I had a bit of an awkward moment in the newsroom the other day, when I was talking to a woman who wanted to get a story on the BBC news. She’d sent me a press release. I’d read it three times before picking up the phone.
“Do you want me to be softly softly, here?” I asked her. “Or do you want some tough love?” I could sense her smiling down the line. “Tough love, please …” she replied.
So I told her what I thought of her story (important), and press release (off beam.) I’ll spare her blushes by not going into the details here. But I have these conversations very often. So it’s time to offer some tips.
(You’ll note my emphasis is in getting your story on TV. Newspapers and websites want different things from broadcasters. But if your aim is to see your story, or your client’s story, on the evening TV news — and, as often follows, picked up by radio and video focussed news websites — then what follows may be of use.)
Three Ways Not To Get Your story on TV:
- Make your Press Release really long. TV journalists face dozens of emails a day making a case for a particular story. Don’t expect them to read beyond the third paragraph if you haven’t got them curious in the first two.
- Fill your Press Release with terminology. TV journalists aren’t experts in your field. You are. If you name an organisation, or a project, or a government quango, don’t assume the journalist will have the faintest idea what you’re on about. One way around this is to use the term, but explain in brackets what it is, or mark it with an asterisk and add some Notes For Editors* at the end.
- Make us guess what the story is. You’d be amazed at the number of times we’re invited to report on a new project that’s a huge deal to the people involved, but doesn’t address the one thing that gets us excited: why this should be a huge deal to our audience.
Three Ways To Get Your Story on TV:
- Provide a Real Person to Interview (This is where the press release I’d been chatting about on the phone came unstuck, and it’s perhaps the most common mistake of all.) Of course you’ll want us to interview the Chief Executive or a key decision-maker about your project. But in the dark banter of the newsroom, we call them ‘suits’. What we also want is a ‘Real Person’ — a case-study. Launching a scheme that’ll help people living in remote communities? Tell us you’ve got one lined up for us who’s agreed to be filmed in her remote home talking about how your scheme has helped. Organising a conference of business-women to mark International Woman’s Day? Find us a business-woman who will invite us into her workplace (preferably, a visually stimulating one) to talk about the challenges she faces in the business world.
- Think about what you can arrange for us to film. We’re a picture based medium. So if you’re a University with some new research to shout about, have you fixed up for us to film in the lab and downloaded those amazing CGI videos the researchers were working on? If you’re promoting a new bus service, can we film on the bus?
- Give us some Numbers. You may think that goes against the thrust of the other messages — to keep it simple and human. But hard data makes your story credible. Statistics that demonstrate the problem you’re solving, or a timeline that shows the challenges you’ve faced, act as the evidence a journalist will want to justify airtime. It proves your story is genuine. But be sure to say where you got them from. It’s your own internal research? That’s fine, but tell us. Government Department? Give us the reference. United Nations report? Great, it’s got clout.
You may feel — steady on, John: you’re telling us to keep it short, and then telling us all these things we have to tell you. There’s a knack to this. It’s called …
*Notes to Editors.
This is a bullet point section at the bottom of any press release which gives journalists the background info we need to understand the story in the first place. The references for the statistics. An explanation of what your company or client does. Any skeleton biography info on a person you’re asking us to interview. By putting these details at the foot of the press release, you free up space in the main section to grab our attention.
And how long should that main section be? Aim for three to five paragraphs. Max. And if that sounds brutally short — remember, the Press Release is there to tempt us and reassure us.
If it does that, we’re likely to pick up the phone. And once we’re speaking on the phone … you’ve got our attention. Which is, after all, what you aiming for in the first place …
If you want your own company’s messages to have more impact with your staff, clients and customers, give me a call.
One PR who knows all this is Jill Woolf at Chimera Communications. Her Press Releases often open with a no-nonsense bullet pointed who/what/when/where/why. It always makes me smile.
Amusing photo: copywrite Marketoonist.com