A Company Issues a Manual – why does it make headline news?

This is a Guest Post from Louise Turner from Your Virtual PR

A company issues a code of conduct. It makes the national news. Weird, right? Well, not if the company is Transport for London (TfL) and the code of conduct is for companies making deliveries during the Olympics. See the story here.

Yesterday’s headlines about a ban on whistling, reversing alarms and slamming lorry doors when making night-time deliveries were generated by the issuing of a simple manual. This is a brilliant example of how “business as usual” can be turned into a great story.

All credit to TfL, which obviously has its PR team well integrated into its operations so that this kind of news can be created. It’s a wonderful example of what can be achieved when communications is central to the business and to management teams, not a bolt-on.

So how do you root out your business’s stories? Here are my top tips:

  • If it’s in the news, it’s usually new – how new depends on the kind of media you’re targeting, but as a general rule daily newspapers won’t use stories more than a couple of days old. Test it out – pick up your local newspaper and see how many stories start with “Last month…”
  • The est test – this is quite simple. If you can stick “est” on the end of a word to describe your story it’s likely you’re on to something. So if you have the biggest, smallest, first, last, widest, narrowest… You get the idea.
  • Use people’s reactions – if you’re like me you probably talk to your other half about your working day. As they don’t know your business in as much detail as you, use them as a sounding board. Their reaction is likely to tell you whether you have a really interesting story.
  • Will what you’re doing benefit someone else? I know of a company which totally overhauled a disabled lady’s garden because they heard she was struggling to get in and out of the house. They donated their machinery, staff time and all of the materials. And they didn’t say anything about it. Self-less acts like these can make great local newspaper stories.
  • Will it have national repercussions? Can you hand-on-heart say that what you’re doing will change things for a huge number of people? In that case, you’re likely to be on to a big story.

So what makes or breaks whether a story is featured? I once heard a PR “professional” (I use the word loosely, you’ll see why) address a conference and suggest that you should “harass” (their word) journalists if they didn’t use your story. You should ring them up, they said, and ask when it will be featured. If it doesn’t appear you should call the editor, they said, and ask when it would be printed.

The client I was sat with at the time was horrified that I might harass journalists on her behalf – but not as horrified as I was that someone who claimed to be a PR professional would suggest such a strategy.

Let’s be clear. All news outlets need stories, but they don’t need your stories unless you are a massive multi-national company offering them an exclusive.

There is plenty of news out there so you have noautomatic right to space on their page. Here’s what might influence whether your story makes the grade.

  • The point of difference – is your story genuinely interesting to the wider world, or is it really just a bit of promotion for your company? If you want quality coverage it is better to save your energies for the genuine stories, rather than get a reputation for sending journalists things they are never going to print.
  • The particular media outlet’s news agenda – every single newspaper, radio programme, magazine and TV programme is different. They have different types of stories they like to cover and come at things from different angles. The very best thing to do is to get to know your target media – read it, listen to it, watch it – then you’ll see what kinds of stories they like to feature.
  • The geographical patch – local media like to cover local stories, the more local the better. If you can’t buy their paper in your local newsagent’s, the chances are you won’t be in their patch.
  • A strong spokesperson – if you want to secure good quality broadcast coverage then a confident, well-briefed spokesperson is your best asset. To create that strong spokesperson you need good training and plenty of rehearsal.
  • Pictures – strong images can not only help get your story into a paper, but they can massively increase the space your story is allocated, and its placement on the page. The right-hand page is the best place to be because of how people naturally read papers and picture stories tend to be in the top half of the page. Your image will need to be well framed, preferably an action shot of some kind. The worst thing in the world is a group of people in suits smiling or, shudder, the handing over of a huge cheque. The picture should help tell the story, not be an additional extra.
  • Video – newspaper journalists are increasingly under pressure to produce content for their online versions, and video is at the heart of this. If you can supply professional video content to support your story you have a great chance of making it into the online version of your target media, which will have benefits for your own website’s rankings in the search engines. The trick here is in the production. It must not scream “a PR person produced this video” and should match the house style of the media outlet you’re targeting. There are specialist companies who can produce this kind of video press release for you.

Louise Turner is a PR and communications professional who has spent the last 13 years working in PR teams in both the public and private sector. She has won a clutch of Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) awards for her work and now runs her own business providing PR and communications services to SMEs.

Louise is also a Member of the CIPR and holds their Accredited Practitioner status, guaranteeing her commitment to continuing professional development.

Drop an email to louise@yourvirtualpr.com or visit Your Virtual PR.

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