The hugely talented Mr Weatherley


Brian's B2B blog...

Welcome to my B2BMediaTraining blog – some small thoughts on life, the universe and dealing with the press from someone who crossed over from practitioner to teacher.  The following selection of short articles provides an off-beat (and unashamedly tongue-in-cheek) insight into the many different aspects of the media, along with hints and tips for better communication and an understanding into what gets journalists reaching for their pens, tablets or smartphones to cover your story...



NATION BUILDING

The end of the year is always a good time to take stock of how much media coverage you’ve achieved over the past 12-months. But how do you measure success? By the number of column-inches you’ve accrued in hard-copy publications, by the number of hits on the media section of your website, by the number of ‘likes’ registered on your social media pages?

There are plenty of media monitoring services out there that can count-up all those things and show you exactly where you’ve got press exposure. But what about those instances where you might have got coverage…but didn’t? Let me explain. You’re not going to be sending out stories every day―after all, there’s only so much ‘news’ you can generate at any one time, and besides, the media isn’t going to cover everything you send out no matter how important you think it is.




Media savvy companies look beyond just churning out press releases. They provide insight and commentary in what’s become known as ‘Thought Leadership.’ They track and note the trends and changes in the industry sectors that they operate in and then, having created a strong narrative, they share their thoughts with journalists on what those trends and changes signify, and the impact they’re likely to have in the short, medium, and long-term.

Of course, to do that you need to pro-actively look for those trends and changes in-order to interpret them for the media and create a ‘bigger picture’ dialogue. And the end of the year is always an appropriate time to provide a round-up of them all as you’ve invariably got 12-months’ worth of information to reflect upon. The same data can also help when it comes to forecasting changes over the next 12-months. All of which is the perfect basis for staging a ‘State of the Nation’ press event.

Many years ago, I was present when a major manufacturer launched such an event at the start of the New Year―the primary reason being to remind journalists that it was the market leader, based on supporting industry stats which it duly presented! However, it also provided an excellent platform to deliver additional context and explanation on broader aspects of the industry, plus an insight into developing trends, and some useful crystal ball-gazing too. It immediately became a regular (and highly popular) occurrence, offering journalists a unique annual window into what was happening in the industry and beyond.

Even when the manufacturer in question was no longer market leader it continued to hold its State of the Nation event―and it continued to be well-attended by the media hungry for that bigger picture story. Moreover, the facts and figures it supplied had a habit of popping-up in various general features and articles written throughout the following year―and naturally, the manufacturer got a name check as the ‘source provider.’

So, can you do a State of the Nation? If you can, it could provide you with media coverage well beyond your everyday company activities. More importantly, as an acknowledged Thought Leader for your industry you’ll give journalists an excellent reason to keep coming back for more of your knowledge and wisdom…



Deliver what you promise

When somebody promises to do something for you how do you feel? Gratified? Expectant? Glad you’re being taken seriously? But what if they let you down, what then? We’ve all experienced disappointment arising from an unfulfilled promise at some time in our lives, though that doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. As it is in life, when it comes to dealing with the media, it doesn’t pay to let someone down.

Unfortunately, problems can arise when a journalist contacts you out of the blue wanting something in a tearing hurry―like information on a new business venture or activity, confirmation of a new contract, or maybe even news of the latest round of musical chairs in the boardroom. Whatever the reason, it’s clear they want an immediate response. But can you give one? Do you have all the relevant information at your disposal, or will it take you time to find it?




Journalists are no different to anyone else―we all want things yesterday―but is what they’re asking for reasonable in terms of their timeframe? Never be hustled into responding if you’re not ready. Better to say ‘Sorry, it’s going to take me some time to get back to you with an answer,’ than offer instant gratification with the wrong one. After all, you might not even be the right person to field their query. You might have to redirect it to a colleague with the right level of knowledge or information. Or it might be the kind of awkward question that requires some lengthy consideration before answering, especially you’re going to challenge or rebut it.

If you’re ever asked a question by a journalist that can’t be resolved straightaway, ask them ‘What’s your deadline?’ Remember, it’s at this point you exert tremendous control over what happens next. Yes, the journalist wants an answer, but you don’t have to give them anything if you’re not ready. It’s their deadline, not yours, and you’re under no obligation to meet to it. While it’s only natural you might want to help, beware of being pressurised into accepting an unfeasible deadline, as your failure to meet it will only cause further frustration to the journalist who’s been sitting around waiting to get on with their story.

However, if you can agree on a mutually convenient time for your response, make sure you keep to it. And if you subsequently can’t, don’t leave the journalist hanging on until the last minute before you break the bad news to them, or worse still don’t them call back at all, as it will only cause even more frustration. ‘We’re not able to comment at this moment’ is a perfectly legitimate response, especially if you explain to the journalist why you can’t provide an answer right now. And there could be plenty of good reasons why you can’t. But regardless of whether you’re responding to a highly detailed question, or the simplest request for an image, if you want to build a good relationship with the media deliver what you promise―or risk being ignored the next time around.



Make it easy on yourself...

So, you’ve agreed to do a formal one-to-one interview with a journalist. It’s a great opportunity to get over positive messages about your company or organization. You know how long you’ve got to talk to them―because you’ve already asked them (or certainly should have done) ‘How much time have we got for the interview?’

Although the journalist in question hasn’t provided you with any questions in advance (it’s not mandatory so don’t expect it) thanks to your advance enquiry they’ve sent over a useful shortlist of topics that they want to cover during the interview. So, at least you’ve got some idea what you’re likely to be asked.




Meanwhile, your advance preparation is progressing well. You’ve already decided what key messages you want to deliver, and you’ve started to memorize them, as well as learning the supporting narratives to back them up. You’ve put together a useful information pack on your company and its activities (including your latest annual report) so you can cut to the chase in the interview and not waste any unnecessary time on ‘background’ details. You’ve also put together some good high-quality images to go with it. Now what else can you do?

How about doing a dummy run? Get together with your PR advisor or market comms people and ask them to role play the part of the journalist. Then try answering the questions that you think you’ll be asked in the interview. Make it as real-life as possible, including watching the clock so you stay within time. Above-all-else imagine the worst question―that’s the one you DON’T want to be asked! It could be about poor financial performance, a product that’s proving less than successful with customers, or how a rival has overtaken you in the marketplace. Now start planning your answer, because as sure as the sun rises if you know that there’s an issue with your business, the chances are so will a journalist…and they’ll ask you about it. It’s their job.

Above-all-else, make it as lifelike as possible. Don’t see the questions in advance. Play it for real. Then sit down and critique your performance. Could you have answered that one better? Was there a better explanation to offer? Did you communicate effectively and concisely…or simply waffle on and lose your thread? A good tip is to record the interview and play it back to hear yourself in action. You might be surprised by those verbal tics you’ve never noticed before. Then do it all again until you’re fully on top of your brief.

Practice, if done well, really can make perfect. And that’s exactly why taking the time to prepare properly for an interview in advance, including conducting a dummy version of the real thing, can pay real dividends. If you already know how you want to answer the awkward questions, those left field ‘I didn’t see that coming’ queries, then when the real thing comes along hopefully you won’t be lost for words…



Lights, camera, traction...

If a picture is worth a 1,000-words, what about a 45-second YouTube video? More and more companies are nowadays placing short videos on the aforementioned-ubiquitous platform to deliver a message to the media, often in-place of traditional press releases. It’s not hard to see why. Video has much to recommend it. Within three minutes or less, it can be a highly effective way to get a message, or messages, over to a journalist in a hurry. And what journalist isn’t in a hurry given that nowadays they’re not only expected to provide content for hard copy and digital magazines but also websites and social media too.

As an occasional video presenter, I’ve always enjoyed working with the format. It’s a task-and-finish job where 99% of the work is in the preparation, just like any encounter with the media. The analogy is obvious―just as you have-to learn a script for a video, you need to learn your lines for a press interview. And as with a short video, in a press interview you need to be able to get your messages over quickly and succinctly. Of course, the real expertise comes in the post-production phase where the video editors sprinkle their pixie dust over it prior to uploading it. That to me is where the true magic of video is to be found.




Yet despite its obvious attractions, video tends to be a ‘one-way’ process. Once you’ve clicked on the link to watch one that’s it. You either accept the messages in them; and want to find out more. Or you find something better to do. There’s none of the interaction of, say, a traditional press event where a journalist can ask a question―and hopefully get an answer. It’s hard for journalists to follow-up on a video unless you embed suitable contact information within it for them, or if they already happen to know who to call. So, a video without a follow-up mechanism runs the risk of being a dead-end, rather than a means to an end.

Leaving aside that obvious caveat, a short video can be a great tool for highlighting new products, services, or initiatives. And the more imaginative, quirky, or eye-catching, the better the chances of it being watched and remembered. Only before you start shooting, or even creating a script, you really should ask yourself “What are we doing it for?” Is it a heads-up or teaser to a forthcoming press conference that will encourage journalists to put the date in their diary? Or is it a bit of stand-alone entertainment which reinforces your brand and requires no further action from the media beyond them watching it?

There’s nothing wrong with using video as a different way to attract a journalist’s attention, especially if it’s engaging and amusing. But if you want to use video to really communicate with the media, along with all the novelty, entertainment, excitement, and ballyhoo you’d better be delivering some key stories too. If you’re going to use YouTube for business, then treat it in a business-like way. Or to put it another way, the ‘medium’ shouldn’t be more important than your ‘message’….



Please hold caller....

How easy is it for a journalist to talk to you or your company…especially if they’ve never spoken to you before? Who in your organization is the best person to kick-start a conversation with the media and how far do they go out of their way to be accessible? Any journalist looking to get a quick heads-up on your business will inevitably go to your website as it’s by far the most convenient starting point.

Assuming they like what they see and want to find out more they’ll doubtless hit the ‘contact us’ button on your home page. And then what do they find? A direct landline number for your switchboard? A dedicated number and the name of the person for ‘media-enquiries’? Or an anonymous e-mail set-up with a box for enquiries and a ‘I am not a robot’ prompt to tick? Not exactly ‘user-friendly’. How long will it then take before someone bothers to reply―assuming the journalist in question hasn’t already lost interest and moved on?




Your website is the World’s window to your business, so why pull the blinds down and make it hard for any member of the Fourth Estate to interact with you? Of course, you may not like the idea of journalists ringing you up out of the blue. You may prefer to only talk to the media when it suits you. At least that way there’s a chance you’ll be in control when it comes to releasing information. If that’s your attitude good luck. Only don’t be surprised if a rival starts getting all the attention simply because they made themselves more available when the press came calling.

If you’re under the impression that the only time a journalist wants to call you is to ask awkward questions, you’re rather missing the point of press relationships. They could just as easily be calling to find out about a successful business deal, a new contract or project, or a recent major product launch. In short, they could be looking for some good news that could be read, heard, or seen by potential customers or indeed anyone else. Then again, they might want some ‘Thought Leadership’ from you on what’s happening in your market, the trends in your business, or the effect of forthcoming legislation on your industry. Unfortunately, it’s hard to be a Thought Leader if you’re hard to reach.

A journalist working to a tight deadline won’t warm to an organization whose default position on press enquiries is an answerphone message that constantly states: ‘The person you’re calling isn’t available right now, please leave a message and we’ll deal with it on our return…’ And then you don’t. If you think a chatbot could handle your press enquiries better, try it. It might work. But then again it probably won’t. Meanwhile, an organization or business that goes out of its way to be easily accessible to the media via as many routes as possible and responds quickly to press enquiries will stand a better chance of getting coverage than one that prefers to erect barriers to good communication. Which one are you?



Don't get bogged down in the detail

As a former business journalist, whenever I attended the launch of a new product and wanted to understand exactly how it worked, if I had the time, I invariably made a beeline for the engineer responsible for developing it. From a journalist’s perspective engineers and product specialists are extremely useful people to get to know, not least as they tend to deal in absolutes. If you want to know all about the features of a new wotnot, then engineers and product specialists can invariably give you the perfect insight into whatever the special thingamajig does and how it does it. Besides, engineers love telling you all about their new baby as it’s a rare chance for them to shine in front of the press. Normally, they’ve got their collective heads down in the lab or back room.

The downside of tapping into all that undeniable knowledge is that engineers can sometimes get so wrapped-up in explaining every tiny feature of their latest gizmo that they lose sight of what it ultimately-means to the end-user. In short, what it will do for a customer’s bottom-line and balance sheet. I call it the ‘Engineer Syndrome’. That’s not a criticism, it’s just that it’s possible to get so bound-up in the specification of something that you can easily forget the ‘specifics’―i.e., what it’s actually going to deliver to the buyer.




No matter the story, whether it’s sporting, political, industrial, or financial, it’s useless without the proper context, interpretation, or explanation to it. That’s why, when it comes to launching a new product or service you need to cut to the chase and tell a journalist why it’s so important to their audience and why they should be in a hurry to share your news with them.

That means delivering the bottom-line benefits of your new doohickey upfront before you start to explain in detail how it actually-works. Today’s media landscape is built around short, sharp messages, especially those that appear on digital and social media where increasingly it’s all about one-sentence news flashes, 30-second soundbites, and three-minute YouTube videos. So, you’ve got to deliver the punchline fast and not getting bogged down in an extended dialogue, otherwise, you’ll risk losing your audience.

But where does that leave all that background explanation, all those wonderful features, all that in-depth detail? Certainly not wasted. However, it’s more likely to be found in specialist hard-copy publications prepared to devote sufficient space to all that detail, or in an explanatory PDF document sitting in a well-signposted area within a website for consumption by those who have the time and above-all-else the inclination to read it. Don’t assume everyone is a techie anorak dying to learn the secrets of your hoojamaflip and has the time to do so.

And take-away message of this blog is? Whenever you’re talking to the media remember their time is short. The number one thing is to get the benefits of your new widget over first and fast, before the features. And if a journalist wants to find out more, well the engineer can always tell them…