Category Archives: Tips

MC-ing and speaking: it’s a matter of time

What’s the most important thing an MC can bring to your event? Humour? Some sort of spark? There’s actually something a lot more important.

Years of experience tell me that if the speakers are any good, my most important duty is to bring the event in on time. I found this particularly at an event at which I MC’d last week, on contact centres. One of the panels had to be scrapped because two people didn’t show up. If they hadn’t already seen the agenda, the audience would never have known.

Here are a few tips for making an event run to time:

  • Have an emergency speech in your back pocket. Last week I knew one of the other speakers would be highly knowledgeable so we stretched his Q and A session and also had a longer lunch break to cover the absence of the panel; the audience went away happy.
  • Brief speakers in advance so that they understand they mustn’t overrun. Years ago I was speaking at a conference and the guy before me went 15 minutes over time, just before lunch. He even said “I know I’m over time but this is important”. Not to the audience it isn’t, matey. They have expectations and they are much more important than us in a conference. I cut a bit out of my own presentation, we finished on time and the audience and organisers were pleased.
  • Also brief the MC. I was once speaking at a very swish restaurant where the fish starters were going to be served at 1.00 precisely. I had my timings carefully mapped out and the MC, in fact the MD of my client, decided to get everyone in the room to introduce themselves. This took 40 minutes. I did what I could and invited the staff to serve while I was speaking but they were reluctant; talk on the way out wasn’t about my scintillating speech but about how surprising it was that such an establishment would serve such dried-up fish. Seriously, ruin people’s lunch and they’ll remember it a lot longer than they remember your messages.
  • My speaker friend Graham Jones once advised me that the speakers and MC were less important than the coffee. This isn’t 100 per cent right but we’re certainly less important than the networking opportunities, which is why a lot of people bother to turn up to our events at all. Respect those breaks at all costs and you should be fine.

After all that, by all means put the humour, the spark, whatever you want to call it, into your presentation or MC-ing. Just don’t forget the people you’re there for and what they need from you.

Do you need a professional host for your event? I can help – contact me by emailing here.

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.

Before you send a quote, have you anything to say?

A meaningless quote is a no use to me – so why do PR companies insist on sending them? I can see the mechanics, but it really doesn’t work.

Here’s the theory. PR company notes that, say, the Queen is opening a new National Cyber Security Centre in the UK. Rather than call journalists who may be covering it, PR is proactive and sources a quote or five from client on the subject, and sends them to the likely suspects – people who, like me, might be covering the event.

Most often, the journalist won’t be covering the thing, but occasionally you strike paydirt. Today I was writing about it.

Only, there are some things I won’t quote.

“Today’s opening of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) by the Queen demonstrates a new era as we continue our journey in the digital age”

OK I admit it, I’ve just quoted that here. But it didn’t go anywhere my news story (go on, admit it, you were wondering why I’d used a picture of the Queen).

A quote has to mean something

The subhead says it all, really. I had other quotes sent to me. One said the government couldn’t handle everyone’s cyber security needs by itself. Another said the issue wasn’t government money but a skills shortage.

You see how these examples actually take the story on a little – not massively – but they do take it further than “this is a jolly good idea, then”.

And that’s what I need. If you can’t deliver it, then you won’t deliver for your client – nobody who wants to write anything readable is going to repeat a platitude if they can possibly help it.

It’s worth the PR fraternity bearing in mind that the job involves consultancy rather than just parroting everything the client wants. It can be worth pushing back and telling them something’s not going to work; the better clients will listen to expertise and hey, they might even come up with something better!

Do you struggle coming up with messages for the media? I can help – email me and we’ll talk.

Five strategies for awkward press interview questions

A good press interview should serve your business well in terms of branding but it can go wrong. What do you do, in advance of the event and during it, to make sure things stay under control? Here are my top five tips:

  1. Accept that it’s not completely within your control. The journalist, blogger or other influencer doesn’t work for you so a control-freak approach isn’t going to help. Offer us the tools to build you a good piece of engagement and we might well respond, but we’re not your marketing department.
  2. Before the interview, make a list of questions you think we’re likely to ask and prepare an answer. Make another list of questions you’d rather we didn’t ask and prepare answers for those, too. Forewarned is forearmed and that sort of thing.
  3. If you can’t tell us something, say so. “That’s company confidential”, “We don’t disclose that as a matter of policy” and other honest declarations are fine. We might not like them but if we don’t work for you, it’s equally true that you don’t work for us. If you can’t help, say so.
  4. Be aware of what you can and can’t answer, and above all be aware if something is in the public domain. I once asked a guy about his company profits. He said they were confidential. I pointed out that I could just go to Companies House. He replied – and I treasure this moment – that all Companies House would tell me was the figure he’d given them, his actual profit was much higher. I was very young at the time and didn’t quote him on that. I’ve regretted it ever since.
  5. If we’re really pressing on something with which you’re not comfortable, remember you’re the expert in your business, not us. You can lead us into your comfort zone with phrases like “I think the important point is..” and “My customers are actually telling me…” – I can’t argue with customers.

Those techniques ought to help with some of the trickier questions. Of course if you’ve been siphoning the company pension fund off and we’ve got wind of it and am writing a story about it, there probably isn’t much you can do about it but we’re probably the least of your worries!

Do you need help engaging with the media? I can help; contact me on 07973 278780 or fill in the form below:

Pitching a story – read before you chase!

I’ve just had one of my least favourite things. A PR person sent me a press release yesterday, aimed at a particular outlet for which I write. He or she has just sent a polite follow-up: sorry to hassle, they said, but they wondered whether the news story was of interest.

Why yes, is the answer. That is why it is on the front page of the site at which you were aiming it.

I’m still trying to work out why it was easier to email me and wait for a response rather than click onto the site – I’m guessing “because that’s how we do things” is the answer, The weird thing is that it’s not the first time this has happened. It’s not even the first time this week.

Pitching competencies

I’m not one of these journalists you get, of whom there are quite a few, who tell PR people not to follow up at all. First and foremost, I get that you’re accountable to clients rather than to me. There is no particular reason you should do what I say, and if I’m calling myself “journalist” – particularly a business journalist – then fielding information and calls from you guys is just something to which I’ve signed up. It’s part of the deal.

Another part of the deal, though, is that you’re supposed not to ask stupid questions, and “have you found a use for this story” when it’s on the front page of your target publication is seriously one of the daftest. This isn’t a vanity thing, you need to be reading. On this occasion the PR person was probably perfectly happy with what I’d written. That’s not actually a worry to me, as long as it’s accurate I’ve done my job.

Only…

What if I’d written something inaccurate or misleading? You’re not going to know if you’re not reading.

I’m not suggesting the PR community needs to be reading every website every day (a Google Alert will take a lot of the work out of that for you). But if you’re going to pitch to a specific site for which I write, one that swallows up multiple news stories every day, and then follow up, at least check to see if the story is on there before hitting “send”.

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

PR professionals, time your pitching!

5 January and the poorly-timed pitching is in full swing. Even in an age of instant publication, journalists will have planned roughly what’s in their schedule – outside the news – in advance.

Let’s put it another way: there is no point, repeat no point, in asking me if I’d like a round-up of technology predictions from your client for 2017 for New Statesman Tech, Professional Outsourcing or any of the other publications in which I am involved.

The reason is very simple. The beginning of the year was not a surprise. It’s been in the calendar for some time. I was therefore able to plan for it and ask people for considered round-up tips, if I wanted them, in early December or even before that.

Pitching Christmas in July

Journalists have a tradition of “Christmas in July”, by which we mean that the consumer goods companies wanting to publicise goods start to push them to is in the middle of the year. Many of them have special launch events at that time of year.

The tradition dates back to older publishing technologies, when in order to get into a monthly magazine’s Christmas pages you really needed to get into the planning for July so that they would finish the relevant section of the issue for (probably) September, go to press in October and come out in November.

It is now easy to shorten the timescale of course, but “think ahead” is never a bad mantra in Christmas. Here are some mistakes I still see:

  • People pitching 2016 round-ups – it’s 2017 now, guys, I’ve checked
  • People pitching 2017 forecasts as late as this morning. I want my readers to think I’m up to date, not trailing a few days behind everyone else!
  • People pitching Easter/chocolate stories in the week running up to Easter Sunday. First, it’s too late, second, I tend to write about business and technology rather than chocolate so have a think about where you’re pitching.
  • People linking their technology story to irrelevant items in the news. I appreciate that piggybacking a relevant story is probably a good idea, so “Startups are doing well in CES but my client has just got funding for her technical widget without leaving her sofa” is fine. The pitch I had roughly this time last year saying “David Bowie was a great original who always delivered. Software also has to deliver…” not so much.

A lot of it is common sense. Some of it is good taste. A handful of practitioners, however, don’t seem to have thought about how their target publications are produced – or they’re being measured by how much pitching they do and don’t actually care.

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

Five things good media training won’t do

Media training is something I enjoy doing. Helping people shape the message they want to get into the press, broadcast or online media and offering the tools to make this message heard is a great thing. Generally. Occasionally, though, I’m asked odd stuff.

Media training has its ethics

Sometimes the odd stuff I’m asked veers into the downright unethical or impossible. So here are five things a decent media trainer will never promise or offer:

  • We won’t, or shouldn’t, offer to write about you/your client immediately. I once had a solid-sounding lead for media training. The PR person involved said at the last minute that they would expect me to write about the client in the national press afterwards. Guys, if I’m coaching you and accepting a fee, I can’t pretend to the press that I’m an independent commentator. No ethical media trainer should write about you for several months after coaching you.
  • We won’t encourage you to lie. Want someone to come in and train you on withholding key information from stakeholders? You need to look elsewhere. A good media trainer will help offer techniques to get away from difficult conversations. He or she will give you the confidence to say when something is confidential and you can’t comment. In no way should they encourage you to lie to the press – you’re bound to be found out eventually.
  • We won’t claim there is a 100% foolproof way to get your message into the press. You present your case, you argue your point, we give you the tools and techniques to make the best of that. Unless you’re doing paid-for advertorial, however, no competent media trainer will offer any guarantees beyond that in the face of a free press. They can do what they want with the resulting interview. We will equip you with the best chance possible to put a positive case.
  • We won’t arrange interview opportunities for you. This is the job of your PR company. I’ve been in training sessions in which people have asked me to get them into, say, the Financial Times. It’s been a few years since I’ve written for that paper so even if I were inclined to step outside the role of “journalist/trainer”, I wouldn’t know where to pitch.
  • Related point: our contact book is our livelihood, not public property. One or two – a tiny amount – of clients seem to expect me to open up my contact book and hand over the names of all of the commissioning editors so that they can pitch to them. This is in most cases a step too far; if a trainer who is a current journalist had a reputation that suggested he or she would send loads of PR people pitching to an editor’s door after every training session, he or she wouldn’t be a journalist for long.

There’s a great deal to be gained from a media training session: confidence, an understanding of the media, the ability to meet us half-way, formulation of messages and preparation for an interview plus a lot of interview techniques – talk to me about them by emailing here. Understand that it’s a training/mentoring session and you should end up with a great session.