Hit and hope: PR shouldn’t be about last ditch winners

By Adam Taylor, Director of Media Relations, Cicero/AMO

One of the great things about speaking to other PRs is that we get to compare notes. What’s your experience with this journalist and how did you manage to get that one over the line? What’s so and so up to these days.

We’re all one big network and it’s good to examine what works and what doesn’t. For regular readers of my blog, you’ll be aware that I’m always of the belief that you have to challenge yourself ahead of any bit of forthcoming proactivity.

Obvious questions are: is my press list up to date? Is this week a good time to release? Am I confident at answering any questions that come back. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I had a few chats with people this week to hear what they were up to and our experiences of delivering proactive stories with the expectation it gets pick up.

Firstly, not everything does. There are a host of reasons why some things don’t get coverage and we could have a go at rating which is most important, but examples include:

  • You’ve sent it out on a silly time or day.
  • You’ve conducted some research that has no news hook or anything relevant for a journalist to piggyback on.

Generally speaking, it is unforgiveable to send things out at 4pm on a Friday (unless you’re reacting to something big).

However, despite us knowing the general reasons why a press release won’t get coverage, everyone has fallen foul to the misleading maxim:  

We’ve done something successful in the past, so someone’s bound to pick it up again.

One contact I spoke to made the same point, highlighting that ‘fingers crossed’ moment when the cuttings email comes in the morning following a PR distribution. I call it the ‘spray and pray’ moment. Distribute the press release and hope there’s someone out there, who thinks it’s news.

Goodness, if you take that approach, then good luck to you!

Just because you’ve gone to the trouble of putting together a press release, you have no God given right that someone should write things up.

And just because someone wrote something up last year, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it again. I once got an excellent client of mine across BBC broadcast talking about Black Friday. He had something interesting to say and was willing to travel. He did a great job. Would it work again if we did the same thing the year after? No. The debate shifted, and we tried a different approach.

In a world where space is perpetually occupied by Covid and Brexit, we have to ask ourselves – where does our piece fit in to the newspaper and why should ours be covered over another story?

I think it’s important to stress that not everything does get picked up – even if you try your hardest. Sometimes it’s bad luck – the journalist is on holiday or something big just broke.

But if you haven’t thought how the story fits into the news – then you’re best off pausing and starting again. Even with reactive stories (where you may be one of scores, if not more, responding to the story), there are ways to get to the front of the pack.

Not everyone has the luxury of working for an organisation that has good data or authority of voice. There’s some organisations that do fantastically well because they use what they have and put another layer on top.

My admiration is when you’re able to take something peripheral and get something over the line.

A lot of work in ‘tier one’ media doesn’t come through press releases or reports.

You can’t simply ‘throw a Hail Mary’ and think something will pay off. In football, it may be entertaining to see teams throw their goalkeepers up last minute in the hope of scoring (a la Peter Schmeichel versus Rotor Volgograd in 1995 or Jimmy Glass for Carlisle), but you’d much rather the game was in the bag by halftime.

So let’s not get lazy. Coverage is always good to achieve, but always be honest and ask the question, what did we do right and what could have gone better.

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Adam Taylor

Director of Media Relations