Saturday, October 27, 2007

Brass Tack #4 - Leave clever headlines to the experts.

Newspaper sub-editors (at least some of them) are very good at writing eye-catching, cutely phrased headlines. We may think of some headlines as excruciating but they are part of the fabric of popular culture.

Headlines are a little like kitsch. At one level they are all awful but look closer and you can distinguish 'good-awful' from 'god-awful'. Sub-editors aspire to the former and do so with the knowledge of their readership and house style of their publication.

They will apply various rhetorical devices, such as puns (‘Cat burglar commits the purrfect crime’; ‘Ice cream firm earns lots of lolly’), alliteration (‘Birmingham Balti business is booming’, ‘Silver surfers score success’), assonance (‘Ladies lay waste to garden fete’), references to well-known catch-phrases (‘Bish bash bosh – make more dosh’) and other linguistic techniques to ensure the message jumps from the page to engage their readers' interest.

That’s what sub-editors are trained to do. All you need to do is provide then with a blank canvas to work on - a simple headline that makes it abundantly clear what the story is about, e.g. ‘Pupils raise funds for school swimming pool’, and leave it to the subs to come up with ‘Students splash out’.

Filed under:
media relations       headlines      press release     rhetoric      journalists

Friday, October 26, 2007

Brass Tack #3 - Press releases are still popular with journalists... least, well-written and well-presented press releases that make their lives easier. No-one knows the exact number, but the destiny of something like nine out of ten press releases is shredder-fodder. Journalists receive so many that only the best will get considered.

Bear in mind that busy journalists have short attention spans. If your press release fails to convey its potential for a good news story within the first few lines, the chances are that the journalist will not read further. There just isn't time. And there are too many other press releases clamouring for attention.

It’s therefore surprising how many badly written, poorly presented press releases that don’t have an interesting story to tell are still sent to newsrooms. Reduce your chances of rejection by presenting your story in a simple and well-organised press release that contains all of the following information:

  • who you are
  • the date of the story
  • the date (and if necessary, the time) that the story may be available to the public. Most stories are for ‘immediate’ release, although a story could be ‘embargoed’, i.e. you request the news organisation not to publish it until a certain date and time. Most journalists respect embargo requests.
  • a headline (but look out for Brass Tack #4)
  • the story itself (I'll make further comments on this in Brass Tack #5)
  • full contact details to enable them to follow up your story and ask you questions (Brass Tack #13 will say more on this)
  • additional and background information not necessarily for publication but will be useful for the journalist to understand your story better (Brass Tack #18 will say more on this)

The Aimhigher Practitioner website provides a good set of guidelines on press releases. So does Taurus Public Relations.

Filed under:
media relations      news release       press release      journalists

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Brass Tack #2 - Give them a hook on which to hang the story.

This is the news angle – the way into the story – and it should be clear from the first line of your press release or the first thing you say on the phone to the newsroom.

‘The annual XYZ Blues Festival is happening next weekend’ is a parish notice. But start by saying ‘Veteran Louisiana guitarist, Wild Boy Williams visits the UK for the first time in 50 years to appear at the XYZ Blues Festival…’ and the story starts to get interesting. The journalist is more likely to be hooked and reeled in.

There are plenty of hooks to choose from. Here are a few:

  • Achieving a world first
  • Appointing a new senior manager
  • Serving the thousandth/millionth customer
  • Announcing record-breaking profits
  • Creating more jobs
  • Introducing a greener initiative
  • Hosting a visit by a celebrity
  • Inventing a problem-solving product
  • Praising the achievement of an employee
  • Sponsoring a worthy cause
  • Bringing something new and unique to the community

Click here for some more ideas.

Filed under:
media relations     news angle     journalists

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Brass Tack #1 - Give them a story, not a plug.

Journalists don’t like to feel their purpose in life is to give you free advertising. They produce news and news needs to inform the world of something new, exciting, different, surprising, meaningful and relevant to its readers, viewers and listeners.

Therefore, the information you give them must have news value.‘We’re opening a holiday caravan park’ is a plug. ‘We’re challenging Jeremy Clarkson to spend a weekend in one of our caravans’ is news. (And Jeremy Clarkson accepting the challenge would be headline news!)

Much has been written by journalists and academics on the topic of news value. Many have tried to analyse it. Others say that it can’t be defined but you know it when you see it. Here’s a very basic, bottom-line definition. If you want people to know about it, it’s probably a plug. But if people find it interesting, it’s got news value.

Filed under:
media relations     news values     journalists

Sunday, October 21, 2007

How to influence editors and bring joy to journalists.

Here’s a statement that has almost reached the status of glib catchphrase: ‘Advertising is what you say about yourself. PR is what others say about you’.

It’s an adage that’s meant to emphasise the role of PR as boosting reputation. But it’s often misinterpreted as ‘PR = free advertising’.

Obviously, if a journalist is convinced that your product is the greatest invention since gravity and is willing to tell the world, you have achieved an important public relations objective. The problem with news producers, however, is that they see their role as producing the news, not promoting products.

This means that if you want journalists on your side, you have to keep them happy. And newshounds are never happier than having a good juicy story to sink their teeth into.

The ideal outcome of working with the news media is for the journalist to get a great story starring you as the hero, not the villain. If you are promoting a product, launching an event or even putting across your side of the argument when someone has a grievance against you, you can vastly improve your chances of achieving this win-win situation.

Over the next few posts, I’ll be setting out twenty brass-tack principles for media relations. Follow these and journalists will appreciate the effort. Ignore them and your story will probably not make it past the shredder.

Filed under:
media relations     advertising     publicity    journalists