Category Archives: Journalism

Interview of the month: Angela Knight on Reuters TV

Angela Knight has a tough job. As the Chief Executive of the British Bankers’ Association she is essentially apologist in chief for the group of people widely credited with the most severe economic crash in living memory.

As public sector spending cuts start to bite, small businesses continue to struggle to get credit, and the threat of stagflation looms ever more menacingly, Knight is probably hoping and praying for bankers to keep a low profile for a while – most of all stop paying themselves so much.

She will have been disappointed. Shortly after announcing that his bank paid just £113m in corporation tax in 2009, Barclays Chief Exec, Bob Diamond, revealed he’s paid himself a bonus of £6.5m.

He doesn’t really have to worry about the fall-out from all this. That’s what he’s got Angela Knight for. You can imagine the conversation, as Rich Ricci (the remarkably named boss of Barclays Capital) put his head round Diamond’s office door.

Ricci : “Bob! £6.5m, you old dog!”

Diamond: “I know! Great, isn’t it, Rich? And you? Think you’ll scrape by on your £44m?”

Ricci: “Oh I’ll manage somehow. This is the Age of Austerity after all – ho ho ho! Just one thing, Bob – how are we going to square it with the media? I mean, surely, there will be questions asked?”

Diamond: “Oh yeah. There always are. That’s what we’ve got good old Angela for. She’ll go on telly and trot out some bollocks about how we’re all going to move to Switzerland if the Government stops us paying ourselves what we like.”

Ricci: “Switzerland – hilarious! How do they keeping thinking of new ones? Anyway, so long as you’ve got it all in hand I’d best get on. This money doesn’t spend itself after all.”

Something like that anyway.

So, you’d expect Angela Knight to be a good media performer. And she is. She  used to be a Conservative MP after all. Take a look at her on Reuters TV.

Five things I think she does well:

1) Straight away she corrects the journalist’s assumption. In fact she doesn’t really contradict him that much, but the fact she’s done it, and done it in a friendly, jovial way, immediately puts her in a strong position in what could turn into a difficult interview.

2) She’s well presented, in smart, sombre colours. Her jewellery might be a bit fussy for TV, and her hair’s a little flyaway, but nothing that would distract too much or detract from her impressive appearance.

3) She deals with awkward questions (such as “Which of your members are going to leave?”) well. She can’t really answer this, but she doesn’t make it clear she’s not answering it. She looks as if she’s answering it, but actually talks about something altogether. Crucially, she makes what she does say fairly interesting and to the point of the interview.

4) She’s clearly very well briefed on exactly what she believes the banking industry has done to curb excessive pay.

5) She signposts her key messages. For example: “What we MUST do is achieve balance in how we view this issue…”

All in all I think it’s a very impressive performance and one that anyone planning to speak to journalists in front of the camera could learn from. And best of all, it means those good old bankers have one less thing to worry about, and can dedicate themselves full-time to spending their bonuses.

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Pitch of the month: Officebroker.com

I’ve received  two pitches from officebroker.com this week, from two separate PR agencies – the company is clearly putting some serious investment into its PR work. But is it getting good value for its money? I’ve taken a look at one of those pitches and offer here four things I like about it and four ideas for improving it.

THE PITCH

“hi, would you like to do something on officebroker.com? Market leaders at finding workspace deals for businesses.

Company began 10 years ago founded by Jim Venables and Andy Haywood. Turnover is now £6m.

Story is how they’ve become the biggest in the serviced office sector by bringing in a sales led business model.

Previously the market for commercial property was dominated by chartered surveyor led consultants (much like King Sturge who are also our clients).

Jim is a former market stall trader and Andy used to import cars. They met while working together in a recruitment business.

They brought that commercial nouse to bear in growing their business. They have also benefitted during the recession as companies have looked to save costs and hunt for better deals on accommodation.

The guys have expaned aggressively. They have around 80 people in their HQ in Tamworth and have opened offices in USA and Australia.

Andy moved over the the US to help run the operation there. They chose Dallas, Texas as a base saying it’s Central time zone location has helped them get a foot in both the East and West coast markets.

They have around 20 staff in the US now and around half that number in Australia. So worldwide staff count is around 110.

Let me know if you think you could use them for a feature.

FOUR THINGS I LIKE ABOUT IT:

1) They get straight to the point. Far too many pitches start off with unnecessary waffle, asking how I am (even though I’ve never met the sender), going into minute detail about the company, or giving a supposedly interesting but unrelated intro. This pitch gets right into it, asking if I’d like to write something about officebroker.com, telling me very briefly who they are, and then summarising the story.

2) It’s well targeted. I write for the SME press, so this is very much my area.

3) It’s given me clear facts and figures. Rather than being coy about its size in the hope that  I’ll assume the company is bigger than it is, they’ve been direct and open, telling me its  turnover and how many staff it employs. This helps me build a picture of the company, and get a feel for where I could use the story.

4) They’ve used short sentences. This does a great deal to make a piece of writing readable.

FOUR WAYS IT COULD BE IMPROVED

1) I have a name. Why not use it? Presumably because this was a blanket e-mail to dozens or hundreds of journalists. Immediately that makes me less interested in the pitch.

2) Nouse is spelt nous. Benefitted should be benefited. Expaned should be expanded. That is three basic spelling errors in a fairly short piece of writing. Looking at the grammar, it’s should be its…….you get the picture. Journalists spot these things. It makes us assume that the writer is either stupid or unprofessional. Neither make us keen to pursue the pitch. More likely these were typos. They happen. I frequently make them, especially in e-mail conversations. But this wasn’t a conversation – it was a blanket e-mail sent to dozens, maybe hundreds, of journalists. Shouldn’t the sender have removed these typos?

3) There’s too much irrelevant detail. Having outlined the story, they go on to tell me about where one of the partners went to work, why they chose the location they did, and specific employee numbers for each branch. It feels a bit like they were trying to fill in space at the end, or they thought they’d chuck a  few more facts at me in the hope that one would stick.

4) They’ve not shown me why my readers should be interested in this story. They’ve given me a lot of facts and they’ve told me a story. They’re strong facts and it’s a compelling story, but for a journalist whose job is to inform or entertain readers that’s not enough. The very best pitches show the journalist exactly why his or her readers will be interested in this story. It’s a difficult thing to do, and that’s why very few succeed – however, it is what marks out the great pitches from the merely ok ones.

So, is officebroker.com getting value for money? I can’t tell you. I don’t know how much they’re spending for this PR service. And who knows – they might have got lucky and hit some journalists just at the point they were keen to run a story like this. Next week we might not be able to open a paper or a website for stories about officebroker.com. I hope that is the case – after all this was far  from a bad pitch. Believe me, I’ve seen much worse!

I can though say with some confidence that this pitch could have been improved. What do you think?

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Ten things PRs do that really annoy journalists – part seven

To restate, this series is intended as constructive advice to those who work in PR, a job that I know can be difficult and thankless. I’ve spend a decade dealing with PRs, many very good (see here for a recent example), others not so. I’ve also spoken to dozens of other journalists about what really grinds their gears about  PRs. This is the summary of that experience and those conversations. The story so far…..

1) Expect journalists to operate as an unpaid media monitoring service

2) Going oddly silent/AWOL

3) Sending irrelevant press releases

4) Writing like a PR, not a real person

5) Pitching like they’re selling timeshare properties

6) Arranging conference call interviews

Number seven is one that will surprise no one, but one that still happens far too often: saying you’re going to do something and then not doing it.

As in, “Oh yes, I can send you those quotes from our client by the close of play today”, or “Not a problem – we’ll get that case study interview lined up for you”, or “We’ve got all the data sitting here – it’ll take a while to go through it, but leave a gap in your article and we’ll send you the stat you need, and you’ll just be able to insert it before filing your copy.”

Over the years I’ve heard all these promises and more. Many times the PR is as good as their word, but all too often they’re not – the quotes don’t turn up until the next morning when the article is already filed, the case study interviewee gets cold feet, or the PR discovers they don’t actually have the necessary stat.

Why is this a problem? Is this just pompous journalists being overly critical of their PR partners?

I don’t think so. I don’t get bothered by it because I’ve been let down; I get bothered by it if it means I in turn let someone else down – specifically, if I fail to deliver to a client by the deadline I’ve been set.  That really is a problem for me.

But still aren’t we journalists being a bit harsh here? After all, the PR is no doubt hoping to be able to help, is genuinely doing his or her best.  In most cases they don’t deliver simply because they’ve been let down by someone else – very often the client of a client. It’s a bit harsh for journos to have a go at them for that isn’t it?

To some extent yes. No one is perfect. However, this happens too frequently in the world in PR. I think it’s the sort of over-promising and over-delivering that gives the industry a bad name and that makes it a more stressful place to work that it needs to be.

Journalists would be far happier if PRs were more realistic in their promises. If they explained that they will do their best to sort out a case study interviewee, but they don’t know for certain that their client’s client will agree to it, then the journalist wouldn’t rely on them – he or she would be able to judge accurately whether or not it was worth waiting and if it was worth the PR spending all that time on something that doesn’t work out in the end.

Am I being too demanding? Or naive even? Should journalists just accept that that’s life. People let you down. Deal with it – basically don’t rely on a PR to help you out with a job that, at the end of the day, is yours to do.

I guess so. I’m not paying for this help from these PRs so I have no right to demand that they do anything.

I know though that if I worked in PR I want to be one of the ones that journalists did trust.

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PRs – time to name and acclaim

You know what? Sometimes PRs are absolutely brilliant.

Sometimes you’re writing a story and it’s not going so well. You’re missing a case study that’ll bring it all to life, or you need an expert to give you some incisive comments on exactly what is happening, or it’s lacking some  killer stats. Sometimes it goes like that, and you start wondering what you’re going to do. You worry that the whole thing isn’t going to hang together and that you’re going to let your editor down. And then you get an email from a PR who does everything he or she is meant to, and suddenly it’s all right. The world is a happy place again. It’s a beautiful thing.

Ok, maybe I’m getting a tad carried away here. But the point is that sometimes it does happen, and it rarely gets noted. In amongst all the bitter sniping and public wrangling between the hacks and the flacks, there doesn’t seem to be a space for we journos to point out these times when a PR does a really great job, helps a us write a better story, and no doubt gets some good coverage for his or her client.

So, I thought I’d start a new series on my blog to do just this. Somewhere I can name and acclaim a PR who I think has done something well. Now, being this positive goes against every fibre of my being, influenced as it was by a firmly British upbringing which taught me to always favour grumbling and criticism over celebration and praise. But bear with me. I’ll give it a go, and let’s see how it pans out….

A couple of weeks ago Paul Maher of Positive Marketing read my e-newsletter, saw that I was writing an article that one of his clients could comment on, and so dropped me a brief email explaining who his client is and precisely why they’d be great for the piece. I agreed to an interview and so he set it up promptly, sending out details for the conference call in good time, and even calling just before the interview to check I was still on for it. His client and I had a good conversation. He answered all my questions openly and made interesting points supported by facts, figures and real-life examples. Once or twice Paul gently nudged his client in the direction of points he should be making. It was a great interview. Then, later that day, Paul emailed me a pic of his client and details of a LinkedIn group we’d discussed in the call. It was exactly the follow-up I needed. Throughout the whole thing he was friendly, efficient, down-to-earth, and clearly understood exactly what I was writing about.

Result? I’ve got some great copy for my article and am very happy. He should also get some good coverage for his client.

Now, why can’t it always be like that?

(I should add for all you cynics out there that I have absolutely no commercial relationship with Paul or his company. I’ve never even met the bloke, and what’s more he has no idea that I’m writing this!)

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Are your media spokespeople doing this? Question 5

Are they following up after an interview with an email to the journalist?

If they are then well done them – they’re doing better than almost anyone I’ve ever interviewed. The handful or so who have done this over the years are the ones who I’ve gone on to form good, long-term relationships with. I’ve had a good source of information and opinion, and they’ve got a lot of good coverage.

So, why does it happen so infrequently? I’m just suggesting something like: “Good talking to you just now. Hope you found what I had to say interesting (by the way, I’d welcome any feedback you have on how I came across..) – I look forward to seeing the finished article and to working with you on similar pieces in the future.”

How long would it take to fire that over to a journalist after an interview? What impact could it have on the coverage they got in that piece and the future relationship they built?

The thing is that it just doesn’t occur to most spokespeople, and usually that’s because they’ve not had media training, or the media training they have had hasn’t covered this. Why don’t you help them get more out of the interviews they do – why don’t you book them in for some media training?

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Are your media spokespeople doing this? Question 4

Do they signpost key messages?

This is something that very, very few people do successfully. Even fairly accomplished spokespeople – the people who are clear on their marketing messages, who cleverly find a way of weaving those into answers that are genuinely useful to the journalist, and who approach media interviews calmly and capably – even they very often find that their key messages don’t make it through into the finished article.

It can be incredibly frustrating for them.

Signposting is a great way of making sure the interviewer understands your key messages, notes them down, and then uses them in his or her copy. It’s a difficult technique to master – do it too obviously and it can be counter-productive – but I’ve worked with spokespeople practising it in roleplays, and helping them to start using it to very good effect.

Listen in to the next media interview your spokespeople do – are they signposting their key messages as well as they could be?

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Are your media spokespeople doing this? Question 1

Are your media spokespeople preparing properly for interviews?

This isn’t just putting the interview in their diary and having some idea of the journalist’s name. It’s finding out a bit about the journalist so they can try to gain some rapport. It’s thinking beforehand about the questions they’ll be asked. It’s being crystal clear about the key messages their company is trying to push through the media. And it’s doing the really tricky part of working out how they can give the journalist something he or she wants while also conveying those marketing messages.

Far too many senior executives think they can just pitch up to a media interview and wing it. They very rarely can.It usually just means they miss a good opportunity to promote their business.

So, if yours aren’t preparing properly then try suggesting to them that they should. If they want to know what sort of preparation to do then take them through the list above. If they’re not sure how to go about doing all that,or they need a bit of practice to get confident at it, then suggest they get some media training.

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