Reading through the many 'How To' PR guides on the Internet, you'd be forgiven for thinking that media relations is as simple as writing up your company news in a press release, and sending it to journalists.
That may be true if, for example, your company is called BMW, and your news is that sales of the Mini have reached record levels. You could expect the story to generate massive media exposure, as this one did early in 2005.
But for the rest of us, the launch of a product that's similar to others on the market, the opening of a new store, the appointment of a new sales director, or the installation of a new office franking machine is simply not going to make a story in anything higher profile than the East Framlington Bugle – readership three.
It doesn't matter how well you write the press release, or who you know, it just won't get any higher. What's needed is a 'hook', or a good idea on which to hang the story.
And what makes a good 'hook'? Well that's a bit harder to define. Nevertheless, there are a few tricks of the trade that PR practitioners use to generate media coverage.
Surveys, polls and statistics.
A quick scan through any newspaper reveals how popular they are with journalists. Ideally, surveys should be carried out by a third party that confers credibility (such as MORI), but that isn't absolutely essential. Provided the results can be substantiated, and they have a broad interest value, almost any survey will prove a good media investment.
Again, journalists love any scientific, or quasi-scientific news that may impact on everyone's daily lives. Take the rather prosaic subject of contact lenses. Small pieces of invisible plastic that were first thought of by Leonardo da Vinci. So not exactly what you could call new. We commissioned some research that found people who wear contact lenses are 4 times more likely to attract a partner in a nightclub than those encumbered with facial furniture. Now that is news.
This is tougher still to define, and is by no means appropriate for every company or product. But journalists love stories that have their roots in something a bit quirky. For example, to promote a flea treatment, we once declared National Flea Awareness Minute in protest at the number of Awareness Weeks that had entered the national calendar. Result: media coverage worth tens of thousands of pounds, at a cost of zilch.
Most and est.
Anything preceded by the word 'most' or ending in … est is an almost sure fire winner with the media. Biggest, smallest, smartest, saddest, silliest, you name it. Subject to two caveats: first you must be able to substantiate the claim.
Second, it must have a broad appeal. For example, we once launched a search for Britain's Most Destructive Dog, to promote a treatment for dogs that are, well, destructive. The resultant story “My Dog Ate My Ford Fiesta” had the national newspapers door-stepping the winners.
Celebrities are a double-edged sword, and should be treated with caution. We all know how obsessed the country has become with celebrities, problem is, so have they. Just the act of signing a celebrity to front your product will often be enough to generate major coverage. But beware, they can be tricky to work with, and pursue their own agenda. So choose carefully.
With any of these broad tactics, the trick is to make sure your message, product or business is integral to the story.
So, before you announce it to the media, make sure that it would be hard for the journalist to write the story without mentioning you. Do that, and with a good idea, you're in with a sporting chance of making the news.