Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Brownian Motion

You finally create PR gold. You know that everyone in the world will listen to your message and your client will want to give you a great big bonus payment and possibly bear your children. You know that this is a career changer.

And then this happens...

Neil Marshall was set to see his film "The Descent" open in cinemas on the 8th of July, it was his second feature as Director and it was going to be a far bigger opening than his first cult classic "Dog Soldiers". The film is the story of cavers who get trapped underground and then... well... things happen.

I interviewed Neil Marshall after the DVD release of 'The Descent' and he spoke eloquently about the difficulties of the publicity campaign, but it no doubt shook him, and certainly took its toll on the box-office.

Why am I telling you this?

It seems that PR professionals are often guilty of having 'project blinkers' on. They get to the end of a project with a release date and a final outcome and they don't look up to see what else is happening.

In the case of the publicity for 'The Descent' there was no way of knowing that a horror film would be a bad idea on July the 8th 2005 (let alone one that was about being trapped underground) and the publicity was rapidly changed. If there was more time between event and release then I suspect the release date would have been shifted.

This example is famous and extreme, there are hundreds of messages sent out every hour that will just not work, the story is old, the agenda has moved on, something more important has rendered the message meaningless, it has suddenly become distasteful due to a change in popular opinion. If you get caught on the cusp of these changes then your perfectly pitched story idea is just going to be ignored or in certain cases serve as a warning to others.

I can't tell you how many press releases have been sent to me over the years and I've just thought 'How did this happen?' it'll be from a smaller agency that's building it's client base, they'll be pushing to get the PR out, possibly a junior member of the team has pressed the send button after a cursory glance over from a team leader and it will be out there. The hope is that they stop at me, the journalist, but they often build thier own head of steam in public. Take Quantas for example...

Quantas the Australian Airline have managed to screw their own PR with their own Bad News doing the job of many journalists in one fell swoop. The story in a nut-shell is that they break off union talks about staff conditions and contracts and then proceed to ask about Luxury on the twitter feed for a competition #Quantasluxury.

Did anyone think that may be a bad idea?? Anyone?? Seriously?? No-one?? To appear to care little for their staff and then to ask about Luxury?? The project couldn't have been stopped?? This is a great example of project blinkers coming together with The Brownian Motion of News.

Watch how news works, and watch how stories bounce off each other, how the interplay of public opinion and attitudes towards life circle round each other. Consume the media that your target consumes, become them and anticipate what the reaction will be and when to just pull the plug and rest an idea... then you'll never have to resort to PR damage limitation.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Christmas is coming, the Journo is getting stressed

2 things would fill me with dread when working for the BBC. One of them was Children In Need... if the money used to make the programme was donated then they wouldn't need to make it... possibly.

The other was Christmas.

OK I now realise that I sound like an anti-fun stereotype. I do like Christmas, I've even warmed to tinsel and I want you to know that my home will become a grotto of delight for my 2 children. However, Christmas as a journalist is hell.


This is one of the reasons that the murder and subsequent discovery of Jo Yeates' body was such big news. It was the Christmas period and there was nothing else happening. It's how news works, if that story had come to light during the August Riots we wouldn't have been told of each twist and turn. It would have made the news but it wouldn't have been THE news.

So why am I telling you this?

There are journalists, managers and producers up and down the land who are starting preparation for the fallow period between Christmas and the New Year; and they are really hating that job.

As a canny PR organisation, or as a PR working within an organisation, this is the time to think of how you can help those poor journalists with content. Good content. If you're thinking of things to do try along these lines (they are always the ones that get a look in at Christmas); Volunteering, working across the festive period, food waste, alternative presents, children, the armed forces / emergency services, animals and the awful things that happen to them and money. All of these will be trotted out every year without fail.

If you can dip your toe into any of these, provide case studies, no too commercial mentions and access for a reporter to get it all pre recorded before Christmas week, start pitching it now. There will be a stressed journo somewhere who will be delighted to get something in place before the end of November.

Imagine their bright little face on that (nowhere near) Christmas morning when they open that big press release to find it's what every journalist asks Santa for... an easy life.

It's the gift that keeps giving.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Come on then, have a go...

There are certain things that any PR professional should never resort to and certain things that journalists should never report... but they do.

Whether it's dressed up to be 'encouraging discussion' of 'sparking a lively debate' we all know what you really want to do. You want to start a great big row and place your clients PR right in the middle of it.

DON'T I beg you, don't just stop it. It's shallow, it's easy and for any newsroom (that can call itself a newsroom) yet another survey goes in the bin marked Lands End To John O'Groats.

Most of the 'surveys' that are produced for PR purposes carry the weight of argument with them. They are the like crack to the sort of journalists who just can't be bothered to find some news. Try this one for example, The Sun has got together with Migration Watch an Anti-Immigration organisation and they have produced a survey that says 80% of people questioned think that England is too crowded.

Soooo, the anti-immigration group have found that England is too crowded. Funny that...

The YouGov survey questioned 1,561 adults who are part of a self selected group who are happy to do surveys The YouGov Panel.

So what do we actually have? A right wing newspaper gets together with an Anti-Immigration (though self proclaimed 'non political') organisation. They get a little over 1,500 people (who are self selecting and the sort of people who want to fill in surveys) to see if they think that England is over crowded. Plus, It looks like 144 of those questioned were in Scotland (some others were in Wales).

Right, this will have been done to spark a great big argument.

Not a debate.

Not a conversation.

A great big stinking, running for ever and ever, argument that puts The Sun right in the middle of it... this is how it will play out...

"The survey produced by The Sun and Migration Watch found that.... to discuss the findings here's Lefty McLeaner Leader of the Open Door Party and Shouty Redface-Toff representing the Send 'Em All Back Coalition..."

And BANG all hell breaks loose.

In the mean time the PR people have dropped that campaign because it's now got it's own legs and they're looking for the next way to start a big argument; The Lazy Journalists will love it because the message boards and twitter and facebook will be full of people arguing about it and they'll feel listened to.

I'm not angry, I'm disappointed.

Disappointed in the PR industry, disappointed in Journalists, disappointed in the world for not asking 'Who are the people who get surveyed, because I'm not one of them'.

What's the answer? I don't know. As long as we have lazy PR spinning a survey for their clients needs, Clients who are happy to put their names to it, and credulous and complicit journalists happy to report any old survey because it makes good copy then we'll never get to the point that we can believe any of them.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Perfect Spokesperson

A heavy handed visual metaphor.
A few years ago I attended a short course in the basics of Executive Coaching. Executive Coaching the wonderful skill of allowing someone to think their own way out of a problem by gently nudging their thought process. A skilled executive coach is a wonder to behold, it's like a benign Derron Brown only without the scary eyes.

One of the classic coaching questions that's broken out from the coaching world is "so, what would that look like?" You say that you need a project to be a success and the response is "so, what would success look like?". In  content production you want to work with perfect PR's... So, what would the perfect PR look like?

There are a lot of people who think that they're available simply because they've given their mobile number to a couple of journalists; you need to do more than that. Think about calling your contacts when you hear a news story that your clients or organisation can "piggy-back", or in other words be available before they know that they need you.

Not a simple case of keeping to appointments... You need to be able to offer the same quality and depth of knowledge from case to case. The journalist needs to think, "I know we'll get **** to comment, they're always good".

It's important that you're honest with yourself that if you're NOT the right person to comment that you tell them. They'll appreciate the honesty and you won't embarrass either of you by trying to do something that's beyond you.

Do you have an 'on-air' persona that works in all situations? If you're multi-faceted rather than "serious problem / jolly human interest" spokes person you'll fit in to most scenarios. Start by offering a range of stories that show you in all lights. Journalists like having a 'Go to' person, it just makes life easier for them, and if you are good content then they'll call and call again.

If you have the instant facility to turn a phrase, then you're in the lucky minority. Most of us have to work on those quote moments.

You want to be in the news clip, you want to be the headline, you want to be in the trailer.

The classic advice of going in to an interview with 3 things to say holds with this, but your ultimate goal isn't just to get the information out it's to get your information used for the rest of the day. In a radio breakfast show you have hundreds of people joining and leaving all the time (and it's a radio truism that most people miss most of what is said most of the time). Aim to get your clip used in the news bulletin, you'll massively extend your listener-ship. How do you do it? Try being controversial, moving the issue on, taking the story to the next step, or simply by saying to the producer as you leave / thanked after a phone interview "anything worth clipping for the news?".

It would be remiss of me to suggest that there's a sure fire way of getting on the news. It depends on so many factors, but as long as you can be bright enough and shiny enough you'll stand a good chance.

So to be the person that they call when they need a spokesperson...


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