Once upon a time, the public relations business was relatively straightforward. You worked with your clients, with the aim of developing a campaign and then you sold it into the media. The game seemed to be maximising coverage and there was definitely a mindset that quantity rather than quality was what mattered. Fortunately, those days are largely gone. These days, most companies understand that not all publicity is good publicity. With an increasing number of businesses and their PR consultancies fighting for space in the news and a certain amount of fatigue amongst the media when it comes to PR pitches - it’s more important than ever to make sure that your outreach cuts through the chatter and results in that all important coverage.
In the PR industry, we can face an often frustrating battle between what a client wants to release to the media and what we know that journalists will consider as newsworthy. As PR consultants, however, it is our role to become a trusted adviser who can look at the story a business wants to tell, and find ways to tease it apart to make it relevant, and in line with the news agenda.
All too often, I hear journalists taking to Twitter to complain about uninspiring, formulaic press releases – which in my opinion should, and more importantly could, have been avoided. Sometimes the trick is putting the news into context, sometimes it’s about changing the format, and often it’s about telling the story in a different way. Essentially, as the media consolidates, PR professional needs to become more skilled in find the link between what’s interesting to the audience and delivering the right message for the business.
This is where understanding the business of your clients is so crucial. The first thing we do with any new client is to sit down and have a messaging session. In doing so, we aim to have not only a good working knowledge of the business but also to understand precisely what story the client is hoping to tell. In the first instance, it means that with any announcement or news story that falls in our laps, we can evaluate it and make sure that it is in line with what the business stands for and is looking to achieve businesswise. Secondly, it means that instead of putting out boring press releases, we can take the news we are given and look for interesting and new ways to put it in the context of the wider story. We can also keep on top of the news cycle to make sure that we are putting out content that journalists want to use and that fits with the business aims of our clients.
If you don’t understand the business properly then you have no way of pulling a news story apart and reassembling it in an interesting manner which still achieves what your clients want.
Understanding a business fully also helps you to give the context of a story when you’re pitching to journalists. It means that you can explain to them why a certain announcement is worthy of the space in their publication, and give them the back story which shows why what may seem like just another announcement actually fits within the general news agenda.
Let me give you an example, an announcement of a new hire isn’t really newsworthy outside the appointments pages unless it’s a particularly big name, right? Well maybe, but if you fully understand the business, perhaps a little interrogation of why this new hire has come about might illustrate that in line with a business’s increased focus on emerging markets, it’s shifting resource and doing more hiring in that region. This kind of content is a little more newsworthy. If you delve deeper, you may find that a specific market is pulling in their biggest growth numbers and creating demand for this specific hire. That’s even closer to news. When you look at the wider news cycle – you may see that growth and expansion in emerging markets is a pretty hot topic as a trend. So now – instead of telling the media that ‘XXX is hiring a new person’, you’re saying – emerging markets are huge right now, particularly given the economic crisis in Europe, and XXX is an example of a company that’s seen huge growth in this particular market – and as such, they’re investing money and hiring new staff over there, for instance they’ve just hired this person. Instead of a formulaic appointments release – you’ve given them that all important context – which sells the story.
That was just one fairly straightforward example, but the truth of the matter is that by investing time and effort in understanding a business you will also spot other interesting information and collateral that will help you to create stories that further your clients’ business objectives. It’s important to know what a business’s aims are. Is it growth, and if so where? Is it awareness, and if so with who? The better we understand our clients, the easier it is to create compelling stories that fulfil business aims and resonate well with the media.
Understanding a business properly will not only improve your media relations work but will also enable you to develop the right messages for the owned media platforms, where businesses talk directly to stakeholders. It should also improve your client relationships, as they trust you to help them decide what content to put out, and to where. Understanding the businesses of our clients is key to ensuring that public relations is not a commoditised service and that instead we become trusted advisers to our clients, who rely on us to ensure that their communications fit in with their wider business objectives.