PR Mistakes no 1: Manufacturing the news

To those PR professionals who know me – such as the rest of the Vivid London team, heaven help them – this rant is all very familiar. I believe strongly, you see, it is to our industry’s discredit that far too many young PRs would not recognise a news story if it tripped them up in the street. Highly trained and degreed as they may be, there’s too much about strategy planning, too much theory, and not a milligram of news sense. No wonder journalists despair of the PR interface.

I must admit that it is hard when you have a product or service which, while worthy, is essentially boring. What do you do with an item no longer new to the market place, which has endless rivals – maybe some of what outsmart your client’s gem – and doesn’t add much to human endeavour? If it is a food, drink or cosmetic preparation, you can certainly organise tastings or at least samples for specialist journalists but only if you are entirely sure of its taste, flavour or covering power. Only subscribe to blind tastings if you are confident that all the other products are distinctly inferior. If it is a financial service, ensure there’s a crisis management or at least a good customer complaints service in place. Celebrity endorsement may be useful for some kinds of products (kitchen goods or furniture, phones and games) – or placement in still or on the telly. Linking with partner products sometimes works well.

The other classic PR device is a survey, either sponsored by your client or showing your product in a good light. Journalists know all about these wheezes. Some newspapers and television channels insist on a minimum number of individuals or organisations participating, usually at least 1200 or 1500. Quite right. And they prefer the name of an independent research company to interpret and comment on the results. If your budgets don’t stretch to this, then you cannot do it. Anything lesser will not have credibility and it’s not fair to your client to suggest that you can cut corners. In addition, a poorly constructed survey will be disregarded by the journalist – nil point – and that will not enhance either the reputation of your client, and of you and your agency.

If you must manufacture news, do so honestly. Maybe someone in your client organisation has a strong industry viewpoint or even better, something on a national platform. If those views are valuable, pertinent and up to the minute – and unlikely to have a nasty backlash, coo, you may have something newsworthy. Make sure that person is fluent and sufficiently smart to be photographed, kick in the presentation and media training – and punt them to a waiting world.

But if there isn’t a story – there isn’t a story and you will have to take other routes to glory!


1 Response to “PR Mistakes no 1: Manufacturing the news”

  1. January 19, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Interesting piece – I strongly agree with the comment about PR surveys and the requirement for it to be backed by a authoritative research organisation.

    Regrettably, many news blogs, in particular, tech blogs don’t often have such requirements and will happily parrot something provided to them by a PR agency.

    In my opinion, this reduces how respectable I feel that source is (being willing to publish something of questionable value) – and, in my opinion, negatively affects the reputation of the agency. Yes, the agency has got a piece of coverage and, I suppose this is seen as a “win”. But this is a win as sold to the client – is really a win with the target audience?

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