Frequently Asked Questions
We’re happy to share our PR knowledge with others.
Here are answers to questions we’re often asked. We hope you find them useful.
Public relations traditionally relate to the use of news media to raise awareness of a brand or issue. As such, PR can be a powerful part of a wider marketing strategy or campaign.
At its most basic level, PR is about reaching out to journalists to persuade them to write about whatever it is you want to promote. This is worth doing because coverage can enable you to reach big audiences very quickly. A mention on regional TV news, for example, may be seen by a quarter of a million of people.
This is why when it is done well, PR has the potential to have a bigger impact than advertising – and much more cheaply too.
However, as is so often the case, it’s not quite that simple:
- You have to know which buttons to press to ensure that journalists will be interested in your story. They think in a certain way, so finding the right angle takes skill – which is where PR specialists like Arch Communications come in.
- Getting a decent piece of one-off publicity may be exciting, but it is unlikely to produce any long-term benefit. To grow awareness takes time. A truly effective PR campaign requires persistence and creative thinking, to achieve positive media coverage over an extended period.
- Printed newspapers in particular are in decline, as we increasingly go online to get the information we want. PR is changing to reflect this and is no longer solely focused on news coverage.
These days, our work is more about content – writing blogs, crafting articles which establish clients as experts in their field, and engaging with the public through social media. Many of the PR skills are the same, though: knowing what will be of interest, and saying it in the most compelling way.
A busy news desk will receive dozens of press releases every day. Only those which are written and laid out in the right way are likely to avoid falling victim to the ‘delete’ button.
Here’s a checklist of things to be considered when producing a release:
- Are you sure your story will be of interest? If not, don’t bother. You don’t want to gain a reputation as a time waster.
- Grab attention immediately and answer the “so what?” question. The headline and first line of the release must be interesting enough for the journalist to want to read further.
- A smart release takes account of media deadlines. A weekly paper which comes out on a Friday, for instance, will probably not add copy beyond the previous Tuesday. If you want to promote a forthcoming event, give at least a week’s notice – and maybe follow it up with a phone call reminder nearer the time.
- Assume zero knowledge. Useful background presented as bullet points below the main body of the release is a handy way of providing context.
- It should be possible to scan read a release. Use simple language (no jargon or mysterious acronyms) and write in sentences of no more than 25 words. To avoid dense text, use 1.5 line spacing and have only one or two sentences per paragraph.
- Provide key facts. This includes the who, what, when, where, why – plus contact details for any news desk with a follow-up inquiry or interview request.
- Complete the package. If possible, provide a good quality photograph for use in print and online. Also include at least one attributable quote.
- Be concise. Ideally a release should be on one side of A4, and definitely no more than two.
Following these rules does increase the chances of success, but there is never a guarantee. PR is not an exact science!
It takes time to build any meaningful relationship, and the media are no exception. But the effort can be worthwhile because journalists are much more receptive to approaches from people they know – especially those who have been the source of good stories before.
A good place to start is with reporters who may have a particular reason to be interested in you and what you have to say – for example, a business correspondent or a writer from a specialist trade magazine.
There is no harm making a direct approach and possibly even offering to buy coffee or lunch, so you can find out what they’re looking for. Journalism thrives on good contacts, so reporters will welcome opportunities to establish new ones.
Ultimately, however, the strength of the relationship will depend on how useful you can prove to be – by offering interesting stories of your own, or by providing punchy comments in response to stories from elsewhere.
It helps to be topical, by being aware of what is already in the news which may be relevant to your sphere of expertise. If this is done well, after a while the journalist will start coming to you for quotes, providing publicity for very little effort.
It’s also important to be savvy. Compile a list of useful media contacts, keep it up to date and use it to stay on their radar. Take the trouble to understand that different media have different priorities and ways of working – including deadlines.
Finally, if a journalist contacts you, always make the effort to be available; otherwise that contact may be the last.
Many organisations start off by thinking about their brand purely in visual terms – their logo, signage, website, marketing materials and packaging. But that barely scratches the surface.
In truth, a brand is what instantly comes to mind when it is mentioned. Is the name familiar? Does it conjure positive thoughts or negative ones? Does it have the “baggage” you want it to have?
Problems occur when there is a gap between what the brand should be and the perceptions of others – in particular, customers and staff.
First, establish how you aspire to be known. Be clear in your mind what your story is, what makes you special. This is your brand narrative.
Once it is clear, your narrative should be applied with great discipline. By ensuring consistency in how you promote yourselves and the service you give your customers, you’ll start to build the brand you want.
You can then reinforce it through what you say on social media, the customer testimonials you seek, and how you respond to any wrong things being said about you.
Really successful brands tend to have two key elements – simplicity and an emotional connection. In this way, they are immediately understood and liked.
It takes time and effort to build a really successful brand, yet it can be seriously damaged in seconds. Think back to Gerald Ratner, whose retail jewellery business was ruined virtually overnight when in an unguarded moment he mocked the quality of his own products!
A brand needs constant love and attention. It is your reputation and the foundation stone of your business. It’s a precious thing, so understand it and try never to take it for granted.
It is all too easy to dive into promoting something, without having thought it through properly or having a proper strategy in place.
In fact, it is vital to work out in advance what you want to achieve, and how you’re going to get there. Done correctly, it can save you time, money and a lot of potential grief – because you won’t end up going in the wrong direction or doing things which were never going to work.
A good marketing strategy can start to take shape by answering a few simple questions:
- What are we trying to achieve?
- Who are we trying to engage with, and how?
- How do we know if we’re succeeding?
- Are we clear what we want to say?
- How does this fit in with our overall priorities?
Knowing the answers to these questions increases the chances of success. A written strategy can then be produced using this simple structure:
- Introduction – set the context, including your challenges.
- Aims and objectives – what do you want to achieve? Your objectives should be specific and measurable.
- Narrative – what you want to say.
- Audiences and channels – the people you want to reach and the ways you can do it.
- Tactics – the specific things you will do to achieve your objectives, including the available resources (time and money).
- Evaluation – the ways you will measure progress (eg sales numbers, new leads generated, media coverage, growth in your social media following).
A good strategy can be produced on just a few sides of A4. Going through the process of working out these issues will provide you with a clear rationale for your plans.
It’s easier said than done in a crisis. But when an unwanted media storm breaks over you, keeping a level head is the most important thing of all. Seeing negative headlines about an organisation or project you believe in can be hard to take. In such circumstances, it’s natural to be upset.
So the first priority is to keep a cool head. Emotion leads to mistakes. It can mean an over-hasty response, intemperate language and the risk of a slanging match – rather than focusing on positives which will start to counter any reputational damage.
Work out as soon as possible what the true picture is and get it down in writing to ensure a consistent message. Share it promptly with anyone who needs to know (staff, partners, the media, official agencies), and provide updates if the situation changes.
In times of crisis, clear and timely communication is essential, so it is a good idea to assign this task to someone appropriate, to ensure that it happens.
Try to anticipate and answer any likely questions, while being very clear and concise. If there are false rumours circulating, take the earliest opportunity to set the record straight – but in a calm and considered way. Monitor social media to see what is being said about you.
The nature of a crisis means that the media want to engage with you at the moment when they are least welcome! To minimise any negative impact, it is important always to respond, and with patience and courtesy – no matter how galling the attention may be.
This is because the conversation is not just with the individual journalist, or even with a group of agitators who may be generating the bad publicity. The primary audience are the consumers of the media, your customers.
Finally, remember that there is life after a crisis. At the time, it can feel as if the world is ending. Stay calm, get through it, and then put a clear plan in place to repair any damage which may have been done to your reputation.
Yes, you should!
For the vast majority of the population, living without the internet is now unthinkable:
- More than 80% of British homes have access.
- There 30 million Facebook users, 15 million on Twitter and 14 million on Instagram.
- Smart phone usage has rocketed – as has our appetite for shopping online.
- YouTube is the second most used search engine in the world after Google.
- Good reviews on Trip Advisor are now essential for hotels and restaurants.
Both your existing and potential customers are already on social media – and so your competitors. So not being there puts you at a disadvantage. Even if you’re in the business to business sphere and don’t need to reach the general public, there are still hugely useful platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn.
Social media have two other big attractions. It’s easy to measure impact (how many followers you have and the numbers you are reaching), and they are absolutely free to use! The only associated cost is the time and effort required, which is not to be under-estimated (more on that in a moment).
If you’re not a habitual user of social media yourself, stepping into that world can be intimidating.There is a bewildering choice of channels and it is important to understand the differences between them.
As with all marketing, the important thing is to think things through. Be clear who you want to reach, and then choose just one or two appropriate platforms for you to start using. If in doubt, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are a good first bet.
If you’re not confident, get some expert training. There are some excellent one-day workshops run by companies who really know their stuff.
It does take some effort to use social media properly. You need to be active every day and have interesting things to say and share (tools like Hoot Suite enable you to automate posts to help your time management).
Done well, social media marketing can bring big rewards. If you haven’t done so yet, make a start today!
Unfortunately, what may be important to you and your organisation is not necessarily seen in the same way by the news media.
The secret is to know the answer to the fundamental question – what makes news? Once you understand how to get journalists interested in your world, you can produce press releases with confidence – knowing they are unlikely to be binned or deleted without even being read.
In fact, all news falls into a remarkably small number of categories:
- Conflict. Issues involving differences of opinion or controversy; virtually all politics (best avoided!).
- Human interest. People are interested in other people. Often a business’s best story are the personal reasons why it was set up in the first place.
- Events. Significant happenings such as natural disasters, major sport or royal occasions. By getting involved these can provide PR opportunities.
- Relevance. Things that affect us directly – the weather, prices, events close to home. If you’re approaching local media, emphasise your local connections.
- The unusual. Any kind of record-breaking; things out of the ordinary, quirky or funny.
- Images. Sometimes the picture makes the story.
- Topicality. Things which connect to what is already news.
The trick is to try and ensure that what you have to say embraces at least one of these categories, and ideally more than one.
Topicality has particular potential for organisations wanting to establish a media profile. Journalists are instinctively more receptive to what is already in the news. You can exploit the opportunity – perhaps by commenting on the impact of a government policy or revealing a relevant business trend.
In all of this, there is always a need for finesse and timing. Finally – never forget the importance of answering the “so what?” factor. See it from the journalist’s point of view. If it’s not of interest to them, it probably won’t be to anyone else!