Monthly Archives: February 2012

Why is PR and marketing a valuable use of journalism skills?

An ex BBC colleague e-mailed me a few days ago to ask me this question.

She’d been asked to deliver a lecture to 3rd year journalism students and wanted  quotes from people who had made the switch. So I sat down to ponder exactly why PR and marketing are a valuable use of our precious journalism skills.

This is what I came up with;

I should start by saying that all the PR and marketing I have picked up since I left the BBC has been of the ‘social media’ variety. This is apparently a good thing! So many industries are being re-made in the wake of social media that it has been an advantage to come in at a time when I really didn’t know what it was like before.

Journalists are needed in marketing and PR right now because we know about creating and curating content.

Social media marketing is all about content – creating original bits and pieces to pull in your audience, which can range from writing posts on Facebook and Twitter to longer blog posts through to selecting pictures and making video. Knowing how to get someone’s attention, story selection, structure, headline writing are all essential for this kind of content creation and they are all skills which I learned as a journalist.

Even when you are picking out other peoples’ work to retweet or re-blog, you are using your journalist’s eye for what works.

I know very little about recruitment, but one of my clients is a recruiter so I often have to sift through trade blogs and websites for interesting stories about the Fast Moving Consumer Goods sector for his LinkedIn group. I know that if a story interests me then it will probably also appeal to the group’s members because however specialized, a good tale is still a good tale.

 Good journalists don’t need to be frightened of the areas that PR and marketing might take them into because it has always been the job of the generalist journo to grasp a brief quickly and make it accessible to a mass audience, however complex.

Other things worth mentioning are the direction being taken by companies like Boden, who are effectively creating their own online communities – online magazines with an interactive element – which should not faze anyone who has worked for a woman’s magazine or supermarket publication. In the same way, other big companies are deciding that instead of trying to get their positive pr stories placed “out there” in the random world of newspapers and magazines, they will write them themselves on their blogs – look at this example from the food company General Mills which has video interviews and articles.

 I hear some business types criticizing journalists in PR and marketing because we have a rather cavalier attitude towards things like Return on Investment and metrics. It is worth having some kind of smart answer to this but I don’t know what it is!  

So there you have it – journalists really are the best people to turn to when you need some social media marketing and PR and be sure to pick one with a sense of humour.

Go where you are wanted – find your niche and market to it using all your social media and online powers.

I was reading a book by the comedian Stewart Lee and came across this great example of niche marketing.

For those of you who don’t remember, Stewart Lee came to the fore during the dying days of ‘alternative comedy’ just as the whole stadium thing was taking off. He was part of Lee and Herring who did the TV show ‘Fist of Fun’.

If you are still not with me it may be because his first comedy career wasn’t particularly well handled by his ‘people’. Following the peaks of his TV show success and their subsequent dwindling his management continued to book him into venues that just weren’t working. Comedy audiences had changed and were now looking for the Baddiel and Skinner brand of laddish humour and football jokes.

Lee seems to have heroically weathered this storm and went on to achieve critical acclaim for some experimental noodlings that became ‘Jerry Springer the Opera’ – this is in turn gave him the opportunity to return to the comedy circuit on different terms.

This is where it gets interesting from a marketing point of view.

He decided that this time, rather than return to the audiences that had been so half hearted before, he would actively look for ‘his people’ – a smaller tribe perhaps, but people who actually wanted to hear what he had to say and would be a better fit for his bitter, lefty, post post modernist schtick. (He is all about deconstructing jokes, laying false trails, getting on his  high horse and sticking the boot into  establishment hypocrites – I love him!)

So with a niche firmly in view he set off with a sympathetic booker to find the venues that wanted him and by all accounts it seems to be working – I’m going to see him in Reading next month. His books sell and so do his shows – they are even on the telly sometimes. He also claims to have priced himself in such a way that he actually makes a bit of money without having to sell himself out either literally or metaphorically and all seems to be fine and dandy in his world.

So take a leaf out of Stew’s book – which is called “How I escaped my certain fate” by the way and go where you are wanted – find your niche and market to it using all your social media and online powers.

Bouquets and Benylin

It’s been a busy week and I need to reflect – can you spare a moment? There are ups and downs.

We’ve all had colds in our house and if you’ve had the same one you’ll know it makes you feel like you’re wading through mud. But I was pulled from the mire on Monday by the news that one of my clients had won a prestigious local food award.

After promoting furiously on social media all day – the cooking hour finally arrived and I sat at my computer, following the live tweets from the event several hundred miles away with my heart pounding. “Doing” live events on social media is ridiculously amusing – I really recommend it – next time you are at a conference or awards have a go – or if there is something you can’t get to, find out what the hash tag is and get stuck in. Pour a glass of wine and it’s like you’re there!

Anyway – we won! So then it was on to the whirlwind of promotion and publicity that flows from such a thing. It may sound obvious but you have to catch that wave while you can. The good will is tremendous and I spent a lot of time just compiling lists of Twitter people to thank.  

Cutting the BBC radio coverage into a format that can be used online and gathering the photos and quotes is my next task for a special Facebook posting.

In the midst of all this I caught a couple of posts on twitter that sent my mood plummeting – I picked up on a slight sneeriness with regards to social media newbies. It depressed me and made me realise how intimidating it can be out there. New folk are sucking up all these posts to try to learn stuff but end up feeling disheartened and excluded. I think we should all remember, me included, to be more positive sometimes. (I remember ditching a swathe of top American social media gurus because they thought they were rock stars and acted like it. You start off thinking you can learn from them and end up just feeling small and useless. They didn’t miss me either!)

So a busy time.

It reminded me that in order to use social media to capitalise on the good times you need to have all your ducks in a row. You need to make your  community in advance otherwise you can’t make hay. (Too many dodgy metaphors – ed)

And you also have to remember not to take what you read too seriously. We are all arm chair generals and you have to choose who you pay heed to. 

Right, that’s me – I’m going to take my meds now.

How to create content like a BBC editor

Ask people what they’re doing with social media and they might say they’re having a laugh or making witty comments while watching telly but for most of us these are not our main activities.

Most of us are trying to make connections and build communities, which means we need to learn how to attract people.

For some this comes easy – the schmoozers can charm their new friends and the networkers can try to coral their acquaintances into a virtual room which they can work, but many of us get by simply by passing on interesting tidbits of gossip and information.

But what happens if you want to go a bit further and create something unique to your niche which will act like a magnet on all the people you are trying to attract? Blogs and community boards are hungry for content and you are not a newspaper editor – so what are you going to do?

My advice is to think like a radio journalist – which is handy because that was my job for 15 years.

When I worked at BBC 5 Live on the Breakfast Show we had to plan what was going to fill every second of each 3 hour show and it had to begin 24 hours in advance. You may imagine a news programme takes to the air without a plan, to report news as it breaks – but in the absence of major fires, earthquakes or unexpected deaths, you have to have a running order full of items.

In order to fill all your slots you need to have some source material and for us that was 1) the BBC forward planning news diary in which every launch, official visit and government announcement was recorded weeks in advance , 2) Press releases from people trying to flog us something and 3)the day’s newspapers, journals and magazines. Of course there is always 4) – original journalism – but you would be surprised how rare and how expensive that is – that is why that stuff wins prizes.

You may also be surprised by how many stories come from category 3. Day old newspapers were and still are the source material for a lot that you hear on the radio and see on television. Why haven’t you noticed? Because they spin and dress it up and turn it around until you don’t recognize it. Mainly though, what they do is add value.

You take a 2 line story in a national newspaper and ask – “but what does that really mean?”  You talk to the people affected by the announcement, you set up a debate between two opposing sides, you find out further information that spins the story off in a new direction. In short you ask questions. You add value.

I reckon that if you apply these methods to stories in your niche you need never be without something interesting to say. You are not an award-winning reporter with endless resources, you can’t break news all the time – you are probably trying to run a business, but you can look at the daily papers and your own trade press for inspiration. Link two or three recent stories together to spot trends or organise 2 sides to debate in a series of posts on a hot topic. Encourage colleagues to comment and make sure you comment back yourself.

It’s not as hard as it looks and it could be good fun.