Drop the heavily branded press releases and approach journalists with tailored content

Talkability and shareability should be the prime drivers of how content is shaped and the traditional "PR release" should be consigned to the media relations history book.

PRs should be giving journalists content which is tailored, sharable and engaging, argues Harriet Scott
PRs should be giving journalists content which is tailored, sharable and engaging, argues Harriet Scott

We all know just how rapidly the media landscape has shifted in recent years. The world isn't going digital, it is digital.

Yet traditional media platforms are still hugely powerful and we have seen very little shift in household brands looking to cut their messaging through to national newspapers and online news sites.

In fact, Edelman’s Jan 2018 barometer reveals the UK public's trust in traditional media is on the rise, as trust in social media as a news source falls.

Did someone say ‘fake news’?

Therefore, it still pays for PRs to try to get as close to the media as possible. However, the methods by which traditional media outlets are grappling to keep pace with these seismic changes are severely impacting PR and journalist relationships.

National newspaper staff numbers are dwindling and those who have survived are under increasing pressure to create stories on a shoestring, with less time than ever to deliver.

Major changes in the structure of newspapers and online news sites, such as seven-day news operations and the creation of centralised news hubs, have seen many journalists landed with increased responsibilities and relentless pressure to create content that achieves clicks.

In PR we know this on an intellectual level: it seems obvious that time-poor journalists will have far less time to spend with PRs and their brands.

Which means the old-school ingratiation methods of boozy lunches, luxury press trips and party invites just don’t cut the mustard any more.

Yet many PR agencies are still operating in the past.

Within the PR agency model, it is always the most junior staff members who are forced to run the gauntlet of calling 'under pressure' news desks – and usually make their daily media calls just as news editors are getting their list ready for the all-important morning conference.

Unsurprisingly, many are given short shrift and if they’re lucky, told to send their "press release" to the generic news@newspaper.co.uk email - known fondly by desk heads as "the bin".

Another example of this is the way that many PR programmes still include the dreaded press events, pitched to the client at early stages by more senior members of the agency, to be executed by execs, who desperately try to entice overworked journalists down to attend a heavily branded session which has little or no editorial merit.

And when it comes to writing news releases, so many traditional PRs stay true to the old school style of over-branded press release, with more detail about the product than there is editorial content.

So how should PRs be pitching in this modern world?

We’ve become "a nation of news-skimmers and news-avoiders" – moving on quickly if something doesn’t engage us. 

So, more than ever before, we need to give journalists content ideas that will turn readers/consumers’ heads and grip them.

Talkability and sharability should be the prime drivers of how content is shaped and the traditional "PR release" with bullet points and notes to Editors should finally be consigned to the history book of media relations.

PR agencies must move with the times, and realise that journalists have very little time.

Apply this thinking at the outset when you’re building a campaign plan for the client, so that expectations are managed from the beginning and the programme fits the current media landscape.

The bottom line is PRs must now be giving journalists content that they can work with quickly.

It must be shaped and tailored, shareable and engaging and most importantly, it should not be over-branded.

Harriet Scott is the managing director of GingerComms

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