In my spare time I’m a bit of a film buff, so naturally I was absolutely thrilled to be asked by the Film Section of the UK Critics’ Circle to tweet live from the red carpet and press room at their annual London Film Critics Circle Awards – what an honour!
Jean Dujardin and Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
New Year’s Resolutions are all very worthy – give up smoking, go to the gym, stop eating junk food, take up a new hobby, etc… I propose to you all doing one thing which will CHANGE YOUR WORLD in 2012 – take up tweeting!
One of the greatest challenges in PR can be negotiating and managing client expectations. The client usually (and understandably) wants to be presented positively in the most high level and prominent media available.
This is excellent news if, at the same time, they are willing to consider the equally demanding needs of national journalists and editors who are rarely wowed by the latest announcement of a new widget, appointment, building or VIP visit.
Consider for a moment that there are more than 100 other universities across the UK who can, and do, try telling a similar story every week on all of these fronts. It takes time, creativity and teamwork to achieve the end goal and like most success, this stuff is hard work.
Some see the job of PR as simply placing whatever has been provided into prominent press. “Over to you” as a sign-off from those who want to sit back and watch the grateful coverage start rolling in spells immediate trouble.
While we all might be interested, excited, or proud of something, media are under no obligation to feel the same way. ‘Non-stories’ have to be identified and removed at the earliest stages by developing an objective acceptance that media have their own agenda, interests and audiences to satisfy.
So what exactly is ‘news’ and how can we work together to become a part of it? While there are exceptions to the rule, news can be defined as featuring the following key ingredients (the more boxes ticked the better its chances): It’s something ‘new, topical, unique, quirky, timely, informative, entertaining, dramatic, or controversial.’
Ideally the story is supported by interesting and/or high profile spokespeople with a fascinating or insightful opinion. Also, is there a strong accompanying visual image (think TV or newspapers)? Finally, once these points are addressed, the story might ideally be served on an ‘exclusive’ basis, which makes it worth thinking carefully about which media might be approached first.
Effective PR assists this process by advising on and supporting the development of appropriate news for both parties – the client and editor/journalist. This also necessitates strong media contacts, and a speedy and honest communications service which makes the connections and satisfies everyone’s requirements.
So how can you work with the Press Office team so we can better help communicate yours and the University’s achievements and goals? Here are a few simple guidelines:
- In the first instance, tell us your idea in brief – consider ‘who, what, why, where and when’. If you want to informally discuss a story’s potential just drop us a line
- Consider the newsworthy criteria already mentioned – who might your story matter to or impact upon the most? Is it genuinely new or unique?
- Talk to the Press Office in good time. We’re all busy, but if you know something fantastic might be happening in a month’s time, tell us and we can consider the best options and plan the process with you
- Don’t be ‘shy’ about approaching us. We often uncover some of the best stories when chatting informally with colleagues, but we’re limited in how much time can be devoted to this. The help you provide is vital.
Most importantly, we need you to tell ‘our’ story as an institution. The academic expert and specialist in your field of study, the student or graduate, the researcher, the lecturer, the higher education facilitator or support staff member – without you there is no story to tell, no narrative to communicate and no reputation to build upon.
In these modern times of tweeting and social networking, the news agenda has changed – stories are almost ‘old news’ now by the time they appear in print, unless you offer an exclusive or a different angle/opinion piece to news that has gone out to the masses.
It’s said that news doesn’t break anymore, it ‘tweets’ and I certainly look to Twitter for an immediate source of news. The social network works almost like Chinese Whispers – we hear something, we retweet. We’ve seen its power in spreading urgent news about situations such as the horrific incidents in Norway by Breivik, the summer riots and the ongoing crisis in Libya, as well as for doing good for fundraising and supporting good causes. We’ve also witnessed how false rumours can spread like wildfire, such as fake celebrity death reports and scandal which people have come out to defend.
PRs are increasingly embracing Twitter as the first point of contact to a journalist for their news story angles. The media like a short, to the point pitch – what better way to do this than 140 characters?! It cuts out the waffle – something a lot of PRs are guilty of. When you contact a journalist, you need your pitch honed and know what they want as a journalist. All journos fear the ‘Have you got my press release?’ ring-around that PRs are ‘trained’ to do from an agency background. It still fills me with horror – any good PR knows that this is rule no 1 of what NOT to do!
Some may say that a tweet is lazy, but it’s knowing what to do next that matters. Yes, anyone can tweet but what do you do next when the journalist is interested in covering your story? That’s where your experience in the industry and professionalism plays a big part.
Journalists are looking for news on Twitter and social media as this is where breaking news is. A 1 1/2 page press release is becoming redundant as the way to contact media when you have a story – sure, have it there as background information if a journalist is interested in following up as your overall ‘package’, or for your own corporate uses on your website or for other promotion, but nothing beats initial contact more than a tweet, a short email pitch or even, gasp, a phone call! How prehistoric!
The world was sickened and horrified at the actions of Anders Breivik and the massacre of 78 people in Oslo and Utoya Island, Norway in July 2011. When I went to bed on the Friday night when the news broke, the death toll was below 20. I woke up on the Saturday morning to a figure beyond comprehension.
Details were starting to emerge on the killer Breivik – he had far-right links and it looked likely he was acting alone. It was an appalling crime and as a Press Office, we would never proactively pitch our academic colleagues unless we knew completely that they had the expertise to comment. For Breivik’s atrocities, we had Dr Matthew Feldman Director of the Radicalism and New Media Centre at the University, specialising in far-right and extremism research, as well as himself being at the University of Bergen, Norway, for a great amount of time this year. His expertise was also on ‘lone wolf’ extremism.
Being a good Press Office is knowing when and how to pitch, but also to do it sensitively in such awful circumstances. We did not go in hard, but explained the expertise of Dr Feldman, his past media profiles and why he was the man to comment.
The results? Matthew was interviewed by over 55 media in four days including Jon Snow on Channel 4 News, Sky News, comment in the Sunday Mirror, Radio 5 Live, Reuters, and Daybreak twice.
We wouldn’t have pitched if we didn’t have the right spokesperson and the timing was key – Matthew and the Press Office have a very good working relationship where we know we can call him anytime of the day, and him – us, vice versa. His commitment to his expertise and comment is why he is a regular commentator in the media. He delivers and the media will keep coming back to him.
The timing was ‘right’ for the media we targeted - we couldn’t help the victims of the horrendous crime, but what we could contribute to was some kind of ‘understanding’ of what made this man do what he did. Our job is to educate, to expose the far-right links and to help people in their understanding of such a horrendous act. Dr Feldman was exactly the right man for the job and the Press Office are proud of the work we have done together.
- Damian Pickard
- Early Years
- Higher Education
- Jack the Ripper
- Lifelong learning
- Northampton Business School
- Northampton Institute for Urban Affairs
- Occupy movement
- Office of the Vice Chancellor
- Press Office
- Professional Development
- Radicalism and New Media Research Group
- Science and Technology
- Social Enterprise
- Social media
- Social Sciences
- University Technical Colleges