Tag Archives: public relations

Magazines: what’s the deal?

I edit a magazine, Professional Outsourcing. I also edit, from time to time, supplements for the New Statesman. These share something in common: we very frequently use contributions from people whose day job isn’t journalism. And I’m guilty of forgetting, from time to time, that not everybody is going to know the “rules”. So in case you or a client are ever in that position, here are some thoughts based on mistakes I’ve seen people making.

  • A magazine is probably not a professional document. There are exceptions. The Lancet, Hansard, no doubt others are, but most magazines are going to be written with consumers in mind. Even if they’re intended for a professional audience the editor will anticipate that they’re going to be read in the lunch break, or on the commute. So if you’re writing for a magazine, remember to relax the language a little – and if someone is writing a piece on your behalf, don’t be at all surprised if it doesn’t look like something from your internal knowledge base. (Side note: this applies to any written quotes you might supply – I’ve agreed to accept written quotes before and been faced with a 700-word screed for a 1000 word article – nobody is going to use a quote that long!)
  • A magazine isn’t an extension of your marketing department. This means an editor will take what you’ve written and manipulate it to serve the readers best. This is in everybody’s interests but it does mean that the editor might well tone down some of the hype in your piece, if you’ve put any in. If you’ve written well and authoritatively, this won’t matter, the article will still serve you well.
  • A related point is that editors are aware they’re working in a visual medium but they may not have a good visual sense. I don’t believe mine is particularly strong and I’m pleased to have the backing of a superb designer, Leon Parks, for both the outsourcing mag and the NS (plus a proofreader, Louise Bolotin, who is better at micro-editing than I am). One result of this is that we tend to regard the written side of an article as entirely separate from the illustrations – so if you had a particular slide, or graph, you believed was central to your piece, do draw it to our attention. If the article stands up in its own right – and a well-written article will – we’re likely to leave the visuals in the hands of the designers, whose job is to make it as arresting as possible. This doesn’t always chime with the writer’s intention.
  • Be prepared for us to edit. I’ve had two incidents that clash with this idea recently; on one occasion a writer took it badly that a chart had vanished (see above). The other was when a client for a sponsored supplement of a magazine did most of the commissioning himself. I’ve no doubt he was trying to save me time – but that couple of weeks when you don’t know what’s coming in and haven’t seen the brief (hello, I’m supposed to be editing this!) can be pretty nerve-wracking.
  • Finally, a deadline’s a deadline and an agreed length is an agreed length. If you can’t commit to delivering 2000 words within three weeks, don’t commit at all, that’s not a problem. Whatever you do, don’t deliver 700 words after four weeks and assume that will be OK. I’ve actually had this happen and the writer didn’t see a problem (note: you can edit down but rarely up – or at least not to that extent).

Do you need help writing for the press or engaging with us in interviews? Drop me a note by clicking here or fill in the form below and we’ll talk.

When PR works, it’s fabulous

Journalists like me spend a lot of time moaning about PR people when we feel they’ve done something wrong. So I thought I’d tell you about something that went spectacularly right only this week.

One of the jobs I do is to edit Professional Outsourcing Magazine. It’s peopled by lively contributors from the academic, business analyst and consultancy worlds and is generally a lot of fun to do – until someone lets me down for an article.

So for whatever reason, on Monday I was left without a piece to fill five pages near the front of the magazine, which has to go to press this week.

I put out a plea on Response Source. This is a service that allows journalists to send blanket emails to PR people (who pay for the service) when we need help. The problem with this sort of service has been, historically, that a lot of the PR community – so the stories go – get a whiff of coverage for their client and pitch anything, no matter how irrelevant. I’ve seen journalists say so in tutoring sessions and if I’m honest I find the attitude patronising, for a good reason.

The quality of the answers I had was universally superb. So, what went right?

  • First, the number was low. This didn’t mean people didn’t want to help. This meant people had read the request and didn’t respond if they were irrelevant. If you’re among those who saw the request and excluded yourself from responding because it would have been unhelpful, thank you. (I’ll grant you I tend to get more irrelevant responses when I’m writing for the Guardian or New Statesman – the higher profile publications tend to push your head further over the parapet).
  • Second, people told me why they were replying. Two people conceded they had nothing to say about outsourcing but they understood I’d been let down and was faced by an empty page so something vaguely on the right theme would be better than nothing. Sometimes you get responses that are really left of field or plain irrelevant; there was none of that on this occasion.
  • Third, someone read the brief and realised that other than the length they had something ideal. They were apologetic about the length but offered extra pictures instead. That particular example is in, no question, and OneChocolate Communications can have all the brownie points they want for reading and understanding – as can Ketchum, whose article I’ll probably use in another issue, and Friday’s Media Group and Say Communications. Plus everybody who read the initial plea for help and held off communicating because they couldn’t help.

The PR community often gets a rough ride from journalists, who can be a stroppy lot. On days like today I quite seriously wonder where I’d be without them.

Do you need help with media interactions? I can help – fill in the form below and we’ll talk.

PRs – knocked back? Keep talking!

Twice last week I was approached with pitches for Professional Outsourcing Magazine, which I edit among my freelance tasks. I won’t disclose what they were about but they seemed to me to have little to do with outsourcing (there’s a clue in the title as to the publication’s focus.

I waited for the replies. Silence.

This is not how you engage people. Journalists get hundreds of pitches; if you get a reply it’s an opportunity to start a conversation. It’s the sort of thing that’s happened before.

In need of a case study

A few years ago I had a call from a PR person – someone I normally rated as quite good. He pitched a piece of technology for the small business market. I was interested and I said “I’d need a customer to talk to” – he said “Yeah, fair enough” and hung up.

I would have been happy to pitch his story to the Guardian if he’d come up with a case study for me – as it was he didn’t bother, his script was finished and that was it, onto calling the next hack and no doubt getting a similar knockback (or thinking that he’d been knocked back). Contrast that with the approach taken by another contact on another occasion, when listening got them a full page in the Guardian.

The thing is, we need stories. We need information and we can’t function without it. You may be precisely the person to offer it and if our needs are a slightly different shape from the pitch you had in mind, don’t worry – be flexible, it might turn out quite well for you.

But if a journalist gets in touch, always think of it as a starting point rather than a brush-off.

Does your company need coaching on pitching to journalists? I can help – why not drop me a note using this form?

How to match PR writing to journalists’ work

People often ask me  how “PR writing” differs from other writing. At base, it doesn’t; both disciplines aim to tell a story as effectively as possible. PR writers simply have to adjust their work to match a journalist’s writing process rather than their end product.

For both journalism and PR, understanding how the audience want to read and comprehend stories is the most important thing.

Any piece of writing should address the audience appropriately and in language they will find acceptable, whether it’s flat-pack furniture instructions or a press release.

  • In PR writing your starting point is to help the journalist. OK, that’s not quite true; you need to work for your client, not us, but the best way to do this is to make our lives simpler.
  • Journalists won’t care about your stories unless they are sure there readers will, so help them by focusing on the needs of their readers first.

Read the rest of this blog on the Henshall Centre’s website by clicking here

Watch where you’re pitching

So last week I get this pitch – it’s an infographic about…actually it wouldn’t be fair to identify the person who sent it, it’s just an infographic and it concerns a technology issue. The covering note says the PR executive thought it might work for my blog.

Nice though it would be to think that this blog is getting noticed, it would be a completely  wrong thing for me to include so I disregard it. My best guess is that many people have had a similar note because we’re on a list of technology journalists. That is of course fine and respectable.

Then this morning I get the follow-up note to ask whether it’s any use for my blog. I reply and explain I’m not sure which blog she means. “Your technology blog”, comes the response.

Pitch to something that exists

I’m racking my brain here trying to think of anything at all I write that could be construed a technology blog. Let’s discount anything that’s been dead (or which someone else has taken over) for a year or more; this is a paid, professional PR person and part of her job is to keep up to date with who’s doing what.

So I can confirm here: I do not and have not recently written a technology blog at all. You can pitch what you want at it, since it doesn’t exist I’m positive it will do you no good.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been aware of people pitching to nonexistent publications. A colleague of mine used to work on a magazine that closed down. She had a call from a PR person asking whether she’d be able to include the case of wine she’d just sent by courier (which my colleague hadn’t received). No, she replied, the magazine has closed. “But I’ve sent the wine now!” came the angry response; fascinating, said my colleague, where did you send it, since we no longer have an office?

Again, for several years I was associated with a section in the Guardian called “Small Business Solutions” (then “Business Solutions”, then “Business Sense”, but it remained focused on the small business market). I didn’t edit it, but was in it so often a number of people got the impression I did, so they sent me pitches. More than once I had a pitch offering me a new director of a small business client for the “people page”.

You know what’s coming next. I worked on that supplement for nine years and we never, literally never, had a people page.

Do your research

Here’s now it works. PR people pitch ideas to journalists and whatever some hacks tell you about resisting the approach and getting sucked into the PR machine, we need it. Without ideas and fresh input we dry up, it’s as simple as that. So however reluctant or damned rude some journalists are, they need you but we do get a lot of pitches so they need to be sharp.

And one way you can sharpen them better than some of the competition – and as you’ll have gathered this was true as of this morning – is to make sure you’re pitching to a publication or part thereof that actually exists. This is fundamental market research. Yes, the amount of blogs out there makes it difficult to keep track of us all but there are press agencies out there which specialise in this sort of monitoring. It’s part of the PR job, and if you went into it voluntarily then it’s reasonable to expect you to make the effort.

Overall the quality of pitch from PR people has shot up in the 26 years I’ve been a journalist. But the schoolchild errors are still being made – and failing to check that your target publication actually exists is probably the worst.

For information on Guy Clapperton’s media training sessions please click here.