Journo intel: City A.M. editor Christian May on Covid and podcasting

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown journalism into chaos, and whilst online readership might be going up, ad revenue has plummeted, leaving countless journalists furloughed. In this tough environment, we were fortunate to gain some insight on a webinar with Christian May, editor at City A.M., to find out more.

How has the coronavirus affected the paper?

At City A.M., we quickly pivoted to deal with the crisis. We have just over 30 editorial staff including production, a night team, design team, and more. Unfortunately, now that we can’t work in the office we have had to furlough two-thirds of the staff. That left us with a core staff of 10 journalists, all working remotely, while Joe Curtis and Andy Silvester remotely maintain the editorial presence.

On the upside, two or three million people a week are visiting the site, which is fantastic, and it goes to show the popularity of the organisation. All of those years we have invested in building trust with the people of England are truly paying off.

The money online isn’t quite what it is for print advertising money, however, I reckon that we will be ok once things get back on track. In the meantime, the ad market will wait in high anticipation of the return!

How are you managing?

I escaped London before the lockdown with my pregnant wife and 3-year-old to a small flat in Devon. My wife works full time too, so we divide the day, and only really have time to catch up when we pass on the stairs and at the end of the day.

I come online at 10 AM and sign off 12 hours later. We have an editorial call in the morning, usually around 11 AM, where people talk about what they’re working on. After that, the team stay in close contact on WhatsApp to make sure we’re juggling everything. Putting an entire newspaper together remotely like this is certainly possible, but I wouldn’t want to do it forever!

What have you been working on?

I recently launched the daily City AM podcast. After thinking about it for two years, I finally have the time to do it, and it’s always great to chat with someone interesting. So far, it’s doing very well with huge demand. If you’re interested in listening, it’s available through all major podcast apps.

This month is already all booked up, but we’re looking for future guests. We have a high standard for the podcast, and we look for confident, senior, and experienced guests with strong opinions that they’re ready to back up. I expect to continue the podcast beyond the crisis, so we’ll need new people to talk with.

What stories are getting traction?

The biggest stories coming through are about the way people work, both now and as we reopen. Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan have said they won’t be going back to the way things were, for instance. Similarly, one law firm CEO was paying hundreds of thousands to rent office space, but now that everybody is working remotely, he has determined he doesn’t need to anymore: Why spend millions a year on property he doesn’t need? I expect to see a massive impact on the commercial property market.

We have reporters on shift from 7 AM until and some work as late as 11 PM. Our reporter in the lobby in Westminster has been extremely busy, and our markets and economics reporter has never been busier! There is a significant interest in tech, media, marketing, and banking. On a positive note, we’re always keen to hear about businesses that are doing alright and finding success in these turbulent times. Anything about how companies are responding and adapting to the crisis is popular. However, there is no shortage of news, and unfortunately, the team doesn’t have the resources to notice absolutely everything that is interesting.

How do you like to be pitched?

I’m pleased to report that I haven’t noticed a deterioration of comms and media relations! Everything has been good, and if anything, it has reminded us that effective communications are particularly important in times of uncertainty and change.

Submitting news stories with lead time is always welcome. Two or three days in advance is really excellent, and we appreciate it. We respect embargoes at City A.M. Please don’t be disheartened if you get a fairly abrupt ‘no,’ there was a time when I could talk to 20 people to hear pitches, but it’s just not possible now.

If you’re up early and ready to pitch on a time-sensitive story, Joe Curtis is the earliest on shift, so reach out to him. From the beginning of the month, people from the comments and features desk will return, and this will give Andy – who has been single-handedly manning those responsibilities – some much-needed breathing space!

That’s it from Christian for now. His second child is due in five or six weeks, and we wish him and his wife all the best.

We’re always happy to talk digital PR strategies and advise on how you can overcome communications challenges during the crisis and beyond. Find out what we can do for your business by contacting us today – and keep an eye out for our future interviews with more leading journalists.

 

Written by: Ben Beckles, Media Relations Consultant at TopLine Comms

Case study approvals – how can you persuade customers to say ‘yes’

Getting customers to approve case studies that provide third-party endorsement of your products and services can be hard. Indeed, when we meet prospective science and engineering clients they often tell us that they have tried doing case studies, but could never get them approved. So they went into the ‘too hard to do’ box. That’s a shame. Because case studies prove that you don’t just talk a great game, you actually play a great game. However, there is no need to despair. Just follow these tried and tested steps and you can significantly improve your chances of approval.

Ask early

The single most common mistake is to research and draft a case study, and then present it to your customer for review. If they decide not to approve you have wasted a considerable amount of time and effort in the process. Instead, before you write a single word, approach your customer for outline approval. This should be along the lines “we would like to write a case study about the work we have done for you, would you have any problems in approving it”? If the answer is no, then you know upfront. Very little time and money is wasted and you can move on to the next opportunity.

Ask nicely

From experience, many customers really appreciate that they have been asked for outline approval rather than assuming that it will be granted. They also like to know why you are asking, why the case study will be important for you and how you intend to use it.

Ask the right people

It is absolutely critical that you seek approval from the right people at the appropriate levels. Of course, it is important to get outline approval from the project managers and procurement people you work with on a day to day basis. Your approval will go nowhere without their blessing. But they rarely have the final say. You need to get your approval ratified by the people ultimately responsible for you customer’s reputation – which will be their communications team.

Detail what you need

Your main aim is probably to create a case study sheet that you can use on your website and as a sales aid. There are though many other ways to use case studies, possibly as press releases, as the basis for feature articles and in brochures. When you ask for outline approval, be sure to detail all the ways that you expect to use the case study in future. That saves having to go back for further approvals.

Also, you will need good images to illustrate the story, so you might need permission to take photographs. And for very important stories video will be needed. Include your needs for photography and video in the initial request.

Sometimes, you will need a case study for a particular event, such as an exhibition. If there is a hard deadline you are working to then let your customer know and they can advise you if approval by then is feasible.

Go the extra mile

It is entirely feasible to research and write a case study from your desk. But I would always recommend, where possible, going to the site and meeting your customer. Seeing the story for yourself will give you the extra detail that makes the story fly. And there is a real benefit in meeting the people who will finally approve your drafts. Once they have met you face to face, and had a coffee with you, they buy into the whole process. And that all helps to smooth the way for prompt and easy approval.

Put approval in the contract

If you are working on a project or order that is really important for you to publicise then consider making the right to carry out publicity an integral part of the contract. The customer can only say no if you suggest this. And I have known this to be a useful factor in the contract negotiation process.

Help nurture an approval culture

I am staggered at the number of companies, often large multi-nationals, who will not allow third-party case studies as a matter of policy. Yet these very same companies have web sites where they proudly feature case studies about their own customers. We live in a world where the supplier/customer role can quickly interchange. Personally, I advise our clients, where possible, to always agree to case study requests. Because you never know when your supplier might become a customer.

Gaining approvals can seem a daunting process. But they can become a joy by following the simple steps outlined above. And the process gets even faster and easier when you work with a consultancy steeped in the case study business like TopLine. Not only can we create a case study from initial research to final approval, but we will also handle the approvals from start to finish. To find out how we can help you with your own case studies please get in touch.

 

Written by: Andrew Bartlett, Director at TopLine Comms

Journo intel: The Sunday Times business editor Oliver Shah on a new Covid concierge, lockdown winners and Sir Phillip Green

Our tireless media relations team spends a lot of time picking the brains of various journalist contacts. In this edition of ‘Journo intel’ we spoke to The Sunday Times Business Editor and author of Damaged Goods: The Rise and Fall of Sir Philip Green, Oliver Shah, to find out how things have changed for him and his team during lockdown.

What changes have you seen in the way you’re working?

Tech has worked very well for us so far during the pandemic, which has come as an unexpected surprise. A usual working week for my team is Tuesday-Saturday. Under normal circumstances, Tuesday and Wednesday would see us out and about having breakfast, lunches, and other meetings.

Obviously, this is impossible right now, so everyone is extremely reliant on existing contacts. The situation also makes it harder to establish new relationships. I personally believe that remote working can work, and I’ve found that my days are more intense. This is true for a lot of us, with many people unintentionally working more than they did in the office. The once-universal commute is now pretty much non-existent, so we can all wake up and start the day from the off!

What’s life like away from the office?

The Sunday Times has in fact brought a few people back to the office, although it has changed drastically. Things are so much quicker when there is a physical presence! Hand sanitisers are everywhere, there are red and green desks spaced out to enforce social distancing, and we even have a concierge in the lift to press the buttons.

The buzz and interaction of a newsroom is irreplaceable and a driving force for us as journalists, but for the time being it’s quiet. I go into the office Thursday to Saturday to put the paper to bed.

What’s the media landscape like out there right now?

It is a news-rich time right now, so ‘if you can’t make hay you might as well go home,’ as they say! Now is the time to dig in and deliver readers cutting edge stories. Sunday papers rely on exclusives and insights with lots of colour and details and although the daily papers are more consistently intense, Sunday papers build up toward Saturday and it becomes increasingly busy toward the end of every week.

The lifeblood of Sunday journalism is getting new information and intelligence from different sources. Deadlines are no more difficult than before, and it remains a matter of setting the agenda and getting ahead of things – though this is easier said than done. It’s a sign that the salmon are running, and you should be catching them! There’s more focus on digital now, print circulation numbers are off a bit, but digital subscriptions are up substantially. We also focused more on the app and online content, and we’re even seeing established readers start to switch.

What are you interested in?

The Sunday mandate is to look ahead toward what’s coming round the corner and use that to set the agenda. The debate is turning to the economy now and away from health. The furlough scheme has acted like a painkiller, but what will happen when it ends? Should we expect 10 percent unemployment for five years?

Key areas of interest for The Sunday Times are jobs, work, unemployment, debt hangover, and other matters that boil down to ‘how do we clean this mess up?’. Strategic support from individual companies would be great and makes for interesting reading.

Will things return to normality? Are there any opportunities following the crisis?

I reckon capitalism will return, but in the short term, people would be wise to trade in dividends and turn down high executive pay. The scale of the job destruction and permanent elimination of many roles, combined with corporate failure, will have a huge impact. Companies that don’t need to take advantage of bailouts shouldn’t, because the unwinding of public debt will be a generational issue.

Personally, I think RBS has done well and supported SMEs. Similarly, supermarkets have generally done a good job keeping supply chains going, while big tech companies will emerge in good health. Insurers have given themselves a bad reputation though for not paying out, so it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

There will be a significant shift to automation and unions will lose more power. As companies move towards automation, there will be a smokescreen for people who want to take on opportunities that they couldn’t otherwise. For example, we’ll see a lot off opportunistic M&A, and plenty of nips and cuts to the workforce.

Back in 2008, everyone said ‘we won’t carry this much debt again’, and ‘we’ll never be this asset light’. Three years later, the risk was back. Over the next few years, businesses should turn their attention to pay and balance sheets, and we have a lot of stories along those lines to come.

What has your experience of comms been?

In general, people have been great in emails. I’m looking for more public leadership, and I always want to hear from opinionated spokespeople: people who sit on the fence aren’t as interesting! In the long term, I’m dying to get back to face to face meetings, networking and events. It’s simply too hard to replicate the spontaneity and human spark online!

Same as always: good media relations is about knowing the publication, what they’re interested in and the journalist’s areas of focus. It is more difficult to network right now, so impromptu stuff is tricky. This is an unprecedented state for media, so it’s all about knowing the priorities and avoiding quirky but unfocused news.

We need optimism. There are lots of winners coming out of the crisis. Last month The Sunday Times profiled five small online businesses making hay. Tech companies like Moon Pig and other nimble operators are also coming through, making good money and creating jobs. Boohoo, Asos and the like will also prosper.

Have you spoken to Phillip Green!?

I can confirm I’ve heard from Phillip Green!

Having a B2B PR agency that spends time crafting interesting, relevant pitches is more important than ever before – take it from the national editors we’ve interviewed! Drop us a message today, to find out more.

What is digital PR?

Digital PR is the use of online trusted, independent, unbiased, third parties to positively influence a brand’s target audience.

Now I’m going to explain why that’s the answer to the question: What is digital PR?

Contents:

School of thought #1 – social and online

Like so many marketing terms ‘digital PR’ is born from marketing tactics evolving and agencies trying to keep up.

In particular, old school PR agencies realising the print media landscape is getting smaller all the time and launching ‘digital PR’ pages on their websites in response.

Typically these summarise:

1) Their ability to generate coverage on websites instead of in print publications – sounds basic right? But a lot of companies we speak to still differentiate between the two – they ask, “Can you secure print coverage for us too?” Some agencies realised this and hooked their digital PR service to it.

2) Their social media expertise. Social media = digital PR. Box ticked. But it’s so much more than that, as any good B2B PR agency will tell you.

3) Their search engine optimisation smarts – more on that below.

School of thought #2 – search engine optimisation

The second school of thought has been seized upon by SEO agencies. They consider digital PR to involve everything from citation building (posting instances of a business’s name address and phone number around the internet), to generating back links from press release distribution (not recommended!), to ‘outreach’ activities (traditionally known as media pitching) – see this blog on outreach from leading SEO software company ahrefs, as an example of how SEO agencies approach media pitching.

This approach to ‘outreach’ has landed ahrefs’ SEO software rival, SEMrush, in hot water. It launched a new service (see Twitter conversation) offering ‘guest blog posts’ (or byliners/op-eds as they’re more commonly known in the PR world).

This was a manual outreach service. All the client had to do was supply the anchor text and destination URL and an SEMrush partner would write the content. Voila! Sixteen days later you have a lovely new link.

A picture of step 1, 2 and 3 of digital PR

Unsurprisingly Google was all over this and SEMrush instantly shut the service down. What differentiates this type of ‘digital PR’ from traditional PR pitching?

  • SEMrush asked for the target URL and anchor text – if you can stipulate this then it indicates a degree of control over the coverage – this screams spam. If you’re from the world of PR you know you have to work very hard to get basic messaging included in coverage when dealing with journalists, let alone getting links to certain landing pages included (almost impossible unless you’ve got great content on your domain the journo is referencing).
  • The refer to the service as ‘guest post outreach’ – Google isn’t a fan of ‘guest posting’: “Lately we’ve seen an increase in spammy links contained in articles referred to as contributor posts, guest posts, partner posts, or syndicated posts.” Check out the related blog post for more detail.
  • It promises post publication in 16 days or less. Once again, if you’re from the world of PR you know you may have to wait weeks or minutes for coverage depending on the editorial/opportunity you’re dealing with. If you can control publication time then you control the opportunity. If you control the opportunity then you’re essentially paying for an advert. Google does not permit followed links in adverts (obvs – you’re gaming the PageRank system).

However, outreach is essential to generate back links the right way – from digital PR: linked mentions of your brand name in opinion pieces and news associated with your company. This is not the aforementioned ‘guest blogging’ – this is traditional PR with the happy  by-product of authoritative links from editorial sites. After all, links from contextually relevant third party sites to your website are crucial for great keyword rankings. And how do we know this? Because Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, told us what the top two organic keyword ranking factors are:

“I can tell you what they are. It is content. And it’s links pointing to your site.”

Other than link building there are two other areas that marry SEO to digital PR.

Click through rate

Google’s former chief of search quality Udi Manber testified: “The ranking itself is affected by the click data. If we discover that, for a particular query, hypothetically, 80 percent of people click on Result No. 2 and only 10 percent click on Result No. 1, after a while we figure out, well, probably Result 2 is the one people want. So we’ll switch it.”

So if everyone performing a search has been subject to brand B’s digital PR efforts (i.e. have read about brand B in horizontal and vertical online titles) and associates the brand with a particular search term/topic, then even though brand B ranks below brand A in the organic search results, it picks up the majority of the clicks because searchers recognise it. Before long, it moves into position one.

Expertise, authority and trust

In August 2019 Google set the SEO world alight with a blog on expertise, authority and trust (EAT for short).

Suddenly every SEO in the land was touting EAT as the new ranking signal you just had to get right. Google was asked so many times about EAT that it went back and added an addendum to the original blog post in March 2020 explain that EAT was about overall web presence rather than a specific thing (e.g. like adding  author profiles to your website).

It’s about the quality of content on your site and various other on and offsite signals. One of which we suspect is brand mentions in authoritative editorial publications (not linked mentions necessarily, just brand mentions, otherwise knows as implied links). And why do we suspect implied links are important? Because at Pubcon 2017 in Las Vegas, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst Gary Illyes was subjected to a detailed interview on developments in SEO.

He referenced the search quality raters, the human  beings Google uses to manually review search results according to the Google search quality rating guidelines. Illyes suggested that the quality raters would know a brand was ‘quality’ if it’d been featured in an authoritative media publication.

Interviewer: “If ‘The Wall Street Journal’ writes an article about you, then that’s probably a good thing?”

Illyes: “Yeah. Basically, that’s how the ranking algorithm works as well.”

He went on to confirm: “…the context in which you engage online, and how people talk about you online, actually can impact what you rank for.”

So what conclusion do we draw from this? Being featured in contextually relevant publications is key to EAT and important for organic search engine rankings. We also suspect simple brand mentions are now becoming more important and acting as ‘mini votes’ – and how do you get these brand mentions? Answer, digital PR.

To conclude this section, digital PR positively impacts:

  • Trusted inbound links
  • Click through rate
  • Expertise, authority and trust

Online PR or specific activities?

The answer is debatable, but I would argue it’s a series of specific activities – question is, which ones? If PR is the act of managing relations with a public then there’s not much it doesn’t include; agencies tend to base the answer to this question on what they’re good at and what they can sell.

For the sake of this blog let’s say the desired result of traditional PR is increased brand awareness. So if we look at digital PR in the same light, as an online discipline designed to raise awareness of a brand, then I’d suggest it includes:

  • Social media influencer relations
  • Social media advertising
  • SEO
  • Online article placement
  • Blogging
  • PPC
  • Video production
  • Inbound marketing
  • Review generation
  • Email marketing

However, in order to avoid the broad definition I’ve applied swallowing all marketing disciplines, I’m going to apply the following caveat:

All PR, online and offline, has to involve the use of a trusted, independent, unbiased, third party.

Therefore I’m dropping PPC, email marketing, social media advertising, inbound marketing, video and blogging from the list. All definite awareness-raising activities, but controlled by the brand and the brand alone. This leaves us with the following:

  • Social media influencer relations
  • SEO
  • Online article placement (including reviews)

I think most marketers would agree social media influencer relations and online article placement sit squarely in the digital PR camp. The argument I would anticipate is: ‘But how can you include SEO if all PR, online and offline, has to involve the use of a trusted, independent, unbiased, third party?’

Our answer to that as a leading London B2B SEO outfit is: from the target audience’s viewpoint, organic search results and online media coverage share one thing in common, they are both published on independent, unbiased portals. No, Google isn’t independent and unbiased, but neither is a newspaper. Personally I don’t see the difference between being featured on the front page of a newspaper versus the first page of Google’s search engine results pages for a particular keyword. Both are ways to publicise your brand to a target audience, only difference being, we can measure the impact of the page one ranking whereas it’s much harder to measure the impact of the print coverage.

What are good digital PR key performance indicators (KPIs)?

A good digital PR result is therefore anything that positively influences a brand’s social media or organic search profiles, or any positive online media coverage. They can be split into outputs and outcomes – this is important – after all outcomes are what will positively impact your bottom line and what your FD cares about. Here are example digital PR KPIs:

Social media influencer relations:

  • Have you increased your target audience community size? (output)
  • Are increasing traffic from your social channels to your website? (outcome)
  • Have you created new brand advocates? (outcome)
  • Are your posts being shared by relevant social communities/influencers? (outcome)

SEO:

  • How many links have you built? (output)
  • Are your keyword rankings improving? (outcome)
  • Have you managed to increase traffic from search engines to your website? (outcome)
  • Is increased organic traffic resulting in more leads? (outcome)

Online article placement (including reviews):

  • Have you got more positive coverage that your competitors? (output)
  • Have you increase implied lines (brand mentions)? (output)
  • Have you secured coverage in tier one online media targets? (output)
  • Have their key messages been pulled through into media coverage? (output)
  • Have you secured good reviews on sites that rank highly for keywords the target audience will be searching for? (output)
  • Have you seen an increase in referral traffic from online article placement? (outcome)

How do you measure the success of digital PR?

Now we can answer the ‘What is digital PR?’ question, we can begin to think about how to measure success.

Public relations has typically struggled because it’s hard to measure its contribution to a business’s bottom line. Interestingly digital PR doesn’t suffer the same problem. Anything that’s directly responsible for increasing website traffic and conversions is very valuable to a business and something worth paying for.

That’s not to say traditional PR doesn’t contribute to sales, but it does so in an indirect way (e.g. makes it easier for telesales teams to get through to prospects, increases a company’s credibility etc. – very valuable, but hard to put a number on).

Traditional PR agencies that are confident enough to leave outdated PR metrics in the past where they belong, will often suggest PR success measurement is based on how well their clients’ businesses are performing. If business performance is good, business objectives have been met, and PR has visibly supported the process, then the PR campaign has been successful (this is the fundamental logic of the Barcelona Principles pulled together by AMEC, designed to help the PR industry prove its worth), but by that logic, if revenue and profit is down, then PR has failed.

However, this isn’t always the case. The PR campaign may have been excellent at raising awareness with a target demographic but that demographic may have not been the right target audience for the brand, or it was the right target audience, but that audience wasn’t ready to buy, or were put off by something else. Point being there are a million variables that may obscure the effectiveness of a traditional PR campaign.

By contrast, measuring the effectiveness of digital PR is relatively straightforward, especially if you have access to the following tools:

Google Analytics (GA) – the staple software you’ll need to measure digital PR success. Using GA enables you to measure (amongst other things):

  • Organic traffic levels
  • Referral traffic from media websites
  • Referral traffic from social networks
  • Source and medium of client website goal completions
  • Type of user your client’s website is attracting

Keyword tracking software – at the high end of the SEO spectrum you have tools like Moz which will help you track your keywords and give you access to a wide range of SEO tools, like Link Explorer, that come in very handy when running SEO campaigns. On the other hand, if you are primarily interested in plain old keyword tracking then you won’t go far wrong with a product like Authority Labs.

Social software – while social tracking tools like SharedCount have been used in the past to track all social sharing from major social platforms, their effectiveness is now limited as it has no access to Twitter and LinkedIn. Truth is, the best way to do this is to set up social tracking in Google Analytics – Hootsuite’s guide is perfect for beginners.

What is the difference between traditional and digital PR?

Going back to our definition of what digital PR is:

Digital PR is the use of online trusted, independent, unbiased, third parties to positively influence a brand’s target audience.

Therefore there is no fundamental difference between offline and online PR, simply the channels through which they’re delivered. Whether online or offline a good story is still a good story and if it’s carried by an ‘trusted independent third-party outlet’ then traditional and digital PR are similar. The difference is in the channels used to promote the brand and the way the online and offline versions of the discipline are measured.

How does digital PR fit into a marketing strategy?

To answer this you need to ask another question: what is your digital strategy?

If your audience is millennials and your strategy is ‘Be where they are’ then social media will be an important channel, and brand ambassadors promoting products a great tactic.

If, however your strategy is ‘Get them when they’re ready to spend’ then SEO will be key, along with PPC and other point of purchase marketing disciplines.

How do you pick a good digital PR agency?

Now the tricky bit; how to pick a digital PR agency. Questions you can ask any prospective digital PR partners include the ones I’ve detailed as subheadings above. And if you’re leaning toward hiring a PR-led SEO agency for digital PR support (and you should!) then watch Google’s video on hiring SEO support – a lot of the lessons apply (after all, it’s all very well a digital PR agency generating the best links for your organic search campaign, but if they can’t do the technical onsite piece then you’re pouring a lot of fuel into a broken engine).

Armed with the knowledge from this blog you should be able to have a fairly informed conversation with any ‘digital PR’ agency and confidently ask the question: what is digital PR?

If you’d like more information on digital PR, or advice specific to your business, drop the author of this blog post Luke a line. He’d be happy to help!

Fintech PR Case Study: Generating Leads from IFAs and Charities

Discretionary investment management specialist, TAM Asset Management, was launching two new services:

  • FinchTech – a white labelled online investment service for IFAs
  • Greenfinch – a direct to consumer service to be used by charities to raise additional funds from existing donors with assets under management.

TAM’s Objectives

  • Raise awareness of ‘robo adviser creep’ in the IFA community
  • Boost organic website keyword rankings
  • Generate marketing qualified and sales qualified leads for main TAM business, FinchTech and Greenfinch 

Our Strategy

We developed a bespoke digital PR strategy that included:

  • Set up and management of marketing automation software for content marketing lead generation, lead tracking and cross selling automation
  • Downloadable hero content to help IFA audience deal with threat of robo advisers
  • Media relations based on pain points of IFA and charity audiences
  • Optimisation of onsite content for increased organic search visibility

The Results

The campaign delivered:

  • 51 pieces of tier one coverage (including FTAdviser, City AM, bobsguide, Wealth Management, Professional Adviser, Money Observer, International Adviser, Global Capital)
  • 15 media interviews
  • Net gain of 406 organic places in Google across multiple keywords
  • 59 ready-to-nurture marketing qualified leads from content downloads
  • 33 ready-to-buy sales qualified leads from PR and SEO activity 

“TopLine Comms are a dream to work with. Their knowledge and expertise is second to none and we are delighted with what they have achieved and created for our company to date. We look forward to continuing our work with them and would thoroughly recommend their services to any firm looking for a professional, driven and friendly agency, that is easy to work with and committed to getting you the best results.”

Lester Petch, CEO, TAM Asset Management

 

You might also be interested in:

Everything tech companies need to know about handling media interviews

Dealing with journalists often fills people with some measure of apprehension.

You may frequently hear remarks like “You cannot trust a journalist”, or “stories are distorted”, or “people are misquoted”. In some cases, this happens, but by and large it isn’t the norm. Most journalists are trying to do a decent job, and if you understand what they are trying to do and how they go about it, you stand a much better chance of avoiding the pitfalls.

Being in the tech PR industry, we’ve had our fair share of interactions with the media and we’ve gained a few valuable insights along the way.

Based on this, we’ve compiled a guide to shaping a constructive relationships with journalists. While there’s no guarantee that things will always turn out the way you want, doing your homework certainly helps.

Jump to section:

Understanding journalists…

The journalist’s task

It’s often said that stories don’t happen in isolation. However, with COVID-19 and the wave of uncertainty and disruption it has brought, many stories continue to happen in ‘self-isolation’. It may be you that instigate the story by announcing something or calling a press conference, but more likely it will be the journalists who are calling you.

If they are doing so, it is because their editor has asked them, or they have suggested that there is a story to be covered or worth exploring.  Once the story is commissioned, the journalist will be judged on the copy they turn in. Hence, they will always try to make their story as eye-catching and publishable as possible. They have a vested interest in finding an unusual line – a scoop and playing it up for all it’s worth.

It’s also important to be aware that most journalists regard themselves as independent even if their newspapers aren’t. As a result, they will not respond to threats. You cannot bully a journalist into not writing a story. Indeed, doing so often has the opposite effect.

Where do stories come from?

Some stories are the original ideas of journalists, but these are the exception rather than the rule. In most cases, the idea will have come from a story elsewhere, a news release, or a news agency. The event giving rise to the story could be a company announcement, the publication of a report, a speech, an anniversary, or a significant occurrence such as the Covid-19 pandemic, If you are instigating the story, you will probably have an announcement to make and will send out a press release, brief journalists, and perhaps call a press conference.

The competition for news

Sometimes you may be surprised that a story appears as prominently as it does, and you may find yourself cringing with embarrassment at the extent to which you were highlighted. The opposite is also often the case. Sometimes you might think you have provided the journalist with an excellent story, and yet when you scrutinise the next day’s papers, you can’t find a mention of it. This is often because events have overtaken you.

Your story is only one of the hundreds that happen each day, and if the other stories are big ones which claim a lot of space, then yours might well be squeezed out. It’s just bad luck or bad timing on your behalf. As for the bad timing, to the extent that you understand and plug into the news agenda, you can avoid clashing with pre-set events.

What is a story?

This is a difficult concept. A story is something unusual; it can be a unique event or involve exceptional people. One way or another, it contains something out of the ordinary. It is because of this basic facet of a story that journalists often seek an angle that is different from the one you wish to punt. It is why they are often accused of looking for the bad news. It’s not bad news they’re after but different news. An earthquake that kills 30,000 people is not in the paper just because it is bad news but because it is a rare event. The fact that 30,000 people die from a common disease each year is equally bad news, but it is not a rare event, it is not unusual. This does not apply to a global pandemic such as COVID19, which has dramatically influenced the news agenda. Rightfully so too, as its damaging effects spread far and wide across the globe.

The point is, if you want to get your message across, you have to package it in a way that will be of interest to the news-hungry journalist. You must provide a storyline that is headline-grabbing.

Where the story goes

As mentioned, where or when the story publishes partly depends on what else is going on in the world. But there are other unknowns too. If you consider placement in print titles, it might fit together with another story that when laid out side by side, with a headline and a picture, becomes a big spread. It might just happen to fit available space.  If the journalist has filed the story early, it will get better coverage – simply because it is available before other material – but then might disappear in later editions. Early copy, and copy provided at slack times, is much more likely to get used, hence the popularity of Sunday for Monday embargoes. Many publications have migrated or expanded to digital, meaning your story might not even make it to the print title (if it still exists!) and will, therefore, be published in an online publication or version of the title.

Key messages and key facts

Understanding all the above will help you get the most out of your contacts with journalists. But from your point of view, the most important thing is that you get your message across clearly and accurately. So be specific in your mind on the one or two key points you want to get across, and don’t be afraid to repeat them. If YOU do not know what your key messages are, there is no way you are going to be able to communicate them to the journalist. So, as far as possible, work out in advance what you want to say. Your key message will also have a much greater chance of getting through if you can back it with a key fact. Journalists love figures and league tables.

Different sorts of journalists and processes…

Writing journalists can represent different parts of the press; there is national press, regional press, technical press, news agencies, international press, blogs, and online media. Some of them will be specialists and some will be generalists. Some of them will be news writers, some features writers. All of them will be looking for angles which they can tailor to their particular market – an important fact to remember.

You may say something which you regard as quite uncontroversial and outmoded. People who are close to your industry, and are specialists, might also hold that view, but others may not think so, especially generalists and the mass media. This is one way in which stories sometimes appear, which in your opinion have been blown out of proportion.

But the fact of the matter is old news is often rehashed as new news, and you should be aware that the journalists you talk to are always looking for a story.

They will be looking for news stories that suit their markets. If you want to get your message across to a regional or local audience, or a particular national audience, then you have to think about what you are saying in those terms.

The important thing to remember is that these journalists have different requirements. Familiarise yourself with the target publication and research what the journalist is writing about – if you are going to get your message across you must understand where they come from.

Broadcast journalists want the same and more. For your words to be broadcast, they must be ‘broadcastable’, i.e. clear, free of jargon, relatively short and memorable. The television broadcaster may need something else as well, like visuals. If you can help with this, you increase your chances of appearing on television enormously.

It should also be noted that reaching the right contact here will take some digging. Securing an interest or in some cases, a response, means you have to find the right person first. For broadcast, this could either be the head of content/programming or specific producers. Start by contacting the broadcaster and inquiring about the correct person to reach out to, or simply confirming that the contact details you have are correct.

Deadlines

All these journalists have different deadlines, and you should always be aware of the pressure the deadline puts on the journalist and the extent to which you can help. It is no use telling a daily journalist or someone working for rolling 24-hour TV news that you will call him back next week with an answer. So, if you cannot give an immediate response, make sure you find out when it is needed and then if you promise to call back, do so.

Interviews: the ground rules

When you talk to a journalist there are certain ground rules. The most important of these is to establish the basis on which you have your conversation. Clearly, on television and radio everything you say, once the camera or mike is switched on, is on the record. That is precisely what on the record means. But there are other sorts of conversations that can take place with journalists which can be very useful.

On the record: everything you say is quotable and attributable to you by name. It will be assumed that you are talking on the record unless you state otherwise.

For background (or for guidance): you are giving information to help the journalist understand the story. This is not for quoting or attribution to you, but the journalist can use it to help place the story in a context. This is very useful for reminding journalists of things that they might not know, and for guiding them in a way that will ensure your point gets across.

Non-attributable (or off the record/or on lobby terms): this means that what you say can be used by the journalist, but it must not be attributed to you or your organisation. You can even specify the sort of attribution that is acceptable to you and agree to it with the journalist, e.g. industry sources, leading market players, Whitehall sources; company sources, friends of, and so on. Remember if this is the basis on which you want to talk to a journalist, you must make it clear when the conversation starts, not afterwards.

Really off the record: if something is really off the record, it must not be used at all. The most sensible thing is not to go into this mode because it has all sorts of pitfalls and misunderstandings. If you know the journalist well and trust them, then it is useful, but in other circumstances avoid it. The basic rule is if you talk to a journalist, you must expect that they will publish what you tell them. All that must be resolved is whether it is attributable to you or not. Remember, journalists will always prefer you to speak on the record, and unless you specify otherwise, that is what will be assumed.

If things go wrong

You have to be grown-up about this. You will sometimes be misquoted, you will often be unhappy about the way a story is treated, but getting redress is a long and often fruitless business. In most cases, the best advice is just to forget it because getting a retraction or an apology is difficult. Editors will usually back their journalists. If the problem is sufficiently severe, you should complain first to the journalist concerned, and then to the editor. There will also be a formal procedure to follow. As an alternative, you can take a more positive approach and write a letter for publication.

TV interviews…

Television journalists conduct different types of interviews, and you will need to know what is being asked of you.

The package interview

The package is the term given to a television report, which is made up of film on location, interviews, and graphics. This report will be written and voiced by the reporter, who may also appear in it. Typically, it lasts for between one and four minutes, depending on the outlet. For example, an ITV or BBC1 report will average two minutes, whereas a Channel Four report may last five minutes. Financial programmes like The Money Show, could produce a 30-minute show. The important thing to remember here is that you will be only one of several people who appear in the package.

This sort of interview is pre-recorded (it is not live). The answers you give will later be edited and one or some of them – chosen by the journalist – will be used in the news report.

The package interview soundbite

The interviewer is looking for no more than one or a maximum of two quotes (or soundbites) from you. And a soundbite is rarely longer than 30 seconds. Often it is no more than 15 seconds. Then it is in your interest to deliver crisp, and concise answers, in which you make one main point. Remember, in a package interview you may be asked quite a few questions, but only one or two answers will ever be broadcast.

In a package report, you will normally be used to illustrate a point that is being made by the reporter. This may seem very basic to you but remember that some television viewers don’t know your industry, and the reporter will be hoping that you and your company can provide easily understandable insights into current issues.

Try to turn your answers into statements. This is necessary because often, the question will not be broadcast. So, if you are asked for your company’s export strategy, don’t reply: “It is to concentrate on Europe”, because no-one will know what you are referring to. Instead say: “This company’s export strategy is to concentrate on Europe…”. The trick is to take your cue from the question.

In a pre-recorded package interview, if you do not like the answer or you feel you have fluffed it, you can stop and re-start. Don’t do this too often or it will antagonise the interviewer, and often the more times you repeat an answer, the worse it gets.

Where and how long

If you are asked to appear in a package report, the interview itself should take no more than 15 minutes. But there will also be the time needed for setting up the interview location, and so the total interview time could run to 30 minutes.

Give some thought about where the interview is to take place. Businesspeople often suggest company meeting rooms, but these tend to be dull locations, with bare walls.

The journalist would rather do the interview where something is interesting in the background. This can vary from a pot plant to a bookcase or a factory shop floor. Your office might appear messy and dull to you, but if it looks busy and active, that will appeal to the journalist. Don’t try to tidy everything from your office desk, it is supposed to look like a place of work, not a laboratory.

Set-up shots

As well as the interview, be prepared to be asked for a set-up shot. This is a shot of you doing something, over which you can be introduced. It could be you working at your computer, in a meeting with colleagues or walking through your office or factory. It might seem odd to you to be asked to do this, but it is an entirely normal and harmless request.

And some pictures

You will often also be asked to provide a film crew with access to some of your company’s activities. If you make cars, the reporter will want to film the production line. If you are a bank or financial institution, again the reporter will want to film something which illustrates the activities you undertake. This is also time-consuming although it is not necessary for you to accompany the film crew yourself. A foreman or office manager can do this job. All in all, a news camera crew should require no more than two hours to be in and out of your premises.

People often worry that this will be disruptive to the working environment. But the days when a television crew consisted of five or six people and bulky equipment are long gone. It is far more usual these days for a TV crew to consist of just two people – the reporter, who also acts as producer and director, and the camera operator who also does the lighting and sound. Equipment is light and portable. TV news crews are not making movies.

Providing the pictures yourself

Some companies have good reasons for not allowing film crews in – the area may be high security or dangerous. If this is the case, you should consider providing your own material for broadcasters. This footage needs to be shot in a way that will allow broadcasters to use it. It is not a corporate video or an advert. These background or library tapes can be produced for companies who want to take their media relationships to a further level.

Interviews down the line

Sometimes you will be asked by the TV company to do the interview down the line. This happens when there is no time to get a camera crew to you or your factory. Instead, you will be asked to go to the nearest studio to your place of work. This is usually a regional TV centre. Once there, you will be shown into a room where you sit down facing a camera. The questions will be fed to you through an earpiece, and you will respond to the camera. This is very difficult, but it is quite common. However, remember, the reporter is still looking for a crisp soundbite to go into his/her package. The next section will tell you more about studio interviews, and the techniques to use.

Live interviews

With all live interviews, there are advantages and disadvantages. The advantage to you is that everything you say will be broadcast – no-one can choose which soundbites they like or dislike. The disadvantage is that you don’t get a second chance and have to be thinking on your feet the whole time. Some people prefer live interviews because they don’t have time to worry about their answers and just perform naturally.

In a face-to-face studio interview, you will be under bright lights and will be well advised to accept an offer of makeup. Remember to look at the interviewer and talk to him/her. You will look very shifty if your eyes start roaming around. Also keep your head and body still. If you are sitting on a swivel chair, plant both feet on the floor, and resist the temptation to shuffle. Better still ask for a non-swivel chair.

When you are being interviewed from an outside or remote location, you have to treat the camera lens as your focus of attention, unless the producer tells you otherwise. (You may sometimes be told to look camera left or camera right. If so, the best thing to do is fix your eyes on some particular spot or item and imagine that is the interviewer.)

As in all interviews, the same basic rules apply in a live situation. Make your answers crisp and concise, avoid jargon, and don’t try to cram in too many points in one go.

In a live interview the interviewer will come back at you with supplementary questions, so be aware that you may have to follow up or elaborate on a previously made point. The live interview is usually a conversation between you and the interviewer.

Helpful interview techniques

  • You can ask the interviewer in advance what questions they are going to ask. They might not stick to the specific questions, but you will have some idea of the areas to be covered.
  • It’s often a mistake to over-rehearse your answers. It’s fine to have a good idea of what you want to say, but you must still put it over naturally and confidently. Many interviewees try to learn their answers off by heart and repeat them. They look wooden and are concentrating more on remembering their lines than on answering the question.
  • Remember to look at the interviewer if there is one. The person you are talking to, not the camera, is the focus of your attention.
  • In some instances, the studio will have hair and makeup personnel onsite to help prep interviewees. However, the responsibility will be on you to double-check before the interview starts that you look respectable. If your tie is crooked, no-one will listen to what you are saying. Make sure your hair is not freaky.
  • Don’t feel you have to carry on speaking until you are interrupted. Answer the question, make one or two points and then stop.
  • Don’t refer to notes. It looks odd and will distract you and the viewer.
  • Think about introducing into your answer an everyday metaphor or phrase, a colourful turn of phrase is often what the interviewer is looking for.
  • Avoid jargon and acronyms. You and the people in your field may understand, but people in the real world won’t.

Radio interviews…

All the requirements for good television interviews also apply to radio. You need to be clear and concise, and some interviews will be live, and others will be pre-recorded package interviews.

Because your audience cannot see you, the most important thing is how you sound. You need to be authoritative and be able to project some of your personality into your voice. It is important to sound enthusiastic.

You can refer to notes on radio, although it won’t necessarily help. Radio is a very relaxed medium and many people find it easier than television. Often it helps if you can paint pictures with your replies. The listeners are using their imagination as you speak, and you can help them by referring to everyday scenes that will be meaningful. Remember, the people you are trying to communicate with are the audience at home.

Checklist and contacts…

A checklist of things to remember

  • Journalists are looking for stories
  • Your story is competing with hundreds of others
  • Journalists have different target audiences
  • Know your key messages
  • Deadlines must always be met
  • Establish the ground rules for interviews
  • Plug into the news agenda
  • It is not easy to get apologies or retractions

and for television

  • A soundbite is rarely longer than 30 seconds
  • Give crisp and concise answers
  • Avoid jargon
  • Look at the interviewer and keep still
  • You can restart a pre-recorded answer (but not a live one)
  • Think about the best interview location
  • Avoid notes and don’t over-rehearse
  • Know when to shut up

There you have it. We hope you find this guide useful and that it will help you prepare for current or future interactions with the media. It is a lot to digest but if followed correctly, these guidelines will help you to build and maintain good relations with target journalists. If you have more questions or if you’re looking to partner with a Technology PR Agency that will successfully give your reputation and media profile a boost, then get in touch.

 

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We’re one of PR Week’s top UK consultancies

TopLine Comms has made PR Week’s ranking of its top 150 UK PR consultancies for the fourth year in a row. This year, we jumped 15 places to rank 116th.

The rankings are based on UK revenues for the 2019 calendar year, with TopLine enjoying a 7% increase in revenue over that period.

Heather Baker, TopLine’s CEO, comments:

“It feels good to be recognised as one of the leading UK PR agencies, particularly in an economically challenging 2019 when, like so many agencies in our industry, we were battling against budget cuts and uncertainty caused by Brexit. And it’s useful to have these rankings as a benchmark to see how the industry as a whole is faring.

“I’m particularly proud of our passionate team, who continue to deliver an excellent level of service to our longstanding tech, education, science, engineering and fintech PR clients. I’d like to extend a huge ‘thank-you’ to all TopLiners who worked so hard to make 2019 a success. I know things are tough at the moment, with so much uncertainty in every area of our lives, but I have an enormous amount of respect for the professionalism, compassion, diligence and creativity being displayed at every level of this organisation”

You might also be interested in:

 

Proptech PR Case Study: The House Crowd

When we started working for them, The House Crowd was repositioning from an equity crowdfunding to a peer to peer lending business. With no history in the peer to peer space the company required:

  • intensive credibility and awareness building
  • a lead generation engine in the most competitive organic search arena – lending and investment

Objectives

  • Raise awareness of The House Crowd’s new peer to peer offering including its Innovative Finance ISA, it’s SIPP and its property development products
  • Increase lead generation from organic search

Strategy

We developed a bespoke PR-led SEO strategy that featured:

  • In-depth keyword research, identifying 13 bottom of funnel topic clusters as well as additional long tail middle of funnel blog opportunities
  • Technical site fixes to ensure optimal search engine ranking
  • New bottom of funnel website content to attract and convert high value ready to buy leads
  • New blog content to drive traffic into the top of the funnel, increase search term relevancy and develop internal linking opportunities
  • PR for brand and link building, and expertise, authority and trust (EAT) reinforcement, particularly important for Your Money Your Life (YMYL) websites

The results

In two years, the campaign delivered:

  • Over 140 pieces of positive coverage in the personal finance, business and national press including coverage in: yahoo! Finance, Investors Chronicle, Daily Express, The Time, Bloomberg, Love Money, YourMoney.com, Forbes, whatinvestment.co.uk, MoneyWeek, Which!, City AM, Metro, Business Insider UK
  • Interviews with The Daily Telegraph, Moneywise and The Daily Mail
  • 58 followed links from contextually relevant high-quality editorial publications with an average DA of 44
  • 116 implied links through brand mentions
  • First place rankings for lead generating keywords including:
    • secured peer to peer lending
    • property investment opportunities
    • short term peer to peer lending
    • short term p2p lending
    • development investment opportunities
    • property development investment
    • peer to peer secured lending
  • Top 20 rankings for keywords including:
    • peer to peer lending – 9,900 searches a month in UK
    • p2p lending – 1,900 searches a month in UK
    • IFISA – 1,000 searches a month in UK
    • innovative finance isa – 1,900 searches a month in UK
    • peer 2 peer lending – 320 searches a month in UK
    • peer to peer investing – 320 searches a month in UK
  • 26% of all onsite goal completions generated from organic search 

“TopLine helped us reposition the business – we pivoted from equity crowdfunding to peer to peer lending and TopLine reinforced this with media coverage in the personal finance and national press. They achieved record rankings for peer to peer lending and property investment keywords, by developing optimised content for our website and powering it with contextually relevant followed links from the media coverage generated. I would happily recommend them.” – Founder and CEO, Frazer Fearnhead

 

Our tips on pitching the BBC for tech companies

Getting featured on the BBC is kind of a big deal (especially if they link to your website!). As a leading B2B PR agency, we know how intimidating/challenging it can be to you take your story to an organisation that employs over 20,000 people and reaches a weekly audience of almost half a billion. Where do you even start?

We’ve worked with the BBC on plenty of stories. We haven’t always been successful (if you’re always successful then you’re not pitching enough!), but we’ve learned a lot along the way. And those pitches that have resulted in online articles or on-air interviews have been truly impactful for our clients. We thought we’d share some of our learnings…

You can find a whole bunch of facts about the BBC on the corporation’s Wikipedia page – here are a few choice ones:

  • Employs over 20,000 staff
  • Is the world’s oldest national broadcasting organisation
  • Is the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees
  • Has a weekly global audience of 426,000,000 of which 95,000,000 is using its online news services
  • Operates eight television channels in English
  • Is funded by television licence fees paid by British households 

Pitching the BBC

The great thing about the BBC is that it is so big, there is a programme for everything…The bad thing about the BBC is that it is so big, there is a programme for everything.

The BBC does have a home for just about every company and every story. But finding a home for that story or client can be tricky.

We like to think about the different ways a story could be approached, the angle, and what fits with a BBC show. There are always options for pitching a story that will appeal to one or more radio or TV producers at the BBC.

It’s worth noting….

In our experience, BBC shows compete for the best stories and rarely speak to one another. If one avenue has closed, there will be others. Just look into other radio or TV stations and think of different angles that might work. If the local BBC radio show doesn’t bite, a business focussed programme might. The key is not to just lob your pitch at a team of 20,000 and hope it’ll land on the right desk (but also keep it targeted and carefully thought out – don’t pitch every story at every journalist – scattergun approaches never work!).

Head to Twitter

The BBC and many BBC journalists are very active on Twitter. Consider following the BBC and some of their journalists. In fact, the Corporation makes it easy for you – the main BBC Twitter account holds a bunch of lists of journalists to help you find the right person. You can also use this information to gauge which producers might be interested in specific topics and to get additional contact information.

Some suggested outlets…

The huge BBC media empire offers many potential targets for pitches for web, television and radio news. Here are the ones we’ve targeted on behalf of our technology clients.

BBC World Service:

BBCWS has a number of shows dedicated to technology and business such as Business Daily and the Tech Tent. Contact the BBC business team to pitch story ideas.

BBC Radio 4:

Tends to be keen on business, technology and human interest stories. The Today Programme is an excellent slot for any news-driven comment (check out our dedicated blog on it here), often from the world of business. Get in touch with their researchers or with the planning team. Bear in mind the business team also works on specific features for the show, so it’s good to contact as well.

BBC 5 Live:

BBC 5 Live is a radio news channel. The station works at a fast pace, so any reactive comment on the day’s news could go down well. If possible, share statistics and facts. It’s based at the Salford HQ. It also has podcasts like The Daily Interview, Let’s Talk about Tech and Wake Up to Money where interview subjects or story ideas might be welcome.

BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat:  

This programme services the under-25 crowd by covering entertainment, pop culture, politics, fashion and entertainment. Keep the target demographic in mind when selecting an angle.

BBC online:

The BBC maintains a network of informational websites covering news, sport and weather as well as the BBC’s on-demand services. Pitch them as you would any online publication. Think about good images that will add visual interest to the text.

BBC Breakfast:

BBC Breakfast is a news and current affairs programme broadcast daily out of Salford. It’s looking for human interest stories. Pitch the show planner with potential contributors.

BBC Click:

This consumer technology TV show is broadcast online and on BBC News every weekend and repeated throughout the week. Sometimes it covers interesting tech that is in development or not for the individual consumer. If you’ve watched the show, you’ll know that presenters like to travel about and experience technology first hand. They are particularly interested in anything that looks good on camera.

BBC local radio and regional TV:

The local radio stations and regional TV studios are often hungry for local interest stories. Radio figures don’t tend to be high, but can be a good option if the pitch has the right angle. TV is harder to get but relevant spokespeople who can comment on local stories or events can work well. BBC local radio operates 40 stations serving England and the Channel Islands. BBC One and Two between them operate at least 22 regional TV channels. Don’t forget about BBC Scotland, BBC Northern Ireland and BBC Cymru Wales.

Good luck, and please tweet us @TopLineComms to let us know how you get on with your pitching!