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The do’s and don’ts of talking to journalists

talking_to_journalists
The do’s and don’ts of talking to journalists

Fiona Scott offers her advice on how to build mainstream media relationships and increase your press coverage

Have you ever thought you would like more PR coverage in the mainstream media, or do you feel anxious because other companies offering similar services are more ‘out there’ than you?

Maybe you are frustrated because you only see the ‘bad news’ stories around aesthetic treatments—if any of this applies to you, read on.

Journalists’ view of the aesthetics industry
Take it from me—as a journalist you can reach—I represented the general view the mainstream press has of aesthetics industry.

My misconceptions were:

• It’s about vanity

• There’s too much risk involved

• It’s far too expensive

• You could end up looking like you’ve been in a wind tunnel or you’ve got a severe allergy to shellfish.

• How can anyone trust someone who offers such a service outside of a hospital setting?

• It’s all about the money and little about safety

I’ve generalised here, but that’s a broad theme of views out there if you are not a specialist journalist in this field.

Each week I get requests from journalists across the UK asking for examples of people who’ve had “botched” cosmetic surgery or procedures. They wouldn’t keep asking if they didn’t keep getting those stories. There’s work to be done at a strategic level in this sector.

Remember the news agenda
Bear this in mind about the news agenda—good news is very common, so you have to work harder to be seen and heard.

Bad news is very unusual and it’s easy for a journalist to find as it often involves the organisations which speak to the media routinely, for example, the police, the fire service, the ambulance service and the court service.

Unusual news is what makes headlines—the kind of stories which get the emotions going, whether that’s anger, fear or laughter. That doesn’t mean good news stories aren’t valid but they have to work much harder to be seen or heard.

If you don’t believe me try an experiment on social media.

Write a post (appropriately of course) about something (not someone) which really annoys you. Then see how many people come in to agree, disagree or comment.

It’s well known in the media that the most read stories—especially for online news services—are those which involve crime or some kind of conflict or jeopardy.

However, news services need content, and the majority of that content is good news, information led or educational stories. With the explosion of the internet and online news sources the appetite is huge.

Where do you start with stories?

To build up stories, start with your diary.

– What are you doing today, tomorrow, next week, next month?

– Ask yourself is that a story? For social media? For the general press?

Certain stories can be a winner—a celebrity connection can help.

– Or being outspoken about issues and topics around your sector.

– Or being successful in winning awards.

– Or being charitable in your community.

All of these things are credible stories.

Working on the negative
When I was asked to work with Medikas in Bristol I went to check out the clinic first as I did not want to be aligned in any way with a business which could be in any way, shape or form be seen as “dodgy”. I was carrying my misconceptions about the industry—though I’d still be cautious today.

I was blown away by the clinic, the environment, the credibility and background of Dr Beatriz Molina and Dr Ian Strawford.

The key thing here, is while you might not like this general negative view of the aesthetic sector, you have to accept it. For the moment it is what it is.

I do believe it is changing, especially in London, and aesthetic procedures are becoming more common but there’s a way to go yet.

In accepting this, and deciding you do care about it, then you can plan to do something positive.

Advertising imagery
Journalists—apart from specific niche journalists or writers working in this specific sector—represent people. It’s all about people.

The people they routinely see in the aesthetic sector are beautiful people, having treatments they seem not to need, often young and, for many, ridiculously aspirational because many of us know we can never actually look like that.

Is your imagery honest? Why do they see this? That’s the image the industry seems to project. The sector seems very keen on stock images of younger people to draw the eye to their paid-for advertising and artwork, their leaflets, their websites and sometimes their social media. In fact I’ve seen a strong resistance against doing anything else on promotional literature.

I was delighted at the BCAM conference to see some literature with women in their 50s looking fabulous—but it was not the norm.

Ask yourself:

• How many of your customers actually look like that?

• Are your images creating a barrier to sales?

• It may be aspirational, but is it deceptive?

Also it can make paid for adverts appear as an homogenous mass. If you are advertising in a glossy magazine in the health, beauty or aesthetic section, how does a potential customer choose one above another?

Newspapers, on and offline, have also got so used to the aesthetic industry paying for advertising, they have come to expect it.

When did you ask yourself if you should perhaps do something different? Assess the paid-for advertising spend?

There’s nothing wrong with paid-for ads—I help people with this too—but it’s not the only way.

Don’t sell
I attended an event in London run by Enterprise National called Meet The Journalists. There were a panel of journalists all from national publications.

This event was sold out, packed with small business people and PR people like me—working with small businesses.

As soon as the floor was opened to questions, small business owners put their hands up but not one asked a question.

Instead they launched into a loud description of their business, what they sold, where they got their products from—trying to download their detail in 30 seconds flat.

When you meet someone at a business event and they come up to you and launch into such a speech – how do you feel? Do you feel like you are being listened to? Or are you being subjected to a sales pitch? Journalists are no different.

Build rapport
Build a relationship—like any other business relationship, and you can now do this online first.

Help a journalist find someone for the story they are looking for that day and then they’ll remember you for the day they need your story.

Before I went to Meet The Journalists, I’d done my research, tweeted a couple of the journalists and got responses, so they felt the ice was broken before I’d stepped into the room. It didn’t feel like I was meeting a distant stranger, and my opening line sounded like: “Hello Beth, I’m Fiona, we tweeted each other earlier today…”

Lack of time
Another thing which happened at that event was a cacophony of whining from businesses complaining they were so busy, their lives were very hard, how they try to get publicity but are ignored and how they don’t have time to make the effort to engage these journalists.

Doubtless this can be true, but as with so many things in business there’s no quick fix—PR is a slow burn which requires effort, attention and dedication.

If you want media support and you haven’t got the time, then you can pay someone to help you.

However you have to be realistic—even with media support, it takes time and effort on both sides.

Never complain to a journalist about how hard your work is unless you are saving lives. Journalists work long hours, and may often have given up several relationships to their career, so they simply won’t hear you and will probably switch off.

Their agenda, not your’s
Journalists operate to their own agenda and you have to meet their needs just like with any of your clients—they are not there to meet your needs. This is a common mistake small businesses—and experts in their field—make, just because it’s interesting to you, it may not be interesting to them.

Also the news agenda is very fluid and it’s subjective. What’s interesting on Monday may be boring on Tuesday.

How will a journalist choose you?
When my turn came to Meet The Journalists I asked one key question: if you could choose between three small companies all doing the same thing—how do you pick the best case study?

The Answer: Journalists will look at who they know first, so a close association with a journalist is utterly invaluable.

If they don’t know someone relevant, just like a customer these days, they will do research before making a decision—online first and foremost.

They will often start with a website and they will judge you accordingly. Do think about what makes a good website and does it match your brand—and what makes it different from every other aesthetic website. This is particularly true if you are using stock imagery.

If you pass the website test, a journalist will search online for any other story about you. This builds credibility especially for the national press. It gives them confidence this is a business with background, energy and has the potential for being media friendly.

What if you are the one company which doesn’t have any of this? Does that matter to you?

Conclusion
My final tips are these—if PR is of interest and you engage with all or some of the above, don’t fall at the last hurdle.

You need to be easy to find and available at short notice. When that call comes through and they want you on the tv or on the radio at 6am in the morning in Manchester, say yes. Get on that train, because if you don’t someone else will.

If you do these things your profile will be organically raised, you’ll become front of mind and business will come—but it’s a process, a journey, an experience.

Fiona Scott is a journalist and runs a media consultancy working across the SME sector offering support from training to ongoing media support including high end video production. W: fionascott.co.uk; Twitter @TheFionaScott

Author: bodylanguage

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