Three very different journalists and one CMO discuss common PR mistakes and more.
Edgar Mannheimer, political reporter for DN, Maddy Savage, a freelancer for BBC, and Oliver Gee, a freelancer for The Telegraph, alongside Mynewsdesk CMO, Jonathan Bean, identified the common pitfalls PR people make when pitching stories. The group also shared examples of win-win situations between them and a PR person and highlighted what they thought were good examples of brand storytelling.
Maddy addressed four common errors, and Oliver added one. Below are the mistakes that every communicator should avoid when pitching a story:
A generic press release that is sent out to everyone and doesn’t make the journalist feel special, and isn’t relevant to the kind of things the journalist covers typically.
When a PR person goes “So hey, we’re this brand, this organization, we’re doing this event and this cool thing, please write about it!” Maddy said there is nothing creative about that. Also, she raised the question: “How often do you hear about people writing about events for big national newspapers if those events are only for like a hundred people?” Rarely, but according to her, people still try.
Maddy remembers once a homeless charity in the UK that pitched a compelling story, while she was working at the BBC, about these children living in cramped accommodation. Unfortunately, they couldn’t provide any children or families to talk about their experiences so without a case study it was tough for Maddy to do the story.
PR people are not respecting the time of a journalist. Sending journalists information and saying, “Hey, can we chat about this on Tuesday at 2 pm?” “Oh well, I have no idea what I will be doing next Tuesday at 2 pm. So you better off giving me a quick elevator pitch on the phone,” said Maddy.
Oliver brought up the number of irrelevant emails clogging up journalists inboxes to be insane. The problem he said is that when PRs are sending out rubbish, it ruins the chances for everyone else that has something good to say from being heard. He gave an excellent example of an LA-based company selling chips who sent him an email, while he was working at The Local, “Crispy bacon as a chip, yes, please. 100% plant-based and ridiculously tasty”, was the headline. Interestingly, he said that could be a good story for another magazine but wasn’t relevant to The Local. His point was that so many PR people don’t bother sending their emails to the right people, that casting a wide net and hoping for more responses was a waste of everyone’s time.
The squeeze on journalists time is one of the biggest errors brands and organizations don’t necessarily recognize, said Maddy. “We don’t always have time to schedule a call. We don’t always have time to read every email. And we’re constantly switched on and being bombarded by massive [amounts of] information, either from editors who want us to write about or report on things, and from companies [pitching stories].”
All three journalists seemed to agree on this point. Being respectful of a journalist’s time, doing your homework first to ensure you are pitching a relevant story to the right person, and providing the journalists with all the elements they need is so essential to establishing a good rapport. Basically, be sensitive to another person’s time; don’t waste it!
Maddy’s best success story was between a PR person called Sandy Errestad and her. Sandy works for a company called Minc Mälmö, a startup incubator in the southern part of Sweden. She approached Maddy at a tech conference in Finland. Sandy knew that Maddy liked to write about Swedish startups, business culture, and innovation. She invited Maddy for a coffee to establish a rapport, kept in contact with her over a period of time and finally provided Maddy with the perfect story opportunity. The angle was: “Malmö transformed itself from an industrial wasteland into a startup hub rivaling Stockholm.” Why was this a successful collaboration?
Maddy explained that the story wasn’t about the incubator Minc; it wasn’t about five cool startups in Malmö; it was a broad pitch that included a visit to Malmö, other incubators and startups in the area, and a wider historical and political context. Also, according to Maddy, the timing was fantastic as it was just after Donald Trump and various other right-wing commentators had talked a lot about violence in Malmö and hyped it up to be a terrible place. So the story was something different, and it was also a “good antidote” to the negative publicity surrounding Malmö.
To sum up, Sandy targeted the right journalist; she provided Maddy with a newsworthy angle and provided all of the elements to allow Maddy to create a good story.
According to Mandy, “Nothing beats a Londoner” by Nike is a good example of successful brand storytelling. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s all about personal stories, from kids, rappers, and various sports stars. Maddy loves it because you see all of London; you discover different types of characters; it celebrates the diversity of London; you the hear the music of London. Although it’s basically a massive advert for Nike, the characters are so fascinating and the video so representative of London, papers like The Independent and broadcasters like the BBC wrote about the making of the video. “So the advert became a story itself,” said Maddy.
As Maddy explained, the whole story around Stutterheim, a Swedish raincoat maker, is about some hipster guy who worked in Sweden but didn’t have any cool clothing to keep him dry. The story goes that he found his old grandfather’s coat after his grandfather died on an island. Apparently, his grandfather was melancholic, and he was melancholic too. And that is their whole brand, with their tagline “Melancholy at its best.”
On their blog, they have interviewed writers, artists, psychologists, and have countless fascinating interviews about melancholia and mental health that has sparked off all other kinds of debates about mental health. So, according to Maddy, journalists have referred to their website to look at their interviews. And that is an example of a brand creating their own content that people are seeking.
Oliver mentioned two examples of brilliant ads that go viral, because according to him they are so entertaining you just want to share them.
There is so much news out there about Ikea, and it’s April fools pranks. Not only is a lot of the content amusing and fun, but it also shows that Ikea has a sense of humor.
We ran a poll question during the webinar asking participants about the critical challenges they face regarding media relations. The top three struggles for the 1,500 communicators participating in the webinar were:
Interesting, Jonathan didn’t agree with our audience on point one. According to Jonathan, finding the right contacts has never been easier than it is today because most journalists, if not all, are on social media. “Never before have journalists been as accessible as they are today,” said Jonathan. He did admit, though, that developing good relationships isn’t an easy task. And Oliver pointed out that maybe the real difficulty is that there are too many journalists to choose from. Instead of trying to target 100 different writers, Oliver suggested that it might be best to focus on three or four – a good recommendation as most professionals are also pressed for time.
It was a good discussion between the panelists; they had different points of views on some things and didn’t always agree. Jonathan had the PR and CMO perspective. Edgar was more your traditional journalist who didn’t like to be bothered by PR people too much. Maddy and Oliver work as freelancers and are always chasing or looking for a good story; they seemed to be a little bit more open-minded towards brands. For Oliver and Maddy, their key message was: Be relevant and don’t waste people’s time. One thing that came out of this is that journalists and freelancers are different, and have different needs, and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.
For those that participated, thanks for joining. You can listen to the webinar below, which also includes a Q&A session with the audience.