The PR industry has had to adapt to a huge change recently. Not only have many comms strategies had to change, we’ve never had a news agenda like this.
In this episode I’m joined by news experts from 72Point, part of SWNS Media Group which is an independent press agency working directly with major news-desks in the United States and the UK.
I interview Daniel Johnson-Kim and Rick Maughan, Heads of Editorial and Media Liaison at 72Point Inc, New York, to discuss the changes at the major news-desks and how to sensitively navigate them.
Together, Daniel and Rick have more than 20 years experience in working with news desks in both the UK and USA. As well as Daniel being an ex journalist, designer and editor at The New York Daily News and News Corp, he and Rick now work alongside journalists and PR teams to help shape brand comms into news.
- How journalists are working during lock-down
- How to be a resource (not a nuisance)
- How to adapt sell-in tactics
- Tips on how to navigate news-desks
Here’s the transcript from the podcast:
Stella: Welcome to the PR resolution podcast. I’m your host Stella Bales in this podcast series, I’ll be interviewing experts in emerging areas of PR. We’ll be taking those hot topics in public relations, dispelling, any myths, breaking down the jargon. So you are completely clued up and ready to speak to your stakeholders by the time you reach the office. If you have any questions around the episode, please feel free to tweet me. @stellabales, you might have noticed that this episode has come quite quickly since my interview with Jim that went live last week. A couple of reasons for that, mainly because of the strange times that were in my interview of Jim was slightly delayed because of that.
And also because of what’s going on right now. I really felt like we needed to have a look at the industry and I wanted to see how I could help. Of course, the strange times I’m talking about is COVID-19. If you’re listening to this further into the future, where we’re at right now is that the UK and the US are a few weeks into lockdown.
Like many other industries, the public relations industry has massively changed and we’ve had to adapt whether that’s because budgets have been cut teams have been followed and a lot has changed, but the biggest change is really the news agenda. I know in my lifetime, I’ve never seen a news agenda like this, and it is hard for everybody to try and navigate.
So in this episode, I am bringing in a news editor. But I’m being joined by Daniel Johnson, Kim. He is head of media liaison at 72 Point in New York and also Rick Morgan who’s the head of the editorial team at 72 Point. These guys are working day to day with all of the main news desks in the US and they have a UK team doing exactly the same and the UK as well.
72 point are in a really unique position because they’re associated to SWNS, one of the biggest news wires feeding all news stories. Whether that’s serious, COVID related news stories, right through to fun survey related stories. They’re feeding those straight into the news desk in the UK and US. So the guys at 72 Point really do know what is going down well and how angles needs to change.
And they are feeding that back to their clients. Now, at 72 Point, clients are a mix between PR teams and PR agencies, and they are forming stories with them and there are doing really well. In fact, the reason why this interview came about was because I saw some of their coverage and I noticed that one of the campaigns that they did last week, they had over 200 pieces. So big blanket coverage.
I’m going to be asking the guys some questions that we’ll be helping you adapt your campaigns and sensitively successfully set into news desk right now. Here’s Rick.
Rick: Hi, I’m Rick. Thanks everyone for joining. I’m head of editorial at 72 Point inc, based out of New York and been here for about four or five years now. We specialise in editorial coverage, as you’ve mentioned. And the way we most frequently do that is through data-led news, using insights, create really valuable talking points and garner media attention, in a way that brings great talks and content in a tidy fashion.
Prior to that, I spent six years in the SWNS newsroom. So as you’ve mentioned, for those of you that aren’t familiar with 72 Point or SWNS stands for SouthWest News Service), they’re an independent press agency. Like a Reuters or kind of a PA in the UK or you know, a large Newswire.
And so, like you say, we kind of pivot on both sides of the, of the news world at the moment. So going to talk a little bit about what we’re experiencing in this time from a, from news providing a content point of view, but also from, dealing with brands and securing coverage from a, from a branded side of things.
Stella: Cool. Thanks. Hey Daniel, what’s your role?
Daniel: I am the head of distribution, head of media liaison at 72 Point. So me and my team, we handle all the outreach, both with our news stories, that are on our wire. And then also our research stories. And as Rick mentioned before that I was a journalist editor designer for more than 10 years.
The last role I had in media, I was the director of content in charge of the audience team there. So the homepage team, social media team, the designer’s interactive team. And then for some odd reason, the photo gallery team. And then before that, I was just an editor at the daily news for a while, before that, I was a reporter working at local newspapers and then some Nashville publications.
And so it was kind of like going into this role at 72 Point and at SWNS, I kind of use my experience in media to help kind of make journalists jobs easier. And I think it’s, you know, we’re really good at it. My team is great at outreach and also making sure that everything is in a position with these projects, that it’s just really easy for them to pick up and plug into what they’re already doing.
Stella: Thank you, that explains why they made a really interesting position of having that sort of both sides. So the information that the guys are going to be sharing with you today is literally hot off the press. So we have, a few examples that the guy’s going to talk you through. And then really I’m going to be asking questions. This is going to be actually a series of webinars and podcasts. This is the first one in this time of how we can pivot in PR. So I want to go to Rick. First of all, what has actually changed so far? Within the pandemic. It’s been a few weeks. What have you noticed so far on the news desks that has changed?
Rick: Yeah, the impact is, substantial. Is the short answer. The New York Times article, recently had an estimate at 33,000 news media employees that have been either furloughed or laid off in America. So that’s a, you know, a huge and significant number. We know that local journalism has obviously been really heavily impacted and the declining ad revenues is obviously a massive, massive part of that. Where advertisers are still advertising. There is a problem in the industry that most brands do not want to be positioned alongside COVID articles. So obviously that’s a huge part of the news output at the moment. And brands will obviously, you know, understandably place blockers alongside their content appearing, you know against words like crisis pandemic, national urgency, things like that. So that means a lot of the content is struggling to be monetised, where revenues already haven’t been pulled, which is a big problem for the industry. And that’s leading to reduce spending across the board, you know, tighter budgets and already struggling sort of industries as you are well aware.
That’s what the times are called. You know, it gave a good description about trying to cover COVID-19 and this sort of climate is like, they used the phrase drinking from a fire hose. It’s just all-consuming. You know, they are throwing resources at it. Those that haven’t been furloughed or moved around, you know, have been, transitioned to cover breaking news where they might not have before. So everyone is kind of scrambling a bit to do a great job. Obviously different hours are affected in different ways. So, you know, the way we’ve been affected might be slightly different to news outlets themselves. I think what, what we’re covering in terms of our content now is primarily COVID, you know, everyone will say that that starts dominating the news agenda and with our COVID material, that mostly ranges from the really grim, we’ve got pictures out today of overloaded morgues, hospitals inundated. We’ve got photographers in, in ICU knit, shadowing in Manhattan, all that sort of harrowing stuff. And then you’ve got the kind of the other end of the scale where you’ve got the the kind of human face of it and the kind of lighter stories.
So, you know, you might have the incredible recoveries of people in their nineties or over a hundred, you might have the heartwarming reunions. You might have things like the funny stuff, like the isolation home haircuts and the content that surrounds that. So there’s a real plethora of material. That’s, that’s being distributed by, by news agencies.
And that we’re seeing engaged with the Newswire obviously the charitable acts and things. We’ve seen a lot of those and, and they’re getting great news coverage as well. and rightly so another part is that there’s the non-COVID material. Still a lot of that, we’re doing a lot with animal stories, anything that can cheer people up -there’s a lot of those coming through.
Science is still, you know, led stories. It might be data around Alzheimer’s or dementia and things like that. Anything on the human interest that can bring a bit of relief. And then, of course, you know, Tiger King. So we’re all, we’re all devouring Netflix currently.
We had a great, exclusive for the Mail a couple of days ago, Howard Baskins, boyfriend’s has come out, and, and given a, an interview with us and very briefly, in my opinion, you know, and so that that’s made really well. So there’s a lot still happening. The other thing to mention is, is that the journalist roles are changing.
So in terms of what we’ve experienced in our journalists, certainly this side of the Atlantic we’re, we’re experiencing less story tips. So if you can imagine we’re all, we’re all now indoors, there’s less organic news been captured and there’s less people out with their phones and getting videos.
They’re still submitting some stuff and kind of incredible fun things that they’re doing at home, but there is an absence of that kind of news where previously there was a lot of things like courts and jury proceedings and things like that. So massively celebrity news is of course only coming from their direct channels.
There’s not really the sightings and the spotting. So there are certain streams that have dried up. Obviously, you know, everyone’s going towards the COVID effort, but that’s just an idea of how the journalistic roles are changing a bit, a bit more, you know, a bit fewer sources on the non-COVID stuff.
And with that budget site, and then we’re also seeing, you know, less ad hoc purchasing. So we’re a Newswire, we’re quite fortunate in that we do have a lot of great relationships with the desks and longterm subscriptions. So hopefully that means we’re in a place where we can ride it out a bit.
You know, people might have paid us for our content for, you know, the entire year, for example, which means they’re able to dip in and use as much of those stories as they, like. We’re seeing our download and usage rates, you know, , on new stuff is higher than ever, but obviously our ad hoc purchases such as photographs and stuff where people may pay 500 bucks here, or a thousand there, or whatever that is, obviously drying up. So, you know, with that side of it, it just means that hopefully news-wise are in a good position because they still are a reliable source for those news desks.
Stella: And I know you guys are working in the UK and the US – is there a big difference between the news agenda and how strategies are having to change?
Rick :I think there’s core similarities, obviously, you know, readership is at record levels still in the UK. I’ve checked in with the news team and they’re under 72 point UK team regularly. Newspapers sales obviously have been hit really hard and the same thing with the ad revenue, you know, I think I read that print revenue. for ads was down 80%. So, you know, that’s a huge figure that they’re, they’re having to deal with. On the PR stuff so, you know, I know certainly from the UK team and the 72 point stuff and all the fantastic work they’re doing, there was requests from the news desks to have, like content and uplifting content.
And I think that harks back to what we were saying about revenue spends and printing adverts in the paper, those advertisers that are still there. Equally do not want to put their paper ads next to, you know, if you’ve got an advert for a sofa sale at the weekend, you do not want that next to body bags and more pictures and COVID and that sort of thing fairly understandably.
So I think that, you know, there’s been a lot of contact from the desks on lighter, more relief type news to fill the second half of the paper, obviously COVID dominates obviously, depending on the day and the size of the paper, the first 15 to 20 pages would be nothing, but COVID in various lenses. But I do think that there’s still room, you know, in the latest stages of the paper to find relief, and, and to include those non-COVID story.
So, yeah, they’ve been having great success with, with coverage on, on non-COVID stories. As much as the COVID story. So, you know, things like home DIY and kind of list-based stories they’ve said from the brand point of view have been doing really well. They also had SWNS editors come over to them and, and, and mentioned about, advice, pieces.
So, you know, newspapers want to give their readers relief as well as information they care about their readers. We’ve all been fatigued by the news agenda. You pick it up and you probably reduced your usage a little bit. They want, they want to ensure that that doesn’t happen. So they want to give people help and help them navigate as well. So anything about that access to experts, you know, really relevant.
Stella: With all that in mind? How has strategies of like really needed to change with that? Has there been anything that needs to be added or taken away?
Rick: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think, you know, we’ve seen a lot of on our stories and I’m not a put PR I will preface this, that we, we, we deal mostly in stories and what’s gonna work. and what’s not, we’ve seen stages with our clients and with our PR strategy. So obviously there was a taking a stock stage. Everyone wanted to see what was happening. We had the kind of letter from the CEO stage, and now I think, you know, once people have sorted their absolute duty to their staff, to the customers and getting that safety side first, I think now they’re really mobilising.
We’re starting to see a lot of content come through a lot of stories going out its earth day today. We’ve been inundated with stories, which has been great. So I think that kind of organisational confidence is restoring. And I think w know what we can learn from that is that for me, it really is about understanding what your storytelling is as a brand using this time to really find out where your kind of relevance is.
There’s a phrase going around, which has been said a lot, but, you know, relevance is the new reputation. And I think that’s absolutely true, it’s that insight and that time to really understand your company and how it’s changed. Very unique time. And that comes through many ways. It’s not just, you know, the necessary data and surveys of course, but it’s also through, you know, your internal insight, learning your, your customer’s habits, looking at buying habits and things like that.
What social indicators are there so that you can tie into bigger trends? I think it’s really important to sort of dig deep. Mining the stories is something that I always want to say to more PR people that we know that there are good stories out there. There are, it’s such a traumatic time, but there are a lot of really, really fantastic human stories going on. And it happens everywhere. It might be a delivery driver that’s going above and beyond. It might be someone who’s never missed a shift in 27 years and pandemics not going to stop, you know, anything like that, where you might have good human stories that you could keep in mind.I think now’s the time to do that.
Stella: Something you just said about that, really trying to be relevant to people right now. Obviously with public relations that’s something that we always try and strive to do, but it is a new level of insight that’s needed now, isn’t it? Because things have changed. Some people might not notice, but as well as CoverageBook, we have another tool, an insight tool called AnswerThePublic. And we’ve seen record numbers of people using that tool to try and understand what people are searching for and how they’re feeling right now. And it is that sort of new level of, okay, we might have done some insight at an insight phase in the beginning of the year. But now we just need to redo it. We need to redo research to have that deeper level of understanding.
Rick: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s shifting so rapidly. Yeah. It’s changing every, every week almost. So it is really important to kind of ensure that you’re engaged with your consumer base, but also yeah, on a national level, if you’re aiming for national coverage, you’ve got to have your finger on the pulse of what, what people are doing, beyond maybe just your private agenda of what the brand’s goals are.
So yeah. It’s that ability to pivot in terms of glimpses. Yeah. So I think that’s really important, but what we’re doing with stories, and this is specifically to some 72 Point stories, but I think it is applicable. Some of it, you know, it doesn’t need explaining, but we really are focusing on stories, not press releases.
I think that it’s really that time to make sure that you’re giving great content and it sounds cheesy, but you know, and editorial has to be earned. I think that’s a key point now is not the time to try and hard sell or come off as self-serving and insensitive. And it sounds obvious. Don’t be, you know, don’t be insensitive, but actually it does require a lot of navigation because there are different dynamics and stories. You know, Daniel, will go into that a little bit more, but there’s so it’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds, but you know, authenticity, I think is the thing head to toe in, in the copy. So not just doing a good first five times, but making sure that their quote support and everything else is, is strong.
And I think that empathy, of course, is absolutely crucial. That goes without saying, but can you really highlight a problem for audiences that again, go beyond just the company, but can it, can you tap into a wider social trend, make a journalist feel, this is important. They want to write about to provide reassurance.
As we saw with the UK stuff, it’s really important right now. And benevolence, you know, I’m not saying give away everything or kind of, you know, throw your product out for free, but what can you do to help? So, you know, we’ve seen in the UK, the desks are getting asked for helpful advice or access to experts or anything for readers there.
So I think anything you can give or things you can team up with, or any sort of innovations there will really play well. And then sort of evergreen, you know, I think that we don’t know what’s happening is changing constantly. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket and assume that we’re going to be in the same scenario in two weeks time.
Or if you’re working on a more long-form campaign, you know, you’ve got to make sure there are stories that can be relevant and strong at any time of the year. Obviously still have. the ‘Not relevant for right now.’ So it is sometimes a difficult balance, but that’s what we kind of aim for.
Stella What kind of percentage of non-COVID news are news desk seeking? I mean, can you put a percentage on it right now? Is it, or have we found it just a mix?
Daniel: I would say the majority of what they’re covering is going to be covered related even in all, beats. So like the lifestyle reporters are maybe doing it, looking at, food or looking at families, you have the entertainment reporters with so many celebrities who have been positive or so many celebrities that are, are being really like open on Instagram and so many live shows and they’re covering that aspect of it. And then you have the sports, people are recovering, you know, the fact that there aren’t any sports, but they’re also athletes who’ve been positive. There are athletes whose, whose family members who have died.
There are athletes, there are managers in the UK who’ve been positive, right. And, and all over the place. So there is a story there too, as far as the. it not being COVID related. I think it really depends on the publication. If it’s somewhere that is a real, large national or international publication, they’re probably doing mostly COVID.
And what they are doing is uplifting. Like Rick said, or something that’s kind of not going to be perceived incorrectly, but then at the same time, you get a think. They’re still all covering the things that usually would be happening this time of year its earth day. I’m sure some newspapers have, and there are tons of stories about climate change, mostly, maybe with a COVID angle.
How is everyone staying home and doing less travelling and doing less driving and how does affect, the efforts toward that? But as far as putting a percentage to it, I just, I think it would be tough, but I would say, you know, less than 10 percent. I think it’s a safe guess. I think the majority of it is either the hard news, the business side of it for the other lifestyle kind of lighter things, but I’m sure that there are people who are writing things on that aren’t related because you know, in my experience covering what they call them like catastrophic type events, whether it’s like a mass shooting, a hurricane, a tornado, a wildfire, right? Like if you remember Australia, remember when everyone was thought that was the most important story in December and January. Has anybody talked with the Australian wildfires since then?
Probably not, but it’s a, you know, you cover it until you reach a point wherever you’ve kind of, you’re just doing the same stories every day. So they’re always looking for something different. and I think as things start to kind of go down or as things start to get better, you’re going to see more and more non COVID related stories coming up, but always as well, if it’s, if it’s still happening, it’s still there.
That’s probably going to be their main priority. And you should think about that and consider that in any outreach you’re doing.
Stella: We’re going to expand on that point actually a bit later as an example. So it should be great. Rick, did you have anything more that you’ve seen sort of like from the, I talk about relevance and like needing to adapt to strategy and how you actually go about that with research?
What kind of level do you think people need to do that? Cause obviously, like when you add research to a PR campaign that’s normally done, like. Quite near the beginning of the planning stage. And it seems like quite a big part of the budget and it needs extra planning, but this seems like it could be, it needs a quite quick turnaround.
So is that even possible? And is that what you guys are doing?
Rick:I think, yeah, it is doable very quickly. You know, we do do fairly quick turnarounds where needed we’ve revisited a lot of our stories and assess them to make sure, you know, we feel that timely, where we feel they could add, you know, benefit from such supplementary data, we have run added material to make sure we’ve got stuff to work with. And that we’ve got a very interesting comparison to make in terms of what was happening in the current state and previously. Whether it was done three or four weeks ago or whatever the research was done, there is, there is the ability to do things quicker, but also I think it is just about making sure that you do have that relevance and that kind of strong talking points.
So, yeah, you’ve, you’ve raised the two big story here that we did very recently. This one went out last week. It’s, it’s just a good example of how data having data-led headlines, in particular, make for an engaging article and how it kind of can sell a quite, open topic into a sort of finite focal point that that will allow people to embrace and engage with.
So it’s quite a simple hypothesis. You know, people are streaming more in lockdown. That seems fairly obvious, but the reason it works well is because we’re giving that fine point of comparison, putting data towards it, eight hours a day, you know, that is interactive. Some people will think that it’s way too much.
Some people would be like, yeah, Yeah. Okay. Not too bad. We’ve all had bad days Netflix telling us, you know, are you still watching five times? So, you know, I was a day might not be too bad. So it just gets people engaging with the research. And I think it gives that nice snapshot of a, of a behavioural trend.
Daniel will enlarge on this a bit more, but you know, there’s also within that story, a load of different strands. That means it can be qualified for different sectors. So not everything needs to be seen as, as directly COVID news, but within that story where we’re sort of hitting all branches. And this one did make exceptionally well, you know, you can see there, you’ve got your New York Post, LA times, Fox people.com and beyond, I think it made over 200 pieces fantastically displayed in CoverageBook of course. So, yeah, it, and I think really in terms of that, just reiterating it’s about tapping into that bigger trend. It’s about giving brands a kind of good voice and a platform, in a, in a non-self-serving manner. By conducting a kind of independent story, it allows them to be a bit more of a commentator to give authority and lend quotes to a really interesting talking point and then bring in their unique insight and what they’re experiencing.
And we find that journalism and journalists and news are kind of a bit more receptive to that and it seemed to take well. So yeah, we were very happy with it. and I think, you know, the final thing about insight and just really, you know, having relevant research at this time is that we were going through this, you know, really huge, weird, scary thing and it’s a very isolating time, but we want those and that glimpse of what’s happening next door, what people we want that feedback. And so the snapshots and use of data, I think more than ever, whether it’s a bit more frivolous like this on streaming or on the, on the kind of more, more heavyweight stuff is so important.
Daniel: When I was an editor and I used to do the editorial meetings, we would do about four or five a day, first one’s at about 9:30 in the morning. Then you have one, you know, right before lunch at kind of 11, 12 to, to find out what was happening for the stories before then we do one at 3. Then we do a one after the first deadline at like 9:30 and hopefully, I wasn’t still at work at 9:30 PM, but sometimes it did happen, but the reason why data-led stories are so great, are because they’re talkers.
Like whenever we would have those editorial meetings for when the features editor would talk, they would always have a couple of holes and it would instantly get the editors talking. Oh, that number is too high. Oh, that sounds about right. Or, Oh, We, you know, the other thing that once you have the data, newsrooms have the ability to find the humans to kind of verify or add that human element to it. You know, you have the expert quotes that came from Tubi, but I can actually, as a reporter go and ask people. So are you streaming like crazy? And he gets some good quotes to, it really adds filler there. But when you have the data, you have a nice kind of base for them to be inspired. and also to really kind of talk about it. And it does great broadcast coverage too, for that reason, because a lot of anchors like to like say, there’s this new study and then they talk about it on air. And hopefully, if they do their jobs, they credit who, who did the study. But yeah, this one does exceptionally well.
Stella: I think this was the coverage that I noticed when I got in touch with you guys, I was like, Hmm, this looks like you’re not struggling to get coverage at the moment. Daniel, you want to go back to you just quickly. You mentioned about having the meetings, what else – I know you’re an ex-journalist, you went to news school and stayed in news, but I wanted to know from your experience right now with working closely with journalism, I know you’re still in touch with a lot of journalists and editors at those publications. What has changed for them? Like, are they working from home? What, what else has changed that we need to be aware of?
Daniel: Unless they’re like runners, what they call it, like somebody who goes to events, it’s maybe going to the hospitals that are live, press conferences. yeah. I mean, what is really changed? Most of the things, same, the same things that have changed for you right now. Journalists, editors and writers, they’re working from home, they’re doing virtual meetings. They’re having those editorial meetings, software like this, like Zoom, you know, and actually probably having more people at those meetings than there used to be in a room that they only had a limited amount of chairs. You know, and they’re having these meetings in the morning, they still have to plan out the stories they’re doing, whether it’s the main COVID story or how the business desk is suffering or how the lifestyle desk is covering it or how the entertainment desks covering it.
You know, and they’re meeting every day and they’re talking about the stories. And so they’re certainly looking at pitches. One thing I think to be aware of is that they’re probably publishing less on the weekends and it’s always good to have, you know, copy that’s ready to really that’s an AP style or in their style that really is an inverted pyramid or something they can really easily plug in and plug out. I have some editors at some publications they use us for that on the weekends where they have less people publishing. they will put up a survey story that they have scheduled, you know, cause a lot of places have the technology now.
Also, I think that you know, we do a lot of what we call Erin story outreach when somebody doesn’t credit, you know, where the research came from, and we’ve seen a lot of people responding to those emails and that outreach because they’re at home and they’re logged on working from home and so they’re easy to make quick fixes, whereas before they might be moving on to another thing.
Stella: So have you found that they’ve actually in the last couple of weeks people have been more responsive because they’re at home?
Daniel: Yeah. Also, you know, we, we really kind of pull out all the fluff and, and pretend to be your friend. We really get to the point. And that’s based on my experience with being pitched as an editor, I appreciated the PRS that really were resource and not a nuisance, not people that were trying to butter me up, but were simply ‘ Hey, is I know you do this. I got this great thing. You should take a look at it’ and just being really straightforward to the point. and I think that a lot of journalists, especially now that they’re so busy and there’s less event and some of them are working, you know, the staffs are smaller. They appreciate when somebody really just gets out of the way and lets them know, is this useful for you? If not, you know, let me just. Go away.
Stella: Why are you asking? And I know that every journalist and editor is going to be different. This is a personal preference, but when you get in touch with people, are you asking them how they are like on a personal level during these weird times? Or are you literally just going over the story?
Because you know, we’re all getting emails and messages from different people at the moment. And some people are saying, I hope you and your family are okay. I don’t know, are we past that stage now? Is this is tricky isn’t it?
Daniel: Maybe it’s like when it’s a New Year, how long do you wait, when you can still say happy new year, right? If it’s like January 30th and I haven’t emailed this person yet, can I say Happy New Year? I think it’s kind of that same thing. Like, it depends on the relationship. If you know the person, if it’s cold and you want to, you honestly believe and want to know and hope that they’re doing safe and well which I’m sure a lot of us really do feel that way. Sure. Like be genuine, be real. But then at the same time don’t overdo. Don’t act like you care when maybe, you know, everyone has an incentive and everyone has a job to do. And you know, I think the sooner you get to, you know, how you can help the better. The other thing that’s great is that yet when I was a journalist and the journalist I worked with, I never shared anything on social media that I wasn’t proud of.
Or that I didn’t want other people to see because my name is next to it. Right. And so, therefore, and journalists are pretty addicted to Twitter. They, a lot of them do their pre-reporting on Twitter. You see the threads of them kind of going through their stories. That’s how they share their stuff. But then also they get very personal. And so the people that you’re reaching out to. You know, it’s not the end of the world to follow them on social, to see what they’re sharing, to get an idea of stories that they really care about and that they’re working on. And then if they see one that has shared something that you helped them with, well, you know, you have every right to reach out and say, ‘Hey, I saw this. This is great. Thank you so much. And you know, hope, hope I can be of help in the future or something’ but yeah, I think that it really depends. I think it should be careful about what language you say because we have to have some people go back and it’s like, you know, I hope you’re safe and well, it’s like, well, you know, Who cares about me? There are the journalists who are kind of sour in there and, you know, they’re feeling cooped up and stressed. And I, you know, my, my advice to my team is to always, you know, Apologise and try to help, I think, which is really great advice, especially if you send something and then someone says like, Oh, you know, I really think this might be kind of insensitive, I respond, and say, yeah, you’re right. Thank you so much. I’m sorry. You know, is there any way that you think, you know, we could maybe have it not as insensitive or you, right. maybe this isn’t something for you and just being honest about and not trying to force it and kind of what I call newsjack. That we’ve just hijacked on news cycle. I think people appreciate that.
The other thing we spoke of before, what I was wanting to talk about was that, when somebody responds to you, you should respond to them, especially if there’s an ask, as soon as you can, they’re on deadline and the sooner you get back to them and the more you are helpful or you help clarify something that they had a question about.
I really think that they’re going to appreciate that more. So I certainly did, when I was a newsroom, you’d always hear the reporter saying, I’m just waiting on this PR to get me this stuff back, or this public communications person for a politician or police officer or whatever, what have it and the ones that were, really receptive and, and got back immediately and help solve everything as quickly as possible so they could get out of the way and that writer could meet their deadlines. I think those are the ones that build the best relationships and they’re more likely, certainly, whenever someone helps me, I remembered them the next time they emailed me. So I would take a look at what they had to say because they were helpful for me.
Stella: Especially during this time when they’ve still got the same deadlines. They’re still meeting with their editors at the same time, but they’re working from home. It’s like extra precious. If he can be that resource, it’s probably gonna really solidify that that relationship in the future, isn’t it. You, us about being a great resource. And also if you get that kind of, you said you were working with your team at the moment about and saying, you know, if you get that feedback from, from a journalist to say that was a little insensitive, just be like, ‘okay.’ There’s something that you said to me the other day about, I’ll ask you to stop and ask yourself, does this, is this going to hurt or is it going to help? And that’s not just like with how you approach the journalists and the communication, but also just put the angle. Right? So we really need to be thinking about whether it’s not only COVID related. How is it related? What should people be thinking about there?
Daniel: Yeah. just to kind of reiterate a little bit what Rick said, be smart and have empathy, right? So just think about it. Think about all the language. You know, if you have something that you think may cause friction or be insensitive and be resolved, received the wrong way, it probably will be by one person or another. and so, you know, it’s better to be super safe than sorry. It’s it’s, you know, there are things to avoid when it comes to story angles and it’s just kind of things that might be a bit obvious, but maybe not in its travel, right. Vacations, any events like concerts or things that people would have gone to or cons, right?
Like for, for the comic book, nerds, even things like parties or how many people would you have over, those are all things. If you can’t have a party, unless it has a specific, like maybe a videoconference party angle or something, you probably don’t want to, you don’t want to have that angle. Right. And then also even things you think might be relevant like food or grocery shopping, he had to be very careful about the language you use, because there are some people who don’t have food.
If you look at the stories about, you know, the food banks and the lines that they have all across the country, because there are people who are either unemployed and they can’t, and if you’re writing a story about how everybody is just like eating their favourite snacks and don’t recognise that and come off as insensitive.
And that would just say that if you ever do, as you said, get a reply from a journalist saying, yeah, I don’t think you should be. You should let them know that they helped you. You’re right. I’ll certainly think about this going forward. And I really appreciate you letting me know that. I’m sorry. And I appreciate you letting me know like it’s okay to be wrong.
I think is one of the things that, When it comes to story angles, and if you get it wrong and you know how to do it. And the other thing is, you know, iron sharpens iron, and this is actually, it will show you that when you do do data research like we do a lot at 72 points. You want it to have a lot of depth.
You wanted to have a lot of different angles. The main angle that got a lot of pickup, as you saw on the previous side was about the number of hours people were streaming, but there were also, there was also data in there about our parents, letting their kids watch shows on the floor or watch more things.
Right. And the, and then it had, and then also you see pop crush picked it up twice. and it had nothing to do with Justin Bieber or black China, but in there they were able to use the data that kind of, as, as a section of those two pieces to kind of be like, Oh yeah, this is also happening. Right? And then you have Motley fool, which is a personal finance site that is writing about how Netflix stock is just exploding right now, and they needed some data about how people are streaming. And, you know, even though it’s not in the headline, it’s not the main thing, or they do use the data to help buttress some stuff from it. And I think that’s kind of the coverage and the angles that you could see if it isn’t going to be the lead item or the main part of the story it’s good to have things that can really just plug in and help out on things that journalists are already covering. And by kind of doing your research and knowing where you’re, where you’re going to be sending these things to, and the things that these people are covering regularly, you’re able to kind of prepare and have things ready for them so you can be a real resource.
Rick: And just to jump in there as well, because, you know, a good thing about that story is the ownership of that space as a brand, that story will be written about, in, in kind of a year or it’s time in two years time, I can guarantee you we’ll still be seeing coverage hits for that because people will be, writing about, you know, what’s happened and kind of talking about streaming and, and the changes in the cycles.
And like Daniel said, and the, and the Motley fool where they just want it to talk about Netflix or, or another type of streaming habit, that story, they, the first thing they do is search for prevalent you know, news items on, on the topic and so that will still continue to generate, good, good exposure. That’s another benefit of those stories.
Stella: That’s a really good point at the moment. Budgets have been cut. They are tight at the moment, but PR is continuing. Maybe, you know, if we, if we do need to look at finding budget for extra research, extra data, maybe there’s other budget pots, where we can sort of like dig into maybe, who knows
Rick: With the ad rev spend, and then brands tightening on their advertising directly. you know, hopefully, they’ll move that budget to, towards the end editorial spend. I think that’s where strategies might go. But you know, that’s hopeful obviously
Stella: And then we have sort of covered it a little bit with Rick and the strategy, but just if we all selling in a story, should it always have a Corona angle? I think you said. Not about 90% of the stories that you’ve seen out there, all Corona related. Is it like a rule or not?
Daniel: I would say absolutely not. I mean, it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t hurt to try and like see if it fits, but like, you know, you really shouldn’t force it if it doesn’t make sense, because I think that, you know, it actually looks a lot worse if you’re trying to pitch something with a COVID or Corona angle that doesn’t really have any connection. In fact, like if you just take a look at Twitter, people are tweeting. Journalists are tweeting out examples of ridiculous pitches that they’re getting. It’s like, they’re like, Hey, it’s Corona. so like, I don’t know, like just random stuff if it isn’t relevant and isn’t in a way that makes sense and makes you look like you’re trying to help. You’re not trying to take advantage of the situation. I would say don’t force it, you know, not everything has to be. And then we had, we had some stories, that are COVID related. more uplifting or things that, you know, that wouldn’t be received in a bad way, then it certainly did well as well.
So here’s a great example. This was a travel company we worked with and this story did incredibly well. They were in Anaheim. They were going to have a convention. And then it got cancelled and postponed, but they still had this data about superheroes and it was very, you know, light entertained, really featurey not related to COVID and it did quite well because I think there were a lot of places that made it related COVID by writing a lead like the world could use a superhero right now. And, and, and America’s favourite superheroes, so Superman or what have you right. And this one also is a great example of what I spoke of earlier when you get some feedback. Initially, we started selling this out, we had some stats about people looking forward to going to conventions people, looking forward to seeing that, you know, going to comic book stores and stuff like that. And so we kind of pivoted and reworked it. And then we took out those things like could be seen as insensitive. And then we did our outreach. And when it wasn’t COVID related, and this kind of went out right before the lockdown happened and then it continued to do well after, you know, it just kind of shows that not everything has to be about this, but if it isn’t about this, it has to be something that could still really connect and hasn’t evergreen general interest that creates conversations between the journalist’s editors and also their audience being like, Oh, I like Batman better or I liked or better or whatever it may be. yeah. So I think this is a great example of how it doesn’t have to be and how you can do something that isn’t, or that maybe had something that could have been seen as insensitive and you can still change it and make it work and still get coverage for a brand or company that you do PR for.
Stella: Is there anything else in terms of followup or like are journalists inundated at the moment? Like, are they busier right now? how to cut through the noise? whether it’s subject headers or whatever. I don’t know.
Daniel: Yeah. I, you know, we always try to write our subjects. As if it’s a headline, right? Me being an experienced headline writer and having former journalists on my team to read the headlines, you know, and understand SEO and things like curiosity gap is what they call it. So euphemism for, clickbait. Right. What we try to do in our outreach is really half of a data and a good headline in there that so they can, you know, so then the editor, cause these people are reading and writing headlines all day.
And so subject. that is kind of informal. If they see something that looks serious and reads like a good headline that you would see, and if they like the headline – we’ve had times whenever we send outreach and someone steals our headlines from the email and that’s fine. That is a good headline. Right! So I think that, when it comes to communications and how your communications should change, I think the first thing you should do is do your homework. Look at when you, when you put putting together outreach lists, look at what these people have been sharing on social. Look at what these people have been writing about.
You might have someone that used to cover parenting that is now only covering, like families and COVID, and you should know that before you do any outreach and before you send anything. And the other thing is like I said, you just really need to be straightforward and honest. Be human sound like a human it’s okay to wish someone well, if you actually mean it, you know, and it’s a hard time for a lot of people, but at the same time, people are still working. and so you need to be sending those emails and doing the follow-ups. I would say if somebody read your email and they didn’t respond. Don’t follow up more than once don’t bother them.
They are busy, they are getting a lot of emails and then really, really figure out who you have in your outreach, that you have a good relationship with that you can kind of cut through the noise and be seen for. I think that another thing that’s great about our projects is is that understanding their style be right.
having been in a news company, we have already copied, it’s kind of in a style. That they were already writing AP style and Vertiv pyramid and understanding that and making it easier for them. If they’re doing so many stories a day and they’re able to rewrite copy, that’s more in their style. They’re certainly probably gonna use that more than something that is very pluggy, very brandy.
And when it comes to quotes, you want the quotes to sound like something a human said it doesn’t need to be something that has words that nobody would ever say out loud. It needs to sound like something. Somebody actually said it. Cause they’re going to have name set, you know, back in the day, we used to be prohibited from using email quotes because of that reason, because they were so edited and tailored now a lot of newsrooms, even before this, they kind of, they don’t care about that.
We would before we don’t have to get quotes on the phone or we get quotes in person, but now email quotes are kind of the standard and it makes sense because a lot of your work from home, but if you have quotes that really add value to the story, they’re more likely. and always, and when it comes to that too, you always gotta be ready if they want, if they want more.
You know, when I was a journalist, we, we took a class where every day we were getting old press release and we would have to annotate it like a poem, where you would basically try to be like, you know, it was like the tortilla and you had to fill in all the, all the holes and put all the stuffing inside.
And so that’s something that journalists are trained and they do actively, and they’re going to have a lot of questions. And if they have questions, you need to respond quickly and efficiently and make sure that you’re going to be a resource to them. Also to like, talk about how great my team is at this is using each other, you know, having someone else look at something you wrote that it can’t hurt, you know, collaborating with each other and we’ve been doing this a lot on Slack where someone will put in a draft, they have, and then we all just going to say, what about this? What about this? What about this? And then, you know, iron sharpens iron. and so like, you know, if you have something you want to send, if you have the ability to send it to someone, maybe even someone that you don’t work with, if you’re independent, but, someone you trust, whose opinion you trust, and say ok is there anything in this that you think might be bad or good or insensitive considering the current climate? I think it’s a really good thing to do is to really ask as many people as you can, before you take the box.