THIS is how you reach small businesses (backed by new data)

Wondering how best to get your product in front of SMEs? Well, we surveyed 150 small business decision makers and they told us exactly what you need to do:

Invest in PR

Traditional media still reigns supreme, with 66% of small business decision makers keeping abreast of current affairs via TV news. National newspapers (52%), radio (48%) and local newspapers (47%) all featured heavily as well. While 23% cited business media as important sources of news. Interestingly, 38% told us that they tend to use national newspapers to find out about new products and services. And online media was the top source of business advice, cited by 66% of respondents.

Conclusion: if you want to get in front of this audience, then develop a small business-focussed PR strategy designed specifically for these media. Just like Xero did. Combine newsworthy campaigns with business advice, product reviews and thought leadership.

Don’t overlook search marketing

When investigating new products or services, a whopping 50% of small business decision makers turn to Google. That’s millions of potential customers searching for your products and services every day. This is only second to Facebook (used by 52%).

Conclusion: if you want to capture this incredible traffic, you need to get started on your B2B SEO strategy. And the best time to start that strategy was a year ago. The second best time is now. See how Nucleus Commercial Finance managed this. And note that if you want to make progress with B2B SEO, you need to invest resource into online PR as well, because this will form the link building component of your SEO strategy.

De-prioritise cold calling

Only 13% of small businesses find out about new products and services via direct calls from suppliers. Okay, 13% is still over 750,000 small businesses. BUT why invest in cold calling when small businesses have told us that they prefer online searches (50%), Facebook (52%) and YouTube (49%)?

Ignore social at your peril

We asked small business decision makers about their social media use and it is prolific! In fact, 78% use Facebook daily. That’s every day. A huge 71% use YouTube daily, followed by Instagram (59%) and Twitter (48%). And they’re not just looking at memes and gaming videos.

Social networks used daily by SME decision makers

On Facebook, they are keeping up to date with news (52%) and discovering new products (53%).

On YouTube, they are looking for new products and services (49%) and searching for business advice (56%).

Conclusion: to reach small businesses, you need to be supplementing your digital PR and search marketing strategies with social campaigns, like WorldPay did in this award-winning case study. And any good social media strategy will require some excellent video marketing skills – fortunately we know the perfect video production company. 

And if you need help reaching small businesses, you might want to contact our CEO, Heather. Having run her own small businesses for over a decade, been a founding member of the PRCA’s SME group, and UK president of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, she knows this space. You can contact her here. 

Digital PR case study: profile and leads for a financial betting company

The founders of, a fixed-odds financial betting website, had ambitious growth objectives. To achieve these they needed to make the brand famous and attract leads.


  • Build a solid media presence
  • Drive traffic to the site
  • Educate the public about fixed odds financial betting
  • Be positioned as the leading financial bookmaker
  • Generate new account registrations

Our strategy

We took a PR-led digital strategy aimed at saturating the financial press with BetsForTraders content, including:

  • Articles positioning BetsForTraders as the best way to make money on the stock markets, even during a recession
  • Daily and weekly stock market reports by the company’s market analyst, delivered at key story-production times to the financial press
  • Case studies in key media showcasing the site’s winners
  • Regular calls, interviews and market updates with the business media
  • A continued presence in the gaming press
  • Site vouchers as competition prizes in leading magazines, blogs and papers

The results

In only five months, this strategy delivered:

  • 328 pieces of coverage, with an audience reach in excess of 125 million
  • 58 pieces of national coverage, including The Times, The Independent , The Sun, The Guardian, Financial Times, Reuters, Forbes, Bloomberg, CNBC, and
  • An independently-verified 22% increase in recognition of the name BetsForTraders
  • Spikes in visitors to the site after key media announcements

The hype around the BetsForTraders brand created a surge in new player registrations and the site continued to grow. The founders exited via trade sale to a FTSE250 company. 

“I have been thoroughly impressed by the quality of service and value for money we have received from TopLine Comms. They keep abreast of current events, and are proactive about finding opportunities where we can comment. Thanks to TopLine, we have built up a name for ourselves with potential clients and are well known within the industry for having outstanding PR.”

Managing Director, 


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Journo intel: Amy Gibbons, from TES tells us about investigations, drum ‘n’ bass and birdwatching

Amy covers primary and early education at the TES. We spoke to her recently to find out more about her background, and tips she has for people looking to get in touch with her.

How did you first get into journalism?

When I decided to pursue English at university, it was more for my love of writing than anything else. I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do for a career. It wasn’t until I spotted the university newspaper in my welcome pack that I considered trying my hand at journalism. I went along to one of the introductory meetings and ran for deputy comment editor shortly afterwards. It was great fun and really helped boost my confidence. I went on to be elected deputy editor in my second year. I had a fantastic time managing my team, battling through gruelling production weeks that introduced me to black coffee (since ditched) and gallons of diet coke (sadly, still a staple part of my diet). I made friends for life and acquired the skills and contacts that would allow me to bag work experience placements – and, later, a place on the training course that paved the way to my first job in Ipswich.

What do you enjoy most about the job and what advice would you give to a teenage Amy who is just starting out?

I’ve always really enjoyed the creative process associated with journalism. Anyone who knows me will say I love a good investigation – especially if it involves spreadsheets, graphs, and charts. But I think my favourite part of the job has to be the rush of uncovering a good story and bringing it into the public eye; it’s excitement and nerves in equal measure.

What would I tell my younger self? Stay motivated and soak up all the knowledge you can. Also, I know you’re having fun, but you can’t hand in a copy of the student newspaper for your dissertation.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

As you can probably imagine, work has been very different since the pandemic hit. As I’m now based at home, my neighbour’s drum and bass music is often the soundtrack to my day – which is great when you’re questioning the Education Secretary live at the Downing Street briefing!

My work will vary hugely depending on what’s on the agenda that day: I might be covering a select committee hearing or virtual conference, sifting through new government data, recording a podcast, planning a radio interview or laying the groundwork for a long-form investigation. There’s never a shortage of stories at the moment, so once we’re done with one project, it’s on to the next. It’s pretty intense, but always exciting!

What makes a good story for you?

I work for a specialist publication, so the best stories for us are carefully tailored to our readers. They must be relevant, meaningful, and interesting. And they must push the news agenda – it’s fine to build on what we know, but we don’t want to be confined to old ground.

How do you prefer PRs and brands to work with you?

My favourite PRs to work with are open, friendly, and honest. When it comes to which approach works best, that depends on the purpose of our relationship: are you pitching something to me, or am I seeking a response from you? If it’s the former, please take the time to tailor your pitch; don’t send me stuff that bears no relevance to our readers. I do appreciate the effort, but I can guarantee you that my editor won’t go for a story about a tattoo parlour, furniture and pottery up for auction, or National Teddy Bear Day 2020 (yep – all emails I’ve actually received).

If I’m seeking comment from you, then responding quickly (even if it’s just to say you’re looking into it) really helps me out. Don’t be afraid to ask if you need clarification. It’s absolutely fine to flag any concerns, but the worst thing a PR can do is make demands of the journalist. I often have people tell me they want to check the copy before it goes live, so they can ensure it’s reported in a way they deem fit. To protect the integrity of the story, we verify all the facts with an impartial eye. To run the final version by a brand before publication would ultimately compromise our independence.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a journalist?

I love birds. Can I be a birdwatcher?

That’s all from Amy, but if you’re interested in learning more about how we conduct media relations at TopLine Comms, get in touch today!


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Our ten favourite science and engineering podcasts – and how to pitch them

As science and engineering PR specialists we like to look beyond the traditional media to find ways to reach a broad audience of professionals: scientists and engineers, business decision-makers in the sector and interested consumers. So, we asked our STEM team to curate a list of the best science and engineering podcasts. Here are their top ten.

Science Weekly – The Guardian

This award-winning podcast covers “the big discoveries and debates in biology, chemistry, physics – and sometimes even maths”. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Science Weekly podcast has focused on exploring crucial scientific questions about Covid-19. Led by its usual hosts Ian Sample, Hannah Devlin and Nicola Davis, as well as the Guardian’s Health Editor Sarah Boseley, it has been taking questions – some sent by readers – to experts on the frontline of the pandemic.

We recommend it if:

  • You want to hear expert opinions
  • You want a podcast that is well presented
  • You want to listen to something high-level

And if you want to get featured on the podcast… You would need to pitch journalists Ian Sample, Hannah Devlin and Nicola Davis. They’re interested in experts with strong opinions, so don’t try to flog a product to them!

Science Vs

We like Science Vs by Gimlet Media as it tries to weed out the fact from the tabloid-hyped fiction. It is one of the best in the game, and is hosted by science journalist Wendy Zuckerman.

We recommend it if:

  • You want something a bit lighter and easy to listen to
  • You want to know more about current fads and trends

And if you want to get featured on the podcast… This is a narrator-led podcast, rather than one that interviews experts, so if you would like to be featured on the podcast, we think you’d need to have a strong, expert opinion on a fad or trend. We recommend pitching Gimlet Media directly with a few ideas or suggestions (and perhaps asking them what subjects they are working on for upcoming episodes).


The Nature Podcast covers the best stories from the world of science. It’s a weekly podcast that involves interviews with scientists and analysis of stories. Topics are as diverse as cultivating cannabis to how birds see colour. The podcast is presented by various journalists, some English, some American, most of whom are documentary makers who have a keen sense of the dramatic stories and how to bring them to life.

We recommend it if:

  • You’re looking for a shorter podcast (episodes are 15-30 minutes long)
  • You want to hear about a range of scientific topics at a moderate knowledge level
  • You want to keep up to date on recent scientific papers

And if you want to get featured on the podcast… This is a narrator-led podcast with expert comments woven in. You would need a scientific paper that has been published in an academic journal to get on this one – preferably Nature.

BBC Inside Science

Hosted by Dr Adam Rutherford, with guests, this podcast aims to “illuminate the mysteries and challenge the controversies behind the science that’s changing our world.”

We recommend it if:

  • You want a podcast that covers a variety of topics in each episode
  • You’re after clear and concise information
  • You’d like to stay up to date with scientific debates without getting too stuck into details

And if you want to get featured on the podcast… Email

New Scientist

The New Scientist podcast brings you the most important, startling and just plain weird happenings in the world of science. The podcast is presented each week by New Scientist’s Rowan Hooper, the podcast editor, and Penny Sarchet, the news editor, with guests from the publication’s expert editorial staff.

Introduced with a unique blend of verve, insight and extraordinary attention to detail, the show is essential listening for anyone interested in how the world works, how life evolved… and whether the creation of a nano-sized wormhole in the fabric of space-time is a cause for concern.

We recommend it if:

  • You want to listen to a well-rounded podcast
  • You’re after clear and concise information
  • You like attention to detail

And if you want to get featured on the podcast… They want opinionated, interesting guests to feature on the ‘Big Interview’ slot. Leading author Rana Foroohar, Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist of conservation charity WWF and Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the UK’s Royal Society are all guests that have appeared on the show.

The Amp Hour Podcast

The Amp Hour is an unscripted radio show that airs on Thursdays every week, focussing on the electronics industry. Topics covered can be anything from homemade electrical appliances to ultra-sophisticated electronics. Explicit language is occasionally used!

We recommend it if:

  • You’re particularly interested in electronics engineering
  • You’re looking for regular content and information on engineering
  • You’re interested in both highly complex engineering and the basics
  • You want to keep up with new tech advances in this sector

And if you want to get featured on the podcast… Email Guests range from advanced hobbyists working on exciting new projects up through C-level executives at a variety of relevant and innovative companies.

WIRED podcast

Listen to the WIRED podcast every week for an informed and entertaining rundown of latest technology, science, business and culture news. WIRED’s audio offerings pull back the curtain on the ways that technology is changing our lives – from culture to business, science to design – providing meaning and context to the people and forces upending the world.

We recommend it if:

  • You want a sideways look at the week in tech, culture, science and politics
  • You want to skip the gadget chat in favour of more interesting topics
  • You like short, insightful podcasts

And if you want to get featured on the podcast… Send James Temperton or one of the team an email or tweet him.

Omega Tau

Omega Tau covers interesting topics in science and engineering. The podcast is produced in both German and English with episodes alternating weekly.

We recommend it if:

  • You’d like to cover a broad range of engineering and science topics
  • You appreciate a well-organised and well-produced podcast
  • You’re looking for engaging content
  • You’re interested in finding out how things are designed, created and the methodology behind this

And if you want to get featured on the podcast… Contact the hosts and editors, Markus Völter and Nora Ludewig, at @omegataupodcast on Twitter. They like to visit interesting locations and facilities to speak with on-site experts, but they are also willing to speak to interesting guests over the phone.

99% invisible

99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture by creator and host Roman Mars. Although it is more focused on the designing element of architecture and the world around us, it is always engaging for an engineer to examine and understand new concepts and ways of thinking.

We recommend it if:

  • You’re a curious about the unnoticed design details that shape our world
  • You’re looking for engaging content
  • You’re a bit of a nerd

And if you want to get featured on the podcast… Get in touch via their contact form.

The Infinite Monkey Cage

The Infinite Monkey Cage is a BBC Radio 4 show presented by famed British physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince. The Independent described it as a “witty and irreverent look at the world according to science!”

We recommend it if:

  • You want something which is not too simple or too complicated)
  • You want to listen to a panel-discussion style podcast
  • You want some comedy mixed with knowledge
  • You appreciate an engaging and easy to follow podcast

And if you want to get featured… Follow Robin and Brian on Twitter and contact them there, or email

You might also like: Our 18 best space videos.

Journo intel: Junior Isles, editor-in-chief, The Energy Industry Times on woolly phrasing, timing and bad PR habits

Since 1988, Junior has worked as a technical journalist in the electronics, communications and power generation sectors. We were lucky enough to catch up with him and get some insight on what makes a good story, what he wants from companies interested in working with him and what good PR agencies do.

What makes a good story for you?

I think above all else, stories are about timing. I’ll give you an example, an extreme case, I admit, but it helps make my point. If the queen dies, you would automatically expect it to be on the front page of every UK newspaper. But what if, on the same day, it was announced that an asteroid was about to obliterate the planet? The queen’s untimely demise would likely be demoted or not covered at all; it was bad timing. So, it’s a case of the story having to be topical as well as having the biggest impact on the widest audience. Sometimes a story can be a first, an exclusive, or something totally unique but that isn’t always enough; it should also have broad appeal. This is especially true for B2B publications like The Energy Industry Times.

What do you wish that brands would do more (or less) of?

I don’t like to paint everyone with the same brush but a growing number of brands are becoming less and less willing to share details; instead they’d rather replace solid facts or data with woolly phrases and marketing speak. This is especially frustrating for us technology editors. It’s odd because those same brands always want details. But where do they expect editors to get them if they are increasingly reluctant to share them?

As editor of a well-established magazine, how are you negotiating the switch towards digital and social?

Personally, it’s a difficult switch; I don’t know how people find enough time in the day to fit it in! And old habits die hard. But it’s a case of constantly reminding yourself that people are increasingly consuming media in a different way and trying to meet that need.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the agenda for your readers?

It probably depends on where you fit in in the energy business. The pandemic has forced a large part of the workforce to operate remotely. For engineers in the field it has meant making greater use of technology such as remote diagnostics, for example. For those in areas such as marketing, media relations or events, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become their best friends!

What have you observed about working with PR agencies? What works and what doesn’t?

Good PR agencies will not only facilitate interviews and help you build relationships, they will also generate good pitch ideas and follow through on delivering. They also don’t pester you after every single press release pitch. The bad ones are just the opposite and really are more of a hindrance than a help – an unnecessary extra hurdle.

If you weren’t a journalist what would you be?

A singer/songwriter no doubt! But you never know; it’s never too late!

Curious to know a bit more about how we do media relations at TopLine Comms? Get in touch with us today.


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Fintech for good: Spreading the word on Soldo’s coronavirus aid initiative (European PR case study)

At the beginning of the Covid-19 lockdown in Europe, Soldo quickly adapted its business spending platform to enable the distribution of emergency aid to vulnerable citizens via prepaid cards. This initiative was called Soldo Care.

Soldo offered local authorities, councils and charities use of its platform and prepaid Mastercards® free of charge, so that those in need could access aid in a fast, convenient, and safe way.

Soldo needed to get the message out quickly and encourage associations to use its platform.


  • Quickly generate awareness of the Soldo Care initiative to local authorities and charities.
  • Achieve quality, multinational coverage.

The challenge

  • With the news agenda completely swamped by Covid-19, the story needed to have sharp cut through to appeal to saturated journalist inboxes.
  • Many brands tried to capitalise on the pandemic with free product offers and discounts, so the pitch needed to be careful not to present Soldo in this light.

Our Strategy

  • We focused on the first customer to adopt Soldo Care – the Municipality of Milan – and created a case-study-led story which highlighted the support the initiative brought to tens of thousands of Milanese citizens.
  • We explained how Soldo was able to make this service available so quickly, via its proprietary tech stack.

The work included:

  • Developing key messages.
  • Pan-European media relations (UK, FR, NL, GER, IT, ESP).
  • Full spokesperson media briefing.
  • Bespoke media release pitching and follow-ups.
  • Planning a comprehensive media Q&A.


Over two weeks, the campaign achieved:

  • 90 media hits (all positive).
  • 3 tier one interviews, including the
  • European national coverage, including Les Echos.
  • Coverage in top tier fintech


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Journo intel: Matthew Garrahan, Financial Times news editor on Covid, corporate smear jobs, and the ideal dinner party

Matthew Garrahan is news editor at the FT. He has worked for the paper for over 20 years and took over as editor early last year. Our media relations team recently had a chance to listen to Matthew’s thoughts on coronavirus, life at the FT, and what he looks for as an editor.

How have Matthew and the rest of the FT team been managing in the age of coronavirus?

Interestingly, Matthew said that he had been coming into the office all the way through the lockdown. Their reporters are all remote, although a few have started to return sporadically. They’ve had to be nimble to adapt, but with Google Hangouts and Slack, they have managed to keep connected.

When it comes to reporting on the coronavirus, the FT team were inundated with stories on testing, vaccines, infection numbers, lockdowns, and so on. They needed one focal point, so Matthew created a new virtual reporting team with a single editor, Barney Jopson. They also launched a daily blog, so all reporters across the FT can file reports on Covid from their respective countries or beats.

Matthew says that they have also tinkered with the subscription model. Now, a couple of stories are available to read for free every day, ensuring everyone has access to important stories – and of course, pandemic coverage is always free. In fact, their coronavirus tracking page has been the most popular piece of FT journalism ever produced, and their US election tracker is also killing it.

What does a typical day as news editor of the FT look like?

According to Matthew, they are staffed from 7am, and their colleagues on the news desk start at 7am and work until 3pm. His day starts at 8:30am, with a 15-minute call with desk heads to get a sense of the biggest stories of the day. He also meets with the world news editor, Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, the companies editor Tom Braithwaite, and the UK news editor, Andrew Parker. This leaves him with the top stories to think about as they formulate the home page. At 10am, he meets with Roula Khalaf, the editor.

By this point, he said, the companies, tech, and UK desks all have a list of stories and a sense of when they will be ready – and they’re also thinking about stories for the next day. Political and earnings news is usually ready from the off at 7am, or even earlier. The FT operates two different homepages, UK and international, and Matthew said that they aim to have the international page set up for the US at around midday GMT.

Matthew told us that most of the traffic is in the morning in the UK, Europe. and the US. Every afternoon and evening at the editorial conference, they put together a list for the next morning with scoops for the early morning rush, when most people are reading. Twenty years ago, journalists worked towards an end-of-the-day print deadline and that was it, you sent the paper off to the printers. Now, their organisation is engineered around hitting peak traffic points. The FT do still publish papers, of course, and Matthew said that at the end of the day, a separate print team pulls out the best stories and slots them into the newspaper.

How does he see the coronavirus crisis impacting the media market?

Matthew reported that the impact of Covid has been catastrophic. Generally, he said, advertising is in serious trouble and the free to air broadcast market is too. The shift away from normal TV viewing patterns toward streaming has accelerated. For newspapers, advertising has also taken a massive hit, which has again accelerated their push into digital. Matthew believes that print businesses without subscription models are in serious trouble.

This is a tough time for reporters to be making contacts, Matthew added. He said he has heard that some are going on socially distanced walks in the park instead of lunches or other sorts of meetings.

Fortunately, Matthew told us, the FT is doing well. Digital subscriptions were up by 12% in the first six months of 2020 compared to last year, and trial subscriptions doubled. Online traffic has gone through the roof, exceeding the previous records set during the summer of Brexit.

The pandemic has also reshaped news consumption in interesting ways, Matthew concluded. During the pandemic, the FT has found that there is a second surge in visits to the site in the evenings, so they freshen up the home page at around 5pm. They usually publish a new splash spot – a big news story of the moment – and a standalone – a secondary piece, usually a feature or piece of analysis – which will be there for several hours. He said he had recently noticed that Saturdays, which used to be a real dead-zone, are now attracting a significant audience too.

Where does he think the news business goes from here?

At the FT, they’re focussing on the new, post-pandemic world. Matthew says that they’re going to tell big stories in a measured way and break real news that readers want to read. Readers want to pay for that, and for analysis and commentary on the issues that matter to them.

As a news editor, Matthew is looking for news that brings people to the site. Long, well-considered work that reporters spend a while on usually does well, and he thinks that the pandemic has shown that there is an audience for good, strong journalism.

For instance, Matthew is proud of everybody’s work on the Wirecard story – especially since behind the scenes there was incredible pressure. A German regulator was suing one of the FT reporters, people were running smears and using private detectives on the reporters, and even trying to listen in on meetings. Lionel, the former editor, backed the reporters and the truth came out.

What’s his view on Sunday for Monday stories?

Matthew says that they still need them, since the FT still puts out a paper on Monday. A good Sunday for Monday is a great thing to have, he added. That said, he thinks less about the print schedule and more about the strength of the story. Josh Noble runs the desk Saturday and Sunday.

The FT gets sent loads of rubbish, Matthew said, but they’re always happy to hear when someone is reaching out on behalf of a company doing interesting things. If you think you have something for the opinion section, Matthew asks that you send it to their commentary desk, which is run by Brooke Masters.

If Matthew could host a lunch with anyone, who would he invite?

He had a good run reporting in LA, and he still pays attention to US politics, so he’d like to sit down with Trump. He’d also love the opportunity to meet with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings.

That’s all from Matthew, but if you would like to learn more about how we conduct media relations at TopLine Comms, get in touch today!

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10 questions to ask before signing with a B2B PR agency

Before any big investment, it’s important to do your homework and fully understand what you’re getting for your money. This holds true when you’re choosing a B2B PR agency, but it can be difficult to gauge the expertise of the team, its concentrated creativity, and relationships with the media from just a few meetings and calls. Here are ten questions you can ask a prospective B2B PR agency to determine whether they’re up to the task.

1. What objectives will a B2B PR agency help you to achieve?

Working with a B2B PR agency is a brilliant way to generating awareness and build business and individual profiles. However, it is not a tool that will singlehandedly generate leads and new sales directly or quickly – and you should be cautious of any agency that tells you it will. In turn, a good agency should want to know from you how PR fits into the marketing mix.

2. How can we make PR a part of our lead generation mix?

While PR on its own may not directly equate to ROI, there are ways to align it with your overall marketing strategy to ensure all your efforts pull in the right direction. Consider adopting a digital PR strategy that helps with your link building efforts together with brand awareness objectives. Effective digital PR services should improve both search visibility and brand recognition as part of a larger lead generation strategy.

3. How will success be measured?

Once the objectives are clear and agreed, make sure KPIs are in place to track the B2B PR agency’s progress against your goals. These should be reported monthly and analysed at least once per quarter. Find out how the agency reports, and ensure the frequency and format of their reports can work for your internal purposes.

4. How long will it take to get results?

This really depends on how newsworthy the things your company has to talk about are. Additionally, it takes time to build media relationships – journalist ‘favours’ are few and far between, no matter how good the agency’s media relations little black book is.

Your best chance of getting an answer is to discuss results with the agency as part of KPI setting. At TopLine Comms, our first month of a client retainer is a planning month, which includes media outreach to help shape our strategy. With this approach, we’re usually able to see results by week six.

5. What’s included in media relations?

We all flip between print, online, audio and video seamlessly throughout the day – and your media relations approach needs to reflect this. Ask the B2B PR agency what their strategy is for targeting different media formats – not just different publications. If your audience is international, they should also offer answers that demonstrate an understanding of how the media operates differently across regions. For profile building, the agency should also consider whether your spokespeople are media trained and offer support if they are not.

6. What counts as a result?

The agency should provide detailed audience insight – what they listen to, watch and read – and this audience-centric approach, aligned to your objectives, should be used to benchmark the value placed on results. For instance, if you are looking to create mass-market awareness for your brand, then the focus should be national and broadcast media coverage. If your brand is more niche, then quality, in depth coverage in the relevant trade media is the way to go.

7. Who will be working on my account?

Some agencies use pitch teams, others – TopLine Comms included – take the approach that clients prefer to meet the team they’ll be working with day to day. A good agency will want to invest the time of their people in understanding your business, and the sooner this starts, the better.

8. How does the pricing or retainer work?

Some agencies work on a project basis, some work on retainers, and many will work both ways. It’s important to get a full understanding of the costs involved in either. Ask about external costs and the agency’s policy on expenses, travel time, and who pays for media monitoring and clippings. A detailed breakdown will help you to assess whether the agency is the right partner from a budgetary perspective.

9. What will you need from us?

A good agency will aim to be self-sufficient, but they can’t see through the walls of your organisation. In our experience, brands get the most out of agencies when they provide them with access. Try to get a clear understanding of what the agency needs during their onboarding process. If you want to be an excellent client, start gathering these details as early as possible and agree a plan for providing information going forward.

10. What processes are involved?

A great B2B PR agency should be agile and flexible – news moves fast and so must PR – but this doesn’t mean that process goes out the window. If your business has rigid processes, it’s important that the agency understands them, and that you understand the way the agency operates.

Now that you know what to ask a B2B PR agency, get in touch with us today.

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Written by: Katy Bloomfield, Head of Client Relations


How to write a press release

The humble press release is among the oldest and most commonly-used (and abused) tools in the PR toolkit, but don’t be mistaken – it is also one of the most powerful. It’s a clear, succinct and widely accepted way to get news into the hands of journalists. (Oh and the image above is a really old ‘press release’ – the cave-wall depiction of a pig and buffalo hunt is the world’s oldest recorded story according to archaeologists who discovered the work on the Indonesian island Sulawesi – the scientists say the scene is more than 44,000 years old! More on that here: Is this cave painting humanity’s oldest story?)

As an award-winning B2B PR agency, we’ve written a few press releases in our time – thousands in fact. We also pride ourselves on our press contacts, and we’ve asked some of them (including journos from the BBC, Sun and Daily Express), what makes a great one.


What is a press release?

A press release is a document that organisations use to share news with journalists. Press releases usually adhere to a strict format to make it easy for a journalist to write a story on the subject.

Organisations hoping to attract news coverage can write their own press releases or work with a PR agency to write one. The standard press release structure typically involves a headline, subhead, two paragraphs detailing the news, relevant quotes and contact information – more on the format later.

The finished release is then sent directly to relevant journalists – more on this later, too. Press releases are also sometimes called ‘news releases’ or ‘media releases’.

Even in the modern era, the humble press release still plays a vital role in many digital PR campaigns. Learn more about some of the other key elements in our blog – what is digital PR?

What makes a good press release?

A press release must be used for news – essentially, interesting, new information that people may want to read. Common complaints from journalists include: “That’s not very interesting”; “That is not new”; “Company releases product is what companies are supposed to do – that’s advertorial not editorial”; “ We don’t care about your new office”. As the aphorism goes, people aren’t interested in ‘dog bites man’, but ‘man bites dog’ is worth reading about. If in doubt, look at existing news coverage for a deeper understanding of the types of stories that are of interest to the media.

Quantifying ‘newsworthiness’ seems like an impossible challenge, but in 2017, Tony Harcup and Deirdre O’Neill published a paper in Journalism Studies entitled ‘What is News?’. This excellent, easy-to-read academic article provides 15 criteria to help identify stories that are likely to succeed.

According to researchers Harcup and O’Neill, criteria that make a press release newsworthy include:

  • Exclusivity
  • Bad news
  • Conflict
  • Surprise
  • Unique audio or visuals
  • Shareability
  • Entertainment
  • Drama
  • Follow-up
  • The power elite
  • Relevance
  • Magnitude
  • Celebrity
  • Good news
  • Stories that fit the news organisation’s agenda

A newsworthy story should include at least one of these criteria, but even the academics conclude that there’s an element of ‘I know it when I see it’ to newsworthiness.

What makes a bad press release?

We’ve pitched a lot of press releases – or rather we’ve pitched a lot of stories encapsulated in press release format. In the early days we were shouted at by our fair share of journalists for pitching them boring stories and wasting their time. We stopped doing that. As such, whenever a company asks us to pitch a non-newsworthy story we make the following points:

  1. If we do that it’ll damage the media’s opinion of said company
  2. Do it too often and said company runs the risk of the media ignoring anything interesting they have to say in future
  3. If we pitch rubbish then it impacts our other clients who are also interested in the same journalists. We would be doing them a disservice by doing that

Dont just take it from us though. We asked a few of our contacts about the press release subjects that annoy them the most.

Ryan Morrison at Daily Mail Online said: “I don’t think I’ve ever run a story on a company winning an award, rarely write a story on a company winning a new contract or about the promotion or appointment of a new executive.

“The exception to the new executive rule is if it is a huge name – so if Elon Musk becomes CEO of Apple for example. For the winning a new contract – it would need to be high profile or related to a high profile story – Nokia winning a BT contract for 5G kit for example.

“I rarely even open emails about an award or new contract unless it is a very high profile company, and even then it would need to be particularly interesting or unusual.”

Geoffrey Carr, science and technology editor at The Economist also chipped in with the following: “The thing I hate most is a content field that starts with stuff like “Embargoed until DATE/TIME”. I don’t care about that. I want a quick summary of the story. If it is embargoed, I’ll probably be able to work that out.”

How to write a press release that journalists want to read

At TopLine Comms, we’re all about personalised, high quality media relations. We’ve written in the past about how to pitch journalists and how to handle media interviews, but for this blog on what makes a good press release, we think its best that you hear from the journalists themselves.

The journalists all agreed that the most important sentence in the entire release is the first one. Will Smale of the BBC said: “What is the story about? Tell me in the first sentence.” Jane Warren of the Daily Express colourfully described the first line as, “an arresting standfirst that distils the essence of the release with flair!”

Tara Evans of The Sun said that a good release should include “all the information, pics (in high res), and relevant contact info.” She says it should “never be attached as a PDF, always in the body of the email.”

Susie Bearne, a freelance media consultant who has written for the BBC and The Guardian, among others, advocated for a temperate tone. She said: “Use your quotes as a way to add extra insight. So many quotes are just tagged on, with words such as ’I’m delighted that…’. Stop right there. Of course you’re delighted, we can see your press release. We’ll only end up cutting that jargon and nonsense out. Also, stop using capital letters for job titles.”

Finally, the journalists also called for organisations to consider who they’re actually sending releases to, in Rachel Hall of The Guardian’s words, “think about why the editor’s specific readership would care about a story and articulate that clearly at the top.” Sean Coughlan of the BBC agreed: “Remember who it’s being sent to rather than who it’s being sent from. A problem with many press releases is that they’re of more interest and relevance to the organisation sending them than to the recipient or the reader.”

The best press release structure

Writing a press release isn’t a creative task; it’s a formula. Adhering to the standard form of a press release makes it easy to parse for time-pressed journalists – straying from the path when writing a press release will almost certainly get your story tossed out.

Throughout, the news should be written in the present tense and framed in terms of its larger consequences – who it helps, why it matters, what about it is newsworthy – not its relationship to the company. Never repeat a detail and keep jargon to a minimum. Journalists tend to prefer releases in the body of an email rather than as an attachment, and they shouldn’t be longer than a page.

The best press release format is a so-called ‘inverted pyramid’, much like a newspaper article, which offers the story in increasing levels of detail as the reader progresses through it. Here is how that breaks down:

  • Headline: short and punchy and focused on the most surprising, newsworthy element of the story.
  • Sub-header: should provide a sentence or two of detail, if necessary.
  • Opening paragraph: always starts with the dateline in the format: day, month, year, location of news, country. The first paragraph should convey the key points as if you were telling someone about the news in a lift. It should include a summary of the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘why’ of the story in no more than two sentences.
  • Second paragraph: should include the rest of the detail to support the first paragraph.
  • Quote one: quotes are a great way to bring a story to life, explain why it matters and insert a little bit of extra information. Remember, your CEO might not be best placed to quote – maybe you need to include a quote from someone the news has actually impacted.
  • Quote two: any other relevant spokespeople?
  • Closing paragraph: this is your chance to add a little bit of extra information that didn’t fit in earlier sections. It can be up to five sentences long – but it’s unlikely that readers make it this far. At the end of the release, write -ENDS- on a line by itself to clearly indicate that’s your lot to anyone reading it.
  • Contact details: if they have made it this far, they are probably looking for more information, so it’s important to offer a way to get in touch in case the journalist wants additional information/clarification.
  • Notes to editors: this is where you put any information which may be useful for journalists which doesn’t fit in the main release.

Don’t forget…

Press releases are designed for news. If you don’t have any (and we appreciate knowing what is newsworthy and what isn’t can be a challenge in itself if it’s not something you do day to day) then they’re often not an appropriate format for your PR efforts. Don’t spam journalists with irrelevant material – you’ll damage your reputation with them and make it more likely any genuine news you send over will be ignored.

Struggling to make headway on a press release? Give us a shout!