The headline is the make or break of your press release, it’s the difference between your article getting the coverage you yearn for and disappearing into the abyss. On too many occasions an extremely well-written and intriguing piece will be disregarded because it lacks a catchy headline that sells the content.
The media has changed – with fewer opportunities for coverage in higher education supplements it’s become increasingly difficult to get a release in the national press. On the flipside, the spread of the media has increased, with more digital publications surfacing and appealing to target audiences, which provides additional platforms to gain valuable coverage.
GRABBING ATTENTION IS KEY – unfortunately it’s not as easy as a few block capitals with journalists. Be bold, or even contrary, as this will make a journalist want to read on and ultimately run your piece. Consider your audience – with the increase in breadth of the media, you need to ensure your headline appeals to your target audience, which may now be wider (or narrower, if you’re solely targeting smaller publications). Make sure your headline is shareable, SEO friendly and above all, interesting – would you read this article?
The headline should always be active and don’t be personal – avoid ‘I’. Keep it short, to the point and easy to read – if it’s too long or includes jargon it will only distance your piece from the reader. Finally, there is a fine line between a snappy headline and one that loses focus of your target audience – it’s fine to get creative, but make sure you’re not being too clever otherwise the point you’re trying to make may be lost.
…However, if you look a little closer, or have somehow managed to block the words ‘Brexit’ and ‘Trump’ from appearing on your phone (please let us know how!), there have been a number of other news stories on the agenda in 2019 – each of which has provided coverage opportunities for the savvy PR operator.
Whether it be the US women’s national football team suing their governing body for gender pay discrimination or the #KuToo movement in Japan, where women are being forced to wear heels in the workplace, the topic of gender and diversity is one that is on the front pages of most news outlets. This is something that doesn’t look at changing any time soon, with the growing concern over gender discrimination and initiatives to attempt to eradicate this.
This trend has provided BlueSky with an opportunity to promote numerous voices from our clients, who are able to talk about gender diversity in general, and promote the research they have conducted in this area. For example, America Economia, the Latin-America news outlet centred an article around Imperial College Business School’s women’s network, which is a professional network equipping female graduates with knowledge and contacts. Whilst another client conducted a piece of research into the impact of gender in crowdfunding, which BlueSky distributed a press release on, which featured in Market Journal, Eurasia Review and Intelligent HQ.
The use of robotics in the workforce is nothing new, however stories regarding AI became particularly newsworthy this year when the UK police implemented facial recognition for the first time, in order to help solve crime. Though this futuristic technology sounds eerily like the beginning of the next Terminator film, it isn’t that extreme, these stories have actually focused on how robots and AI will impact our working lives and how industries and people should future-proof themselves against robots taking over their jobs (not the world!).
This trend provided us with the opportunity to gain some coverage for one of our clients, who recently launched an AI in Management institute, to research into the impact of AI on management and apply their findings to real-world business. The launch of this institute featured in QS Top MBA. The news trend of AI also lent itself to the business school world, with BlueSky securing coverage for a client in Biz-Ed Magazine in an article about how business schools can implement AI.
In May 2019, EU elections dominated the news agenda, with all European countries voting on their new MEP’s, including the UK despite anticipating leaving the EU in October. News stories around the EU in general became much more prominent, which gave BlueSky the opportunity to secure coverage for some of its clients.
For example, BlueSky secured a piece for a professor to talk about the eurozone, and how citizens were sold a lie and are now facing the consequences of this, in a Euro News article. Whilst an article in Forbes also gained a huge amount of coverage for a number of clients, focusing on the differences in management style country per country, throughout the whole of Europe.
In May 2019, countries around the world saw their young generation protest the little impact that governments have shown towards the climate change crisis. These protests looked at raising awareness of climate change, and forcing governments to take better action to tackle this. Climate change was an extremely hot topic, and something that virtually all news outlets were covering, including business school site, BusinessBecause. BlueSky secured an opportunity for professors to talk about climate change and what business schools must be doing about this issue in a BusinessBecause article.
…Well actually it’s both, but with the changing press landscape, it’s now arguably more important to know who to target than it is to be able to write newsworthy content. In fact, the publication you’re targeting, and more specifically the person you’re sending it to (and why), should be your first consideration.
Pitching to the right journalist is essential if your release is going to earn coverage. Identify the right person within the publication (is there an education correspondent?) and research their style of writing and the topics they like to cover – without appealing to these you’ll be immediately dismissed. Location should be considered as well, for example varying time zones will directly affect a journalist’s ability to interview your client at a time that suits them.
After the right contact is identified, it’s essential to know how to engage with a journalist. The busiest profession is always under debate, but there’s no doubt that journalism is up there. The never-ending calls and emails would drive even the sanest person mad! Therefore, it’s integral that you don’t annoy them to give your press release the best chance of getting coverage.
With this in mind…
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An effective pitch will be short and concise, journalists haven’t got time to read an essay on who you are and what you do (nor do they care!), and likewise don’t want a ten minute phone conversation. Develop an elevator pitch (not a sales pitch), be engaging and highlight how your piece is relevant to their readership straight away - wasting their time will only irritate them. Another top tip is to research press days, this is an extremely busy period and calling when the publication is going to press is likely to get you ignored, and potentially blacklisted.
Once a successful initial contact has been made, it’s important to build the relationship. Providing quality content on a regular basis with a succinct pitch is a great start, but reliability is paramount. Make sure you stick to deadlines or you risk tarnishing the positive working relationship you’ve built. Likewise, no one likes a diva – the nature of journalism means your article might be replaced by a more interesting story. If this happens stay professional and move on, otherwise they may be reluctant to deal with you next time.
Press coverage, particularly on the international stage, is one of the most important outcomes of PR for business schools. Whether you’re securing media interviews for travelling faculty, or you are the spokesperson yourself, being media trained is extremely advantageous when looking to nurture the relationships you have with the press.
There is a clear contrast in the way academic journals and the press releases covering their research are written – and if you want to gain coverage for your school, this needs to be reflected in your correspondence with the media. Using language that will resonate with the reader of the publication is vital – remember, they are unlikely to have a vigorous background in academia and will struggle to understand complex theories and jargon.
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…Woody Allen may have been talking about life, but it is relevant for PR as well. Being visible and taking every opportunity to talk to the media will only enhance your reputation and put you in favour with journalists. Not only this, but the more you speak to the press the better you will get at it – after all, practice makes perfect!
However, not everyone will be well versed in tackling the media. Firstly, ensure you know the organisation inside out, which shouldn’t be an issue for the faculty, but if you’re the spokesperson you need to be aware of the experts that you need to work with when the press come calling. Be strong and positive – avoid appearing nervous, hesitant or weak. To achieve this it’s important to prepare for any media interactions, have a company script and don’t defer from it – the press love a juicy story and any slip up could be detrimental, particularly in a crisis situation. One more important thing to remember is there is no such thing as off the record! Journalists can use anything you say to them, so if you feel like you need to say this beforehand then don’t say it at all – it could be damaging to you and your business school’s reputation.
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Being an effective media spokesperson ultimately comes down to relationships. Identify which media outlets are important for your organisation, know the relevant correspondents and actively build a relationship with them – this gives you the opportunity to get the best out of the good (and bad) stories.
Responding at speed will help develop your press relationships – quick and helpful replies will ensure you become the person to contact. Not only is this valuable for gaining great coverage, but also ensures a crisis situation can be averted, or at the very least the damage can be limited. If you don’t know an answer, honesty will always triumph – journalists can sniff out a lie and you will always be caught out. Instead, ask for a deadline and respond within this time – even if it’s to say you still don’t know but you’re actively working towards an answer, this will always sit better than hiding in the shadows.