: “Bad news has always sold. That is as true today as it was with the BP oil spill, the collapse of Enron, Ratner’s fall from grace, or the bursting of the Dutch tulip bubble. Getting journalists interested in positive news stories has always been more challenging. But it can be done. PR professionals simply need to help their clients focus on the broader issues involved and find answers to the inevitable ‘so what?’ questions from editors.”

The secret to getting noticed, says Andy Sommer, communications and public relations manager at insurance company esure, is to personalise your pitch: “I often find it useful to work backwards and identify what success looks like for the particular campaign or project you are working on. When you know whether success is an exclusive article in a tier-one publication, coverage in a number of key titles or indeed coverage across a range of industry media, you can then start to plan how to achieve that.”

It is important to do your research says Sommer: “Identify how the target media likes to receive information, what audience they are appealing to and whether the content you have available to work with is relevant. It is also key to ensure your target is interested in the content you are providing. Check if they have written anything on the topic previously and quote that back to them when pitching: ‘I read the article you wrote about x a couple of weeks ago and found the part about x particularly interesting. I wanted to share some information on a similar topic I have that I felt would be relevant to your audience/readership because …’”

“Also, to add gravitas to your pitch, check if there are any current stories on the public agenda that could provide context for your pitch. For example, if you are pitching a story about, say, technology for customer service, identify if there have been any examples of poor customer service that have made it on to the public agenda recently and refer to that. This simply provides relevance to your pitch.”

“A well thought-out story presented in a way that shows why it would be of interest to the audience or readership will stand you in good stead to achieve solid results and will help to enhance your relationship with your target. However, try not to be despondent if you do not receive the desired results. When I started in PR someone gave me the following piece of advice, (I may be showing my age here!): ‘You could have the most thought-out and targeted story that is ideal for the journalist you’re pitching too but if the Queen Mother dies tomorrow it won’t make it near the newspaper.’”

Shannon Haigh, account director at PR agency 10 Yetis, concludes that in this world obsessed with stunts, scandal and smut, it is still important to remember that bread-and-butter media comms work is essential for clients. She says that it isn’t so much that it is impossible to get positive business coverage, it is just that some PR teams may forget that certain announcements could generate worthwhile articles:

“For example, investment and funding announcements can be really newsworthy, as can strategic business wins and anything that makes for a good success story, such as financial results or an award win. Those with clients who have this kind of news to shout about should take advantage of it. It’s important to keep an eye out for feature opportunities for your clients too, to raise the profile of not just the business, but also the key people behind it. With any business story, it’s always worth going down the exclusive route, such as approaching the business desk at a Sunday paper and asking them if they’d be interested in the news that you have. They’ll show more interest if they know they can have first dibs.”

Case study

Red Setter PR’s Alex Blyth describes how one good news story attracted media interest:

“Last autumn, rather than pitching another press release about the awards, new clients, senior hires, and so on of our client, 60K – a 600-seat contact centre in Sofia, Bulgaria – we identified a handful of top target publications and invested time crafting pitches directly to them. We focused on the fact that while the British media obsesses over the alleged tidal wave of Bulgarian immigrants, companies like 60K are attracting workers to Bulgaria from the rest of the EU. It resulted in a full feature on and requests from both The Independent and Mail on Sunday to send journalists out there and write in-depth pieces on them.”

Written by Daney Parker

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