Thursday, 29 March 2012

Piggy Back

The "Fuel Crisis" has started again. From the mouth of Francis Maud (whom I've blogged about before) comes a miss guided tip, and the country goes into meltdown.

This is a great opportunity for you. It really is.

Every single Local Radio Station will be talking about the looming crisis, the panic buying and the queues at the pumps; all you need to do is call them and piggy back the story.

Here's how to piggy back.

1) Identify what everyone is talking about.
Last night there was talk of little else, so you should have been thinking of how this story affects your business / charity / organisation. Do you have people on the road? Are you a sole trader who works with their van? What about meals on wheels!

2) Think of a universal line.
If you can say "I bet lots of people are in the same boat" then great. If you can't then think harder. Transport troubles in the world of herpetology isn't shared experience; freelance self employed delivery driver (who happens to cater for herpetologists is) if it means one child will go without their snake then it's terrible.

3) Say what you feel not what you think.
You feel worried that if fuel stocks run out then the old ladies won't get their meals, you are angry at the people who are filling up cars that do tiny mileage a week when you have to fill up every second day, you feel disappointed that this crisis threatens your charities work. Feel don't think.

4) Sound good.
You need to be calm prepared and slick. There's no use calling a phone-in and getting your business a mention when you sound like a school child who's been caught smoking in the bogs. Get the terror out of your head, listen to how the presenter is treating other callers and take your cue from that.

Don't forget that you have to get past the producer first "I want to talk to [insert alliterative local radio name here] about the problems for small businesses / charities / health workers / etc.", they will want you to get to the point, tell them the story and then repeat that on air to the presenter. If you sound normal then you certainly will get on.

5) Don't plug too hard.
A couple of mentions of a company name are fine, but more than that the presenter will pull you up on it and embarrass you. No one wants a public telling off.

6) Don't get drawn into politics.
"So what should the government have done?" and the answer is "I'm not sure about that, all I'm sure of is that my clients won't be happy and I'm not happy about the situation. I've built up "Farnsbarns Industries" over a number of years and this sort of thing could really tarnish our reputation and loose us money; and there are loads of other businesses that are going through the same thing." Lovely. No political argument, well side stepped and moved on. Your company / charity / organisation, unless it is always overtly political shouldn't get into a political debate. When you're on air talking for THEM you can't let personal bias suddenly become your company stance.

7) Be brief enough to get a news clip.
The news clip is the great bit in a bulletin where they lift stuff out of the broadcast and recycle. f you give punchy answers and short sentences it's easier for them to lift what you say and play it all day long. If they don't credit your company name when they do use it, call them and ask them to.

Friday, 23 March 2012

6 Ways to avoid publicity.

I keep seeing over-optimistic blogs talking about the guaranteed ways to get your story covered by the conventional media.

It worries me; even if you follow these guides there are still things that will get in your way.

So why isn't your story featured? These are my top 6 reasons.

1) It's Too Commercial.
No one likes a 'puff' dressed up as a story. In the UK the dominant force in mass market news broadcasting is the BBC. They are a non commercial organisation and every journalist / producer / manager there has been bollocked for writing a 'puff' by accident. They are not going to do it again.

You may think that makes the commercial broadcasters and news media an easy target. No. No they really aren't. The commercial media (if it doesn't charge the users) survives by selling advertising. So why are they going to offer your commercial 'story' space when they would much prefer to charge you for the advertising instead?

2) It's Irrelevant... the audience. Why would you approach an organisation that targets the over 50's with the latest trends in snowboarding? the time scale. If it happened 3 days / weeks / months ago it's no longer news. (as added by @tonybraisby many thanks to him for the reminder!) anyone outside your industry. Target trade press by all means but don't promise to get mass media coverage for the story about new ways to reinforce concrete. anyone other than you. So many self produced press releases smell of "we're really excited about this, but we don't know how to make you excited". If you can't excite me then I'm not going to use it.

3) It's Dull.
Have you just sent information and forgotten to add a story? (see above)

4) It's political.
The BBC will not take stories with a strong political bias unless they can source someone from the other side; that issue kills stories, though it is getting better.

The commercial sector will not ally themselves to a political standpoint that differs from theirs. It's not just the feedback from the audience but also who sits on the board, who owns the organisation, who is married to the editor and who their friends are... For example, the Sun newspaper doesn't like the BBC unless the programme has been made by a Murdoch owned production company (see Masterchef). It's unlikely that you'll know any of this, your story will just be ignored.

5) They don't like you.

Not the organisation but the journalist. You've repeatedly called at the wrong time, you send emails with big attachments that crash their computers, you call the 'Pacific Ocean' the 'Specific Ocean', you never sound engaged with what you're doing, you push for too much coverage, you have unrealistic expectations, you don't know the producers name, you're attempting to be funny, you're not funny at all, you have stupid shoes, you drink mineral water with a twist, you have black rimmed 'marketing' spectacles, you don't understand that we are the powerful ones, you let us down last time, you promise things that you can't deliver, and (in the words of @dabberdave)
"you said "look at this attachment which has all the details in it" rather than copy and pasting the text of the it into the body of the email; that way when the journo is skimming through the hundreds in the inbox they don't have to waste time trying to open the thing. It will probably go straight in the waste bin"
Or, you are just very unlikeable... The story could be great, and we may pick it up from another source, but we won't give you the satisfaction.

6) Someone Else Got It Right.
There's always something else to cover. Always.

6 - a) They're Lazy.
This has been suggested by Ken Goodwin and really deserves a mention - "they might also be a lazy journo who can't see that with some creativity they could make a half decent package out of it"

So very true....

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Tuesday, 6 March 2012

5 Ways to get invited back.

Finally, you've been booked on to a radio/TV show!

You're the expert that will be explaining that difficult story, you're the one informing the presenter as much as the audience, you'll be the next Martin Lewis, the next Dr Mark Porter, or even the next Greg Wallace (he was a veg expert before Masterchef).

Or you'll be an abject flop. The person that no one remembers, like, you know, thingy...

So how do you get invited back?

1) This is their house not yours.
Show the presenter some respect. They may be an idiot but that's no reason to treat them like one. The questions they ask will be from the point of view of a complete numpty; it's a broadcasting conceit. They're often very well educated and informed. That stupid question is there to allow YOU to explain the story. Grab for the stupid questions and go for it.

2) Talk normally.
You're not on stage; you're sitting in a cafe talking to a friend.

3) There is no audience.
"Good Morning everyone" or "I'm sure your viewers / listeners would like to know..." throws up a wall between you and the audience (the audience that isn't there) and reminds them that they're consuming media; you want them to think that they are part of a conversation. Leading questions from a presenter like "what would you say to someone who hears this and thinks...." that lets you off, you can then frame the answer in the third person i.e. "I'd tell them what I'm telling you, don't do..." etc.

4) Personality is better than accuracy.
Harsh but true. If you can be a personality no one cares about the minutiae... no one cares that you're only talking in broad terms. If you don't talk in broad terms then you're in danger of over explaining to an ambivalent audience.

5) Context, context, context.
Make sure the context is part of your audiences lives. For example if you're a financial expert giving advice on cutting household expenses, talking about a tank of petrol costing £145 just shows an audience of Fiesta Drivers that you're not one of them.

If you get these on your first appearance then you should be asked back, and popped into the contacts book. Then you'll be called first to deal with the [your field of expertise] story.

Unless you say fuck.

No one likes that.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Who are you talking to?

Today I found out that I'm not middle aged.

I feel better for that.

At 37 and a half, I thought that I was well on my way to the furry boots and the tartan blanket; it doesn't help that I enjoy wearing a tweed cap when I'm driving.

"Start The Week" on BBC Radio 4, can be one of those programmes that disappears up its own intellectual pretensions but this week it reminded me of a process that was discredited in the BBC.

It's the process of thinking about your audience in context.

Or to 'Do a Dave and Sue'.

'Dave and Sue' were a composite couple that were created to focus programming on BBC Local Radio. The average age of the journalists in any local radio news room is about 13... or at least that's how it always felt to me. These 13 year-olds were making programmes for people over 50. Sometimes it's a bit of a mental stretch; what a tender young journalist thinks is interesting will often be beyond dull for the 50+ audience they are serving.

In walked 'Dave and Sue', the composite couple that was there to connect the programme makers with the audience; they were born out of the years of quantitative and qualitative demographic research carried out by the BBC.

I thought it was great, for a number of years I was aware that some of the programming was being done to serve the staff and not the audience and I'd worked with the concept in commercial broadcasting. It was going to make everything better by simply adding context.

Bless the BBC for mishandling the whole thing.

No, really, bless 'em all.

Instead of creating a context for the listeners lives, and letting the broadcasters think "This is really important/useful/funny/interesting how do I frame it to pitch properly to 'Dave and Sue' what's the context for them?" They were constantly told to simply ask "what do 'Dave and Sue' like?".

This resulted in very dull radio, lots of caravan features and prostate phone-ins.

All 'Dave and Sue' were was a tool for providing context by bringing together the demographic research. They became a tool for defining output.

Listeners left in the bucket load from all but a very small number of stations. The station I was working for was one of the 4 out of 40 who increased listener-ship through the whole sorry episode.

So what does this have to do with being middle aged and Andrew Marr?

As I get older I am surprised by the pitches (advertising, PR, entertainment) that either lacks context or is ruled by it's context because the demographic research says so... Shampoo ads or chocolate ads targeting men in their 30's by using amateur football imagery. Participation in amateur football covers a tiny proportion of the men in their 30's (angling remains the biggest participation sport in the country) and annoys the rest of us. Sitcoms where people just sort of do stuff with no back story because it's kooky and people like kooky...

I could go on.

For a very long time.

Beware the use of demographic research it may mean that you miss the wider context..

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Monitor Your Effectiveness.

A friend of mine has just been interviewed by a communications manager. It was for a fixed term administration post. During the interview she was asked (by the comms manager) How do you monitor your effectiveness?

How do you monitor your effectiveness...

Inside that question is a good question trying to get out.

This seems to be a problem for people working in communications; they deal in corporate BS all day they find it difficult to decompress and start communicating like normal people.

I'm really not sure what "monitoring your effectiveness" means other than taking direct feedback from line managers, colleagues and clients. I suppose you could tie that in with concrete results in a sales environment but this was for an admin role. Do you have to produce a chart with your percentage of filing accuracy?

Can we all stop, take a breath and start to talk normally again?

If you are asked (in a journalistic environment) a question that sounds corporate or (for want of a better word) bollocks; turn it round ask them to explain the question as most of the time they won't know either.

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