Most PR agencies with big-name brands to look after are expected to pore over the (online) news every morning to see what stories might be bubbling around that could affect their client. Everyone also knows that ‘newsjacking’, the idea that you might be able to piggyback onto a breaking story with a release (or, just as likely, a Tweet, a Facebook message or some quick video content) about your client is the Holy Grail for clients and the bane of most PR’s lives.
Why? Scouring the papers is a job that few PRs relish – I know this first hand because I used to wedge £20 notes in the back of the unpopular newspapers when I was in agencyland and wanted to see how thorough a job my team had done. All too often the crisp notes would still be there, unseen, when they’d finished – forcing me to bite my tongue as colleagues cheerily announced that they’d “been through everything.”
One agency boss in a well-known creative PR agency I worked with used to go insane at the lack of enthusiasm about paper-reading and tell new joiners that if they couldn’t be bothered to do it then they should piss off and find another job, he felt it was so fundamental to the role of a PR. Now I know the world has moved on but whether a physical paper or an online source, I think one reason scanning the news is such an unloved part of the PR repertoire is because it can seem to yield such infinitesimal results. Everything about it is frustrating – information overload; a tendency to become engrossed by something you find absorbing even when it’s not remotely relevant; finding dedicated time to commit to the job; the mindlessly repetitive nature of the process. It all adds up to the likelihood of a job not very well done.
But do you know what? I’m pretty sure that the problem boils down to the fact that many people don’t really know how to read newspapers creatively. As with many things, there’s a bit of an art to it.
Now Go Create was recently asked to work with a big name consumer brand who wanted to up their game when it came to latching onto the news – and in doing so I teamed up with a seasoned pro in journalist Mike Peake. Mike’s been writing for 20-odd years, has a fab track record working for the nationals and magazines galore, and is someone I like working with when bouncing ideas around. I asked Mike to give me his top 5 tips for creative newspaper reading for this blog. Here’s his take:
1/ Take off the blinkers. “If you’re representing a fast food company, the obvious temptation is to only look out for stories that pertain to fast food,” says Mike. “In doing so, you would be missing multiple opportunities. Subway doesn’t just have a relevant voice when it comes to sandwiches, but for everything from youth culture to franchising to Wi-Fi to teen romance.”
2/ The 60-second rule. Your goal, says Mike, is to try and scan everything that has broken overnight as quickly as you possibly can. “It’s a sprint, not a marathon,” he explains. “You get the gist from the header and the intro and with focus and forcing yourself to take in a story in no more than 60 seconds you can ‘do’ the news in less than an hour. Make a note of any possibilities and explore them when you’re done.”
3/ Know your brand’s ‘trigger’ words. “As with the Subway example,” says Mike, “every brand has multiple opportunities. While many are tenuous, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have no value.” Write down all of the topics that your brand even loosely has a connection to (positive associations are naturally better than negative): aim for at least 15.
4/ Let your imagination run wild. “Yes it’s a cliché, but when reading the news and looking for opportunities, you almost have to let yourself go cross-eyed and fall through the looking glass,” says Mike. He cites the recent opening of Lindsay Lohan’s new West End play, which received lukewarm reviews, as a good example. “It would have been a great chance for Werther’s Originals, say, to release ‘scientific data’ about which is the noisiest and least noisy snack to munch during a tedious theatre performance.” Would ‘noise’ or ‘theatre’ have been one of that brand’s key ‘trigger’ words? Probably not.
5/ Don’t let budget get in the way of polls. An easy way to latch onto a news story is to release a poll that shamefacedly piggybacks it, and one way to do it quickly is via Twitter and Facebook. “Newspapers and websites generally like polls, especially if they’re smart and on-the-money,” says Mike, “but there’s a big misconception that they have to cost a fortune.” If your brand has decent Twitter/Facebook clout, snapshot polls can be done for nothing and there are several Facebook apps to help. Incidentally, according to the British Polling Council, “There is no, ‘minimum’, sample size for a poll which is acceptable.”
We offer a newspaper reading and story generation service to stressed/bored/fed up PR teams who need to offer creative news hitch-hikes – give us a shout for details.