Tag Archives: journalism

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 http://www.blog.generalmills.com/category/life/ 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.

What’s the Story? How Social Media is Changing the Art of Storytelling


This post first appeared as a guest post I wrote for Daybydan.wordpress.com

The art of good story telling is a vital part of your tool kit whether you work in PR, broadcasting, journalism or sales.

But the way we tell our stories is changing. It’s no longer enough to write a press release or a newspaper article with accompanying photo. Things are getting seriously mixed up and a lot more fun, with the introduction of social media and live elements into the way we present stories.

When I started at the BBC, the radio news package was the standard reporting form and it was an exquisite thing. A series of high quality interviews woven together with atmospheric sound and relevant effects, like honking traffic or twittering birds. It could take as many as three engineers to put it together properly. This type of broadcasting looks like a Caravaggio now – beautiful but a thing of past.

Today we have neither the time nor the money to spend days on a mini documentary. We need to get the news out there fast. Getting the key players in a major story on the end of a telephone is probably still the quickest way to broadcast breaking news, but in a social era when we acknowledge that the journalists don’t hold all the cards, we can be more creative than that.

This is why I am very excited by some of the multi-media reporting I have seen lately from people like the BBC and the Guardian.

The BBC provided an excellent service during that weird period after the election last year when the nation seemed to have no government. Using a live news page on the BBC website they were able to pull together the best breaking news facts, blog posts, expert opinion, public comment via their own forums and Twitter, together with rolling live coverage of press conferences and any exciting comings and goings. It felt as though rolling news had come of age.

Over at the Guardian, reporters have been getting their readers thoroughly involved in things like travel pieces by using Twitter – sometimes in real time. Look at this example of a collaborative piece in which the journalist asks readers to recommend their favourite hidden spots in London. He then checks them out, using photos and videos to add that fashionable “homemade” feel.

Increasingly traditional media is getting into story curation, pulling in diverse elements, including the best of what we have to say. And the punters are steadily moving centre stage in all this. There is a new tool being developed called Storify which makes linking together existing content simplicity itself so that anyone can curate stories as they unfold. It is still largely under wraps but some influencers have had a go at it – here are some examples.

and here;

Since last autumn 10,000 Storify stories have been created, attracting 4.5 million views – they recently got a $2million investment boost from Khosla Ventures so I am sure we will be hearing more about them.

Interestingly the company’s co-founder Burt Herman is a former journalist so he knows what he is talking about.

For me it is not about adopting the new for the sake of it, but about looking at which media people are using, how they like to get their information and what they do with it. Then you can start deciding how to use that to make your stories more relevant.

Why Smart Businesses Are Hiring Their Own Journalists

Anyone who has tried to work with a local newspaper recently will know first hand that local news gathering is in crisis.

Advertising continues to fall away and while they struggle to take on board the new reality of video and dealing with breaking news in real-time they are failing to prioritise the business of going out and finding new and interesting stories that no one has heard before.

It’s a shame because so many great journalists started out in local news. Now  new recruits are paid even less than we were 20 years ago and they get a fraction of the experience and training.

But if the outlook for the future of your local rag is gloomy then the up-side is that there are lots of experienced journalists out there with old school standards and training and many are making interesting careers for themselves working directly with business.

All the smart businesses want to be doing social media right now – quite rightly – and creative types who can write and tell good stories are naturals at it. If you are used to writing pieces in several lengths and formats, headlines, news in briefs and longer discussion pieces then writing a blog post, a white paper and a 140 character tweet does not pose an insurmountable challenge.

There is a wealth of talent out there and smart companies are increasingly choosing to work with their own journalists direct.

It goes hand in hand with realising that content creation is now where it’s at. By creating your own content in the form of online magazines, videos and blogs – cutting out the old school media entirely –  you can reach out to your customers direct. See for example, Procter and Gamble’s Man of The House Magazine

It is not about a return to the hard sell, which is going to put off both customers and any journalist who values their independence, but a chance to develop communities of readers, supporters and “fans”. A good example is The Girls School Association who have a website and online community called My Daughter which offers a place for parents to discuss issues around raising teenage girls.

But it doesn’t have to be a website – it’s up to you – a TV channel, an online fanzine  – they are all ways of telling your stories and collecting together those of your community.

So get excited about content creation and bag yourself a journalist to help you. If you need any help give me a shout.

When Should You Send a Press Release?

What shall we do about Press Releases?

Journalists say they don’t like them, so why do we send them? What shall we do instead?

I will be straight up with you and say I don’t know. There are as many opinions on this as there are stories and journalists to write them.

Back in the day on a small BBC Radio station in the sticks we liked press releases because it gave us a safety net in case there was nothing to say. That as it turned out was quite often. In an area with little news you are forced to make a silk purse out of a sows ear and if you think I am joking you have never read out the fat stock prices. (The weights of pigs and other animals due at market, broadcast by very tired journalists to farmers early in the morning.)

In a very newsy patch you are going to have to work harder to get the hack’s attention. Having said that if it is real, hot, breaking news then it’s academic how you release it, you are in the driver’s seat. You can tweet it, press release it or just phone them up and tell them about it.

So what we are really talking about is how to get the coverage we want when they need persuading.

If they are in position A you have to find out what they want and give it to them. Some journalists prefer a concise written pitch by e-mail, others like to get a tweet. Specialist journos hate it when you send them stories outside their niche and if you think that is arrogant you just have to live with it because they will delete your e-mails.

So is the press release dead? Is it still worth sending one out? Here’s my view but I would love to hear yours.

  • Send a release to add substance and detail to a story you have already pitched on the phone.
  • Send a release to publications you know are short-staffed enough to cut and paste your story straight into the paper.
  • Turn your release into an e-mail pitch, which is very short and to the point.
  • Send a release to people you know would be happy to receive them.
  • Send a release when you are in a very strong position and you and your client have decided that this is the only way you will break the news.

Any more? Do tell.

PR: Should We Be Exclusive?

When I worked at the BBC, journalism was not nearly as grubby as you might imagine.

There was the time I was threatened by a theatrical agent and I once got hauled in front of the boss for playing tough with the Today programme over access to a radio car, but this is small change.

Stories for the daily news show I worked on came from; the world around us, what was on the newsgathering diary and other media, like newspapers. We called this “following-up”, but it was more like lifting other people’s stories. Don’t get me wrong, we would always go back to sources to check it out and take it on and give it a new spin but you get the idea. 

There was something about seeing a story already in print that made some editors feel secure, a validation that this was indeed real.* The fact that it had probably been dreamed up by a PR somewhere didn’t matter because we didn’t have to deal with them, we just worked on the ‘story’. 

On the other hand, nobody wanted something that had already been everywhere, it was a fine line.

Looking  now from a PR stand point you can see how placing a story with just one source might have a positive effect. If it’s good others will want to pile in and organisations like the BBC can follow-up without feeling they are taking the PR dollar – they don’t have to get grubby. 

So it is worth being exclusive if you think your journalist is going to bite, then sit back and let the other outlets spread the story for you.

* I would like the record to show that I also worked with some tremendous editors who had the courage to run original work.

Is the Documentary Dead?

I used to think of documentaries as a relatively pure form of journalism.

A weighty subject was researched, investigated and reported upon using interviews and pictures, as appropriate, to illustrate a central thesis.

Now the satirists have got hold of the format and muddied the waters pretty comprehensively.

Think The Office and In the Loop, satire rendered in a reality-doc format.

And so it was that I sat down to watch Anvil: The Story of Anvil.  I had originally thought of this as a film, it had a short release in the cinema but is now being presented as a factual TV documentary in the Storyville strand.

Anvil are a real life Canadian heavy-metal band, so badly failed that the lead singer Lips now delivers school meals; “Shepherds pie, pizza, pizza, Shepherds pie” he points out helpfully.

The guys are getting by on memories of past glory when up pops a mad bleached blonde from eastern Europe and offers to organise a world come-back tour. There follows a catalogue of disasters from missed trains to non-existent audiences to no pay. Somehow they end up in a recording studio on the south coast of England, which seems to be located in someones kitchen. 

It is a touching tale, full of pathos but I can’t help feeling the hand of Spinal Tap upon my shoulder. The mockumentary informing the documentary.

The film makers were definitely encouraging this comparison with a highly knowing moment in which the dial is turned all the way up to 11.

But where does this leave us in terms of anchoring ourselves in reality? Will The West Wing always inform the American Presidential elections? Will  the ghost of Malcom Tucker forever haunt the corridors of Downing Street? Can we ever make a film about music without thinking of Spinal Tap, a band that didn’t actually exist but now plays gigs anyway? 

We have become so adept at creating a hyper satirised reality that a straight forward documentary no longer seems enough.

P.S. It comes as no surprise to me to learn that Anvil are now more successful than they have ever been thanks to the “documentary”/sales video.

How You Landed Your Dream Job

Do you remember how hard you worked to get your first job?

Do you think you will ever work that hard again?

I’ve been preparing some tips for 6th form students on how to get into journalism.

As I go over my own story, I’m really impressed by how hard I worked back then! People told me it was an impossible profession to get into and I was determined to prove them wrong.

First I spent a summer at a local radio station, learning what I could for free.

Then I used my spare time at university to get interviews on BBC Radio Leeds.

At one point I think I developed a previously unknown curiosity about religion  in order to take part in some live broadcasts for BBC Sussex.

I entered a contest run by Cosmopolitan magazine and won a prize for an interview with striking miners wives in 1985.

All this eventually led to a place on a post-graduate course in radio journalism. All that, just to get into college!

When I landed a job with the BBC during that year I was delighted. The hard work had paid off (but in reality was just starting.)

When we switch jobs during our working lives, are we really expected to go through that all over again?

In many ways it must be easier, right? We have a history of achievement and the confidence, of a lifetime in dealing with people.

So many work skills are people skills, which transfer well, whatever you find yourself doing.

But if you’re starting a new job or making a career change, I definitely think it’s worth checking in with your past. Maybe you can get inspired, re- learn old tricks or just remind yourself about the need for hard work.

In short, take a lesson from a younger you.