For the past few years, PR professionals have been proclaiming that the press release is ‘dead.’ Yet despite this mantra, thousands of releases are distributed every day. So is death knell really sounding? And, more importantly, are press releases still a valuable tool to use to gain publicity?
Content is king, and news means news
Much of the debate stems from the fact that not all press releases are created equal. With most journalists receiving hundreds of emails a day, grabbing their attention in the first place is challenging enough. Add this to the fact that reporters spend less than a minute reading each release, and it’s clear that for a press release to be converted into coverage, it needs to really stand out.
To achieve this, content is key. As PR professionals, our role is to critically evaluate what makes a good story, so when advising on whether to put out a release, we should first ask ourselves if the news is actually interesting, and actually news. If it is, how can we align it with market trends to further bolster the story? Are there experts or customers we can cite to further support our argument? Once we’ve established this, the release needs to be written in a clear and compelling manner, and free from aggrandising statements that will cause skeptical hacks to dismiss the story right away.
Unfortunately, however, this doesn’t always happen. In a Press Gazette/PR Week survey, for example, journalists griped that “lots [of PRs] do not know what makes a news story, omit essential information, send releases claiming to be news when they are weeks old…” As a result, many have become frustrated with the medium, feeling that it’s no longer fit for purpose.
The PR who cried wolf
These frustrations are often compounded by poor targeting, with releases being sent blindly to a list of journalists irrespective of their interests or areas of focus. We hear from journalists that this happens on a daily basis, and can cause them to miss good stories. It is therefore critical that press release distribution lists are highly targeted, and journalists aren’t spammed with irrelevant content.
Providing interesting and focused stories in turn helps build reporters’ trust in the content we provide, and incentivises them to open emails and answer calls. Think of it like the boy who cried wolf – if you only ever send bad releases, no one will listen to you when you send something good.
Relationships, relationships, relationships
In a similar vein, having good relationships with journalists can also make a significant difference to the success of a press release. This is something we firmly believe in at Babel, and we hear time and time again that journalists are much more inclined to read releases from PRs they know and trust. In our digital age, where it’s a hurdle to get someone to even open your email, real, human interaction should not be underestimated.
This human interaction should also extend to having real, meaningful conversations with journalists about news stories, and not just relying on emailing out releases. Yes, some journalists express frustration with phone calls, but often this is because they’re spammed with irrelevant, untargeted interactions (see above). Giving reporters a heads up on an interesting story, and speaking to them in clear terms about what makes it interesting, can be instrumental in securing coverage.
Having these conversations also provides journalists with the opportunity to dig deeper into the story, and go beyond what’s written in the release. Interviews with spokespeople can be arranged ahead of the news being announced, and often leads to much more in-depth pieces being published. However, having a release handy to send a journalist after these initial conversations is undoubtedly helpful, as it can consolidate the key points, and serve to incentivise them to engage with the story.
While press releases have undoubtedly (and in some instances deservedly) got a bad rap, they can serve a valuable purpose, and can still help to publicise new products and company developments. But for press releases to be successful, it is critical that they are interesting, targeted, and not just emailed out on a whim. Without this, we might actually see them die once and for all.
Contact us to find out more about the work we do, and the results we deliver.
Listening to LBC last Saturday, I heard host Maajid Nawaz discussing the week’s biggest tech story: BA’s data breach. But unlike other outlets, which focused on the scale of the crisis and BA’s reaction, Nawaz honed in on the response by his credit card provider, BA’s partner, Amex.
He noted how Amex had proactively contacted him to let him know its team was monitoring his card for fraud and would notify him right away if there were any issues, that he didn’t need to do anything and would never be charged for fraudulent transactions, therefore putting his mind at rest. So impressive was the company’s response, that Nawaz publicised it to his listeners across the capital, promoting the brand and its customer service capabilities.
In contrast, BA’s response to the breach has been held up as an example of how not to respond to a crisis. An article in The Conversation, which has been widely syndicated, noted that while “there have been some poor responses to cyber-attacks on major companies in the past, the airline’s actions in this case could be one of the weakest in recent history.” One incident, two brands, and two very different outcomes.
As this example demonstrates, how a business tackles a crisis can, and does, get widespread media attention; if it responds well, it has the opportunity to garner favour with the public, and turn the situation around. If it responds badly, its handling of the situation can become a crisis in itself. In today’s digital age, where stories can be broadcast to thousands in the blink of an eye, crisis comms has never been more important.
It’s for this reason that having a crisis comms plan in place is crucial. This way, if the worst happens, your company is better placed to rapidly respond and mitigate potential fallout. As part of the plan, businesses should identify prospective issues, and ensure they know how to mobilise key people to manage the situation. Companies should also ensure they practice crisis situations to help test responses – this should include ‘war games’ style exercises, where those involved in managing a crisis respond to a breaking situation. Such exercises can be run by a third party, who can evaluate the response and share feedback in a safe environment, equipping teams with the skills they need to manage a real-life situation. As part of this, organisations should also conduct ‘stakeholder mapping’- working out who would be impacted by the crisis, and how best to engage with each audience. In the instance of BA, this was clearly something Amex got right, showing great understanding of its customers and their needs.
While every crisis situation is different, the importance of preparing should not be underestimated. Although businesses don’t have a crystal ball, identifying which crises could hit and mapping out a response, is critical. Data breaches have become increasingly commonplace and sadly are almost accepted as an inevitability, making it surprising that BA wasn’t better prepared to handle the fallout. There is a lot that companies can learn from the airline’s and Amex’s respective responses to the breach, and the incident should serve as a key reminder of the power of proper crisis handling.
To find out how Babel can help your business with crisis comms, please get in touch.
Even before this year’s Farnborough International Airshow (FIA) had started, it was clear that space would dominate the agenda. The day before the event, the government announced its intention to open a UK spaceport on Scotland’s north coast, while industry leaders and the media speculated about how Brexit would impact the sector. The Babel technology PR team visited the show on its second day to hear the latest news, discussions and trends from FIA’s Space Zone, which are shaping the week-long event.
Contributing £250 billion to the UK economy each year and identified as one of the nation’s key pillars for industrial and economic growth, the space market is undoubtedly booming. However, with Brexit looming large, attention is focused on how the country can maintain its standing outside of the EU. These conversations were front and centre during FIA, with Paul Everitt, Head of ADS Group which represents the UK aerospace, defence and space sectors, stating in a BBC interview just before the show that the UK leaving the EU without a deal would hurt the industry. While much is yet to be decided, the industry is driving conversations about how it can best survive post-Brexit.
A critical time for the industry
We’re at a critical moment for both the UK space sector and the wider global industry. As noted during a panel session on space and the global economy at the show on Tuesday, space is borderless, hinting both that global collaboration should continue irrespective of the UK’s place in the EU, and that the UK’s moves may have global ramifications.
Space as a driver of GDP
As the UK seeks to establish its place outside of the EU, FIA provided a prime opportunity to raise awareness of the country’s flourishing space sector and highlight the wide-ranging benefits it brings to both the UK economy and our day-to-day lives. Yet despite its importance to national GDP, some noted a lack of awareness amongst UK citizens that the industry even exists, let alone represents a key pillar of our economy. With so much technology now hinging on the space industry – from CityMapper to communications – increasing public awareness will help to drive and sustain its future success.
In-orbit servicing comes to the fore
Discussions about space as a major contributor to GDP have also come to the fore thanks to the emerging in-orbit services market. Dubbed “the backbone of the future” for investment opportunities in the new space sector by Goldman Sachs, in-orbit servicing holds enormous opportunities for satellite operators, investors and the UK economy. We’ve seen via our own work with in-orbit servicing pioneer, Effective Space, that there is huge momentum surrounding the technology and an enormous appetite in the media for news surrounding in-space robotics. During FIA there was a palpable buzz surrounding the technology, which was recently cited as one of the UK’s standout industrial and academic strengths.
With so much developing, and such clear momentum surrounding the UK space sector, it’s certainly an exciting time. It’s clear from FIA that the UK is reasserting its position and building further opportunities for the sector to grow via launches, investment and strategies.
What’s next? Watch this space.
Over the course of the past decade, technology has transformed the workplace. The cloud and smartphones have empowered flexible working and mobilised workforces, re-inventing the concept of ‘the office’, and transforming the ways in which we communicate.
Gone are the days of faxes, pagers are almost solely the preserve of doctors, and even the humble Post-it is a rare site in many offices today. Workers now have access to a myriad of channels with which to speak to colleagues or customers – from Skype to Meetupcall and Zoom.
However, the number and complexity of tools can hinder rather than help productivity. How many times have you tried to use a conferencing service and find your line cutting out mid-conversation? Or experienced a Wi-Fi blip which takes down the office’s IP-based comms? Or heard colleagues’ complaints about how tech is replacing face-to-face, visual communication?
What’s the solution?
Babel recently started working with collaboration giant Polycom, meaning the topic is undoubtedly front of mind. Polycom hosted a Women in AV event back in May, and during the evening we learned that 93% of human communication is comprised of non-verbal signs. As a result, face-to-face engagement, either in person or via video, is really important to get the best out of discussions and encourage wider team participation.
According to recent research, 92% of businesses believe that video collaboration technology helps improve relationships and fosters better teamwork. Visual collaboration helps satisfy our craving for human contact, yet also gives us – as a workforce – more freedom to work when, where, and how we want. Almost all (92%) of respondents to the same survey agreed that an ‘anywhere working’ approach boosts productivity, as people can choose to work where they are most efficient – a view supported by Babel, where we have a flexible working policy.
Video may not completely replace face-to-face, as introductions to clients and in-person meetings with colleagues are still an important part of relationship-building. But adopting more advanced collaboration tech gives businesses the freedom to mix virtual communication with real, reducing the demands on colleagues and clients to factor in the travel times and costs required for regular meet-ups.
Of course, technology like fully-immersive studios, and VR/AR-powered conferencing will be out of reach for many businesses at present, but this is what the future of work will look like. An in-person tour of Polycom’s immersive studio was a fantastic experience (a virtual tour is available online), and as costs for hardware and software fall, and connectivity infrastructure improves, this exciting future will no doubt become widely accessible.
In the meantime, a gradual approach to integrating (less advanced) collaborative tools will help prepare teams, ease IT issues, and ready those staff who are perhaps more reluctant to swap face-to-face meetings for digital alternatives. Working in PR, we understand and value face-to-face human communication. Working in technology, we’re also aware that digital transformation is altering how we communicate. A measured, intelligent approach to integrating technology is needed to foster collaboration, give workers more freedom and ultimately boost a business’s productivity.
Media interviews have the potential to be hugely influential. Done right, they can cause your business’ sales to skyrocket, improve brand perception and mitigate crises. But handled badly and your company’s reputation can take a serious nosedive. We can all recall examples of media interviews gone wrong – whether it’s BP’s CEO stating that he “just wanted his life back” after a catastrophic oil spill, or Andrea Leadsom’s quip about motherhood in her bid for the Conservative leadership. In a social media age where coverage can spread like wildfire, it is more important than ever before to make interviews a success.
It’s for this reason that media training is so crucial. It enables spokespeople to feel comfortable and confident when speaking to journalists and teaches them how to deflect and diffuse challenging questions. Media training also ensures that interviewees are aware of how best to emphasise key messages, and how they come across to an audience. All of this can impact brand perception, which it’s why it’s vital to hone interview techniques before speaking to the press.
To help us perfect our own interview skills and really put ourselves in the shoes of spokespeople, a couple of the Babel team attended a PRCA course on the topic. Here we were put through our paces and discussed some of the tricks of the trade to help maximise interview opportunities:
- Establish your key messages. Stick to two or three to ensure that they’re memorable. Use simple, clear language (particularly important if the topic is technical), and draw the journalist’s attention to what’s important – for example, using phrases such as “the key point here is that…” or “what we need to remember is…”
- …And find opportunities to highlight them. If the journalist hasn’t asked the questions that easily enable you to discuss your key messages, create a way to work them in. Use their questions to bridge into what you want to get across. Don’t allow yourself to get drawn into speculation or be led too far off-topic.
- When it comes to broadcast, how you say something is as important as what you say. Make sure your tone is appropriate, and your body language isn’t too much of distraction. During a media training session, the instructor should conduct mock interviews and play them back, giving you a chance to see yourself in action and gain insight into how you come across. Do you have a closed posture that makes you seem withdrawn? Do you talk too quickly so it’s hard to keep up with what you’re saying? Understanding your natural tendencies enables you to play to your strengths and mitigate any behaviour that distracts from your message.
- For print interviews, remember that the journalist may only publish a snippet of what you say. Soundbites can make headlines for a variety of reasons, so think carefully about what you’re going to say before you say it. Prep in advance and identify any potentially contentious questions before working out your response.
- Ask the journalist how they’re intending to start the interview. This allows you to be prepared for their first question and ensures you start off on the right foot.
- Sorry doesn’t have to be the hardest word. After a crisis, it’s possible to apologise without legally accepting responsibility. Alton Towers’ CEO Nick Varney’s interview following the Smiler crash is widely held up as an example of a crisis interview done right. His first thought was for the victims and he responded well to difficult questions. For example, when asked about how the accident would impact share price, he responded by saying “you’ll forgive me if I’m not really focused on the share price at the moment.” His tact and sensitivity when dealing with a tough interview bought him a lot of public sympathy and understanding and mitigated further damage to the Alton Towers brand.
Following these tried and tested rules will go a long way to ensuring interviews achieve their objectives. However, to best equip spokespeople with the skills they need to navigate journalist’s questions and remain on message, there is no substitute for the hands-on and personalised coaching that media training offers.
The Mobile World Congress countdown has reduced from weeks to days. Exhibitors may be busy finalising arrangements for the show, but we’d still recommend finding time to prepare for a hugely valuable part of any trade show: media briefings.
Honing your media training and communications skills will ensure that your company gets the most out of each analyst and journalist briefing. Importantly, you must deliver this same value to the journalist or analyst in return. Competition for media time at the show is fierce, with journalists meeting with countless companies over the four-day event. As such, it’s important to stand out: you must be able to effectively convey your messaging to a journalist. At the same time, they should gain valuable insight and remember the meeting for the all right reasons.
So, first off, make sure that each and every spokesperson has been properly briefed and media trained. Doing so will help keep tricks and tips fresh in the mind of spokespeople, rather than getting forgotten in the midst of other pre-MWC preparations.
It’s likely that you and your team will be meeting with journalists from a broad range of media, so advice on how to respond to an equally broad range of questions is essential. You may have to field technical questions from vertical media, so knowledge of granular workings of products and solutions is key; diagrams, on-screen demos and tangible products can be useful tools.
Every meeting counts, so make sure your team – or your PR agency – provides you with comprehensive material on each meeting ahead of time. This should include the level of knowledge the journalist has of both your company and the industry you operate in, as well as understanding the journalist’s specific areas of interest, including examples of recently-published work.
Tech journalists are not one and the same! Backgrounds and knowledge levels may differ wildly; from an industry veteran with a degree in engineering and extensive journalistic experience, to a junior in their first month on the job. The more you understand about those you’re meeting, the more you can tailor your discussion, and the more you’ll both get out of each briefing.
Journalists can ask tricky questions – it’s their job after all! – so prep beforehand and arm yourself with suitable responses. Ensure you know which customers are in the public domain and which haven’t been disclosed, and don’t divulge anything that could impact customer relationships. Ultimately, nothing is off the record, so don’t discuss anything you don’t want published.
On the subject of what not to say: there’s no value in repeating to journalists the same marketing-led language they probably hear time and again. Instead, provide real world examples of why your technology matters and the challenges it solves.
Finally, remember that any journalist or analyst is likely to be in a similar position to yourself. MWC is four days of introductions, catch-ups, handshakes, product demos, long days and late nights. So: be enthusiastic! Taking an enthusiastic and upbeat tone shows you believe in what you’re advocating, and encourages others to buy in.
Constantly keeping a finger on the pulse with the latest stories and trends, and finding ways to engage with media discussions are key components of any PR campaign. At Babel, we’ve previously written about how “issues jumping” – referring to the practice of providing insight on a news story shortly after it breaks – can drive fantastic coverage and be instrumental at building relationships between clients and journalists, and why speed is vital. But what makes an issues jump stand out from the crowd? With journalists receiving hundreds, or sometimes even thousands, of emails a day, it’s vital to know how to cut through the noise and produce a comment that will really resonate.
Be bold or contrarian
For starters, strong and opinionated statements help to make an article more engaging, with journalists often keen to include countering viewpoints. Succinct and clear language should be used, and in some instances comments can be presented in bullet point form, making it easy for reporters to quickly insert a quote into their article.
Where’s the value?
It’s also important to ensure that comments add something to the story, and offer an informed perspective on the issue at hand. Credentials, experience and proof points can all be referenced in issues jumps or pitches to demonstrate knowledge of the sector and back up any claims made. The comment should ideally be attributed to a senior spokesperson, adding further credence.
Know your media
Lastly, as with all elements of PR, media relations are key. Journalists may approach a business or PR agency they trust for comment prior to drafting an article, and are more likely to engage with those that they know will provide interesting and relevant content. Time and time again journalists tell us that a personal relationship with someone encourages them to open an email or pick up the phone, making it vital that this age old PR principle doesn’t get forgotten in today’s digital age.
Issues jumping is a brilliant tactic for businesses to use to engage in topical debates and demonstrate thought leadership, and can benefit journalists and companies alike. However, as reporters become increasingly inundated with calls and emails, it is harder than ever before to grab attention. Strong statements, informed insight and knowledge of the media landscape all make content stand out, ultimately generating coverage to jump and shout about.