Category Archives: media training

Writers and speakers: If it’s not yours you can’t use it

I’ve been part of a discussion on Facebook in which someone ghost-wrote something for a client, then found it appearing under someone else’s name entirely without the client’s consent. She has taken action and stuff is happening, because she stood her ground.

A number of people think they can use items that are already on the Web because it’s in the public domain, right?

Er…wrong. Copyright isn’t consistent around the world but one thing you can’t do is just help yourself.

UK and Europe

If you’re in the UK, you’re covered by the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act ˚of 1988. This means that if you create something it’s yours. This blog post is mine, and as a jobbing freelance anything I write is mine by default unless I sign the rights over, even if someone pays for it.

People sometimes doubt this is correct but it is; consider wedding photographers, whose pics you are not allowed to produce because they are protected by copyright even when you paid the snapper hundreds.

The EU is slightly different as every country has a variation on the same laws; ultimately they all date back to the Berne Convention. All of this stuff predates the Web, of course, and presumably there will some day need to be some legislation that actually takes account of electronic publication. Someone out there has made two of my books available electronically; I don’t know where they are so it’s tricky to do anything about it.

Made in America

One complication that follows from the Web is that different laws apply in different regions. There is no reason, for example, to expect any European laws to apply on another continent. Lawyers will be able to unpick the American copyright laws; my layman’s understanding is that the bit that applies to writers is that until 1989 it was important to assert rights, in other words to put a (c) notice at the end. This didn’t apply in the UK. It can still be useful to do it in the US although it’s not mandatory (I am grateful to Steve Addison for correcting the first version of this post, which incorrectly stated that the ruling was still current – here is a Wikipedia entry on the subject).

This can still be important. I once had someone’s rights queried in a book I co-wrote because we’d credited them rather than their company as co-copyright-holders. The US lawyers thought this quite serious and pointed to the copyright assertion; I pointed out that the book was published in Europe rather than America and they were surprised to learn that copyright was automatic (this happened two years ago and I have left the reference in, even though the copyright assertion is optional in the US as per the paragraph above). After that, the issue went away.

It’s also possible that American bloggers etc. will see your work and copy part of it, not realising it’s in copyright because in their territory they may think it would need a copyright assertion at the end.

Fair use, common sense

In British law there is no such thing as “fair use”, which confuses people. I’ve known people who’ve had paragraphs lifted and attributed to them without their knowledge and when they’ve objected a British person has cited “fair use” – it doesn’t actually exist over here, it’s an American construct that applies to American law.

I also happen to think it’s a rather good one. It’s insane that a decade or so ago when I wrote “This Is Social Media” I had to clear every quote and reference with everyone, when I was only using a few sentences.This is where in my mind it all gets watered down a little; the strict letter of the law doesn’t allow for any repetition over here and that just doesn’t reflect the way communication happens at the moment (technically quoting a Tweet is a breach of copyright; you begin to see how unworkable this would be if we tried to apply it rigorously?)

So to my mind there’s an element of common sense to be taken into account. By all means use paragraphs or as much as instinct tells you in a longer piece, attribute and link where appropriate and someone would have to be very petty-minded to take exception.

Lift an entire piece wholesale as happened to my colleague and you can expect trouble. At the very least, when it becomes common knowledge, your reputation will be shot to pieces.

Oh, and if you want to lift my entire book and put it online, you’re technically a thief. However, anyone who takes a copy of an almost-ten-year-old book on social media and expects to build a business using it is technically a mug as well, so whatever…

Do you need help writing for your business? I can help – fill in the form below and we’ll talk.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer – before assuming any specific element of the above is correct, get proper legal advice if your career depends on it.


Media training: in business or in politics, don’t knock the competition

This is not a political blog but there are two areas I would like to highlight about the general election. Reassuringly, standard practice is right in both cases.

The first, as the headline suggests, is that slating the competition never works well. Today we wake up to a general election result in which there will be a hung parliament. Among the many errors made by prime minister (as I type) Theresa May was the notion of attacking her enemy too directly.

He was going to “go naked into the negotiating chamber” over Brexit. He was going to “sell out the union” between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Previously David Cameron had told him to “put on a suit” and “for goodness’ sake, man, go”.

This was poor for two reasons. First, it looks vindictive and unprofessional. In business it’s the same. Years ago I worked on a trade publication in the computer industry and every three months or so, two software companies would send us conflicting reports about who was ahead in the market. They’d exchange unpleasantries, we’d write a thoroughly entertaining story…and the readers would hold the software companies in complete contempt. They didn’t want their suppliers focused on each other, they wanted them focused on service.

The second reason not to criticise the competition too heavily is that you manage expectations downward. This makes it simpler for them to exceed expectations. Frankly, all Corbyn had to do was turn up on time with his trousers on the right way around and he’d pleasantly surprise anyone who’d been listening to May.

She sounded amateurish and vindictive and set the bar low so he couldn’t help but outperform it. She also set her own bar so high that a result of Conservative 318 seats, Labour 261, ends up looking like a moral victory for Labour. That takes some doing.

So what about Corbyn?

It’s beyond doubt that he had a rocky start. Footage of him stomping away from a Sky News journalist has mysteriously vanished from YouTube; he’s also been snappy, grouchy and relatively recently he staged a “full” train when there were seats available.

He’s not the slickest performer. However, during the election campaign he’s smartened himself up. He’s worn better suits, he’s engaged with people and journalists. He’s prepared answers but not to the extent of ignoring questions.

In spite of people saying he’s different, he’s actually swallowed the entire rule book on media training – or at least the best bits. The friendly, sometimes self-depreciating Corbyn was always going to win friends if not supporters, unlike the robotic May with the “strong and stable” and “there’s no magic money tree” phrases, no matter how much she may have believed them.

There’s more to any election than presentation. You don’t elect someone because you’d like to share a pizza with them but because you trust them with the difficult decisions. However, presentation and media engagement plays its part, and on this occasion, quite unexpectedly, Corbyn turned out to be the more polished performer.

Press questions: be ready for the obvious

I’ve avoided discussion of the general election in the UK on this site for the most part – anyone who wants to see me ranting about it is welcome to check Facebook out. However, there have been a few lessons to learn in terms of communication.

One of these, as I’ve hinted in the the headline, is to be prepared for the obvious. So many politicians of so many different parties have missed this. Here is a four-leader, five-politician guide as to stuff that’s gone wrong – and in italics, where businesses can learn from them:

  • Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott: Know your figures. If you’re going to launch a policy, know them even better. If you have a notebook and an ipad with you, have them set/bookmarked so that you’re able to find them very quickly indeed. That’s so basic it’s embarrassing. (If you’re leader you have a better excuse for not knowing all the figures offhand than if you’re shadowing a specific department, but only just). In business, a journalist is bound to ask you for some figures. Have them to hand and know what you’re prepared to announce and what you’re not. But not by much.
  • Theresa May: Make sure everyone is au fait with a policy, whether it’s the so-called dementia tax or other taxes. Over the weekend Theresa May said taxes might rise and Sir Michael Fallon, widely tipped as a new chancellor of the exchequer, said they wouldn’t. Get your story straight before going public – it’s not as if someone else surprised you by calling the election. In business, if your colleagues are briefing a differing viewpoint from that of the company it can look bad – try to be consistent.
  • Tim Farron: People in this country have always obsessed about sexuality. You’ve been known in the past to abstain from some votes on the subject and are also known to be a Christian, a faith that is rightly or wrongly perceived as anti-gay. You’re going to get asked about this. When someone asked whether you thought gay sex was a sin in the House of Commons you said “I do not”. When journalists ask you, though, you say “I’ve already answered that”. It looks slippery when “I do not”, even if you just repeat it, wouldn’t. Don’t worry about repeating an answer as long as it’s true. In business there are some issues that won’t go away – if you’ve done nothing, be prepared to repeat that message rather than show impatience with reporters – they might personally be asking for the first time even if you’ve heard it seven times that week.
  • Paul Nuttall: If you’re going onto a panel of leaders, remember everybody’s name. Write them down if you have to. Frankly, mate, your party’s on its knees already without telling us that the leader thinks everyone is called Natalie. In business, although you don’t have to repeat a journalist’s name every thirteen seconds like some interviewees do because they think it looks sincere, getting the name right at least once is positive.

Do you need help with your media engagement? I can help – call me on 07973 278780.

How to stop me killing your pitch

Another day, another brutal murder of a public relations person’s pitch. Actually I killed two yesterday: one on the phone and one by email.

I’m not talking about the poorly-targeted piece of nonsense that told me about sales of “sex robots” in the UK – wrong sort of technology for my market I’m afraid. Nor any of the other irrelevancies: if you want to tell me which beer goes better with a barbecue that’s fine, just don’t expect me to write anything as I’m focused on technology and business.

No, these could have been relevant but I scared them off. And I did it with one question.

Ask yourself this first

The question was simple. Without disclosing any details of the pitches – it wouldn’t be fair – I asked the first person by email, “which of my outlets did you think this would fit into”?

That was 10.00am. By 5pm there was no response and I realised there wasn’t going to be one.

Later the same day I was in a supermarket and the phone rang. Hello Guy, is it a good time to talk, they asked: well, I’m in Sainsbury’s, I said…they laughed and carried on regardless.

(Mental note: PR people always think I’m joking when I say I’m in a supermarket, driving or whatever. Must be the way I tell them).

So she pitches – and I say: I’m not sure which of my outlets this would go into.

She falters, stammers, says “OK, nice talking to you” and goes away.

A question is not a dismissal

There may well have been something in the story or stories, I’ll never know. The thing is, I’d have been pleased to read and listen if they’d actually answered. Someone might well have noticed something about the publications for which I write that had escaped me, and if I end up with a commission that’s great – it’s how I earn my living.

Unfortunately they hadn’t thought through to the obvious questions. “Who’s it for” doesn’t just mean the journalist, it means think about the reader. If either of those people had given the matter any thought they could have come straight back at me, to our mutual advantage.

I can’t see that either of us has won as it is.

Do you need help with your PR pitching skills? I can help – fill in the form below or call me on 07973 278780 and we’ll talk.

Don’t pitch me a client, pitch me a headline

I led two masterclasses on pitching yesterday, at a PR company I won’t disclose because my clients are always confidential. One thing became apparent during the session: everyone wanted to pitch their client to me.

Which sounds perfectly logical. But it’s not.

One of the delegates came out with something like this: “Hi, I’m calling with a photo-opportunity. My client is coming to the UK and will be making a speech to his/her employees, and you’d be welcome to come along with a photographer.

Her colleagues congratulated her on the pitch and her manner was indeed superb. The pitch, however, would most likely have died on its backside.

The pitch isn’t about you, it isn’t about me

The problem with the pitch above is twofold. First, it’s all about the client. It doesn’t have to be about me, whatever some journalists tell you, but it’s absolutely got to be about my readers. Consider it again: there’s a photo-opportunity (which sounds a bit manufactured anyway), there’s a chief executive and there’s a speech.

I know nothing about the content or whether it’s going to be relevant to my readers at all at this stage.

The second problem is related to that first one: the delegate had actually pitched me the process, the mechanics of what his or her client was doing, and stopped there. You get limited time with a journalist on the phone. Why would you focus on the process rather than the content? (Come to think of it, why do so many people phone me and start “I’m just giving you a call”? I know that bit already…)

Start at the end

Here’s the way I’d do it. Start from the final output you’re looking for. Imagine you’ve prompted me to write an article. It’s in the paper, on the web or wherever, and you’re happy with the coverage and the headline.

Ask yourself: what does the story say? And what’s the headline?

Now back in the real world, pick up the phone and pitch me that headline. Never mind the process, never mind that your client has done a survey of 3000 clients, never mind that your organisation is in the top ten widget suppliers to the small business market in the UK – that’s background.

Lead in with the story. Tell me that your client has found that half the people who believe they understand IT security still have the default passwords on their phones. Tell me that your business has enabled someone to increase productivity by 30 per cent, meaning they’ve avoided making redundancies. Tell me why someone’s life is better because of your client.

In fact, just tell me the story. If it’s a good one I may well be interested.

Do you need help pitching to journalists? My pitching masterclass is ready to go – fill in the form below or call me on 07973 278780 and we’ll talk.

Giving gifts to journalists – our ethics

Sometimes when I’m media training I’m asked about giving gifts to journalists. This is something that’s changed over the years and, I believe, it’s better now. The simplest advice is not to do so.

In the late eighties when I started as a tech journalist, there wasn’t a year without a case of wine or something turning up at the office for Christmas, usually from the marketing department of a company about which we’d written regularly. There was no linkage in our minds between this and the coverage.

There were also more overt gifts. One editor I knew rarely paid for his own laptop computer. He explained that a few PR people and he regularly planned that he’d be the last person to review a unit, and by the time it had been pulled apart that many times it wasn’t cost-effective to retrieve it. Hence, free laptops for years.

There are exceptions of course. Food and drink journalists can’t reasonably write about their field without tasting, and expecting them to send back the remainder of a bottle of beer would be absurd.

The tech-based generosity all came to a halt a couple of decades later. First, the financial crash happened. Second, a lot of marketing departments did some thinking.

Are you drinking someone’s job?

Two things happened. It started to occur to people on both sides of the fence that if money was being spent on journalists then it wasn’t going on the core business. When people were losing their livelihoods all over the place, it was less comfortable when someone biked a bottle of bubbly or something over.

Second, during the late 1990s the Internet became more popular. It had always been known that the UK and the US had different cultures when it came to “freebies” (they were much more strict than us). Being in closer contact with each other held us in the UK up to the light and we could see how this looked to other people.

That said, there may be times when you want to give someone a little thank you. Here’s something that happened to me only a couple of weeks ago.

Say it with as little money as possible

I was interviewing someone and we were getting on well. He was interesting and I warmed to his subject. He told me there was a book I’d really enjoy, and asked for my email address. I gave it, politely, expecting information on the book.

When I checked, he’d sent me the audiobook. Now, has a promotion so that you can send someone a copy of your favourite book free of charge, I believe (it’s obviously promotional but you do get the whole book).

I found I had a gift that was: a) personal and thoughtful, because it was a result of an actual conversation, and also b) free to the sender.

Meanwhile my wife works in the public sector; their stipulations, if someone insists on giving them something, are that it has to be declared if it’s worth over a fiver and unless it’s perishable, they tend to put it into a prize draw for their nominated charity anyway.

On the “perishable” theme, when someone gave me some help with a contract once and wouldn’t accept money, I sent a box of cookies. I had to query non-delivery so the company sent out another couple of boxes to be certain. By the time the fourth box had arrived my contract friend was begging for them to stop.

In fact the more I think about it, the more I think “just a really good story thanks” is about right for most journalists I know.

Is there a reason you can’t answer my interview question?

A while ago I did an interview a guy who’d sold his company. He had every reason to be very pleased with himself. Having started a small software operation he had, his PR people told me later, gone off on a world cruise, bought a yacht, you name it.

I asked, not unreasonably, whether all of the staff would be moving over to the new owner. “There may,” he answered very stiffly, “be some duplication and so not everybody will find a role. We will try to look after everybody.”

Given a company acquisition, and bearing in mind he was a business owner rather than a social enterprise, I thought that was a fair answer. So I asked: will you be staying on with the company? “There may,” he answered very stiffly, “be some duplication and so not everybody will find a role. We will try to look after everybody.”

I tried again. How many of the staff will be moving over, I asked? “There may,” he answered, as if you hadn’t already guessed, “be some duplication and so not everybody will find a role. We will try to look after everybody.”

No need to avoid an easy question

Now, in my media training sessions and indeed my online offering I offer techniques to people who need to get around a difficult or impossible question. This wasn’t one of those, though.

The techniques are relatively simple, and if you can’t answer a question then saying “I’m unable to answer that question” is, believe it or not, a perfectly good solution. It may be due to stock exchange rules, it may be because of client or staff confidentiality, there can be a number of reasons. Just tell me – you don’t work for me, I should accept it.

But don’t make it difficult for yourself. Apparently once I’d left the room this particular guy got quite a rollicking from his PR people, who felt they spent enough time protecting him from genuinely awkward questions. They didn’t have time to protect him from harmless, straightforward ones as well.

There isn’t always an agenda. The journalist isn’t out to get you and not every question is loaded with traps. If you can answer a question in an interview straightforwardly and harmlessly, just do it.

Do you need help engaging with the media? I can help with coaching – fill in the form below or email me.