Information & Influence: Why editorial is still the cornerstone of media relations

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“Let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.” 

Malala Yousafzai 

 

Back in 2016, Ogilvy Media Influence conducted a survey1 of editors and journalists looking at how reporters themselves consume news, and which sources or platforms they trust. The results showed that 72% trusted traditional editorial outlets such as The Financial Times newspaper and the BBC website over other platforms including social media and company websites. In short, “even reporters trust reporters more than they trust any other type of content”. 

Editorial has always been – and will always be – a cornerstone to good media relations. Whilst social media, fake news, and video content apps have sprung up in the last decade, the influence of traditional editorial and media relations has remained the strongest. Editorial content, whether in print or online is where consumers look when making decisions – it is more influential and important to brands and companies than any other marketing content, including their own website and advertising.  

As Malala states, words – from books and pens, to editorial and publicity – are powerful. In our business of communications, utilising the right words for our clients is essential. We are their public voice – and as such, the words chosen to convey messaging, express context, speak to specific audiences, strike meaningful tone, and inform on subject matter are our responsibility. Choosing the wrong words or misjudging the value of high-quality editorial can be the difference between success and failure for not only a campaign, but reputation and loyalty also. 

Reaching the reader: traditional media relations 

Warren Buffet famously said that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it” which seems the perfect starting point for reasoning on the importance of media relations. 

Whilst digital content is booming, it doesn’t mean that traditional media platforms must fall away to make space. Traditional outlets, such as newspapers, magazines and radio stations have years of trust behind them and can go a long way in building the reputation of an individual, brand, or company. Even with the advent of social media, for many consumers, traditional editorial is where we look first when asking a question in a search engine, or researching for decision making. 

Here, more than anywhere else, words are crucial. Traditional media relations are essential for communication of the key messaging, as it leaves a long-lasting impression on the reader or listener. The short form content found on social media is a useful tool for driving traffic to a website or link, and for engaging with audiences, but information is ‘bite sized’ or sometimes only available for a short time.  

By communicating messaging through intelligent editorial in trusted, established sources, a reputation is more securely built. Information shared in long-form editorial creates a longer lasting impression, not only in the mind but in SEO optimisation which can pay for itself for years to come. 

(Editorial) Content is king: the power of words 

For PRs, we access editorial opportunities with storytelling. Storytelling – and the words we use to do this – humanises brands, companies, and projects. The creative use of language enables PRs to cut through the noise of competitors to reach out beyond statistics, research, facts and figures and make a bond with a reader. Connections made through interesting and articulate writing makes news and content both relatable and relevant – essential for those of us engaged in communication as our leading skill set. 

With words, we can create a brand identity and narrative, which when pitched correctly for an audience can influence changes in thought and behaviour in a way that supports the objectives of a campaign. Not only that, but we also have the power to transmit specialist or technical content with editorial flair – which for industry specialist clients is a combination often difficult to achieve in-house. 

As Francis Ingham, PRCA Director General points out, “[…] The point of a good story – fictional, corporate or otherwise – is vital to building a reputation. Because ultimately consumers don’t buy CEOs, or logos, or even products to some extent. They buy reputation.” 

In short, storytelling (via editorial or media relations) gives key messaging some life. The power of words is that they can add a bit of colour and human interest to a concept, product, service or project that a journalist can take and build on further, that readers can tell their friends about, or that co-workers can discuss in a coffee break. The power of words is that it gets people talking. 

Case study: Twelve media relations in action 

In our pursuit of editorial excellence, we are proud to have been shortlisted for Best Media Relations in the CIPR Pride Awards 2021, for our work with Earthwatch Europe, an international environmental charity, who set out to keep isolated children connected to nature during lockdown. Earthwatch’s Wild Days, launched just nine days into the first lockdown, was a digital service delivering a daily package of nature content. 

Our main challenge was to raise Wild Days above competition, sustain interest and raise Earthwatch’s profile as a provider of educational resources for families. Our media relations therefore highlighted the charity’s long-standing expertise delivering top-quality nature-based content for children and the key target audiences for our messaging were parents and families passionate about nature. 

We utilised multiple communication channels including national and regional titles and taster articles for parent and family press, with editorial which harnessed the expertise of Earthwatch’s ambassadors, and which built upon the content available on Wild Days. Articles and blogs presented weekly Wild Days themes including wildlife, food, water, soil, climate, and shelter within key parenting titles. And a national poetry competition was also launched, tapping into our more lyrical and emotional connection to words to promote and support the Wild Days programme, and providing opportunities for local and regional media outreach. 

The commitment to sharing Wild Days and Earthwatch messaging with traditional media relations and editorial helped us secure an estimated press reach of 79 million people, with 49 earned media cuttings. National press equated to 25% of all secured coverage including the Guardian, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph, plus a Sunday Times print feature on research:  ‘Wild things really do make our hearts sing’. Twenty-six pieces of coverage presenting the poetry competition spanned regional titles from Oban to St Ives.   

Taster articles were secured in a range of parenting magazines, whilst lifestyle titles including Psychologies and Country Living ensured we reached parents passionate about the environment.  Wild Days was also featured as the top suggestion in Waitrose Weekend’s list of ‘6 websites to keep kids happy’ during lockdown. 

Wild Days concluded in the summer of 2020, but the campaign’s impact at Earthwatch still resonates. The core content has been repurposed as ‘Earthwatch Education’ which trains teachers in outdoor education.   

So, let us pick up our books and pens, our newspapers and keyboards. If you are looking for engaging ideas communicated through powerful editorial, get in touch with Twelve PR team – info@twelvepr.co.uk 

Noise proves nothing

How to make your release stand out from the crowd. 

Sometimes my wife and I watch an ad on television, turn to each other and ask, ‘What was that all about?’’ 

Some ads are just noise. They fill your head, but nothing gets through. 

That said, I do take some comfort from the fact that after several decades working in marketing, and indeed with advertising agencies, by the time a finished ad gets to our screen, it will surely be ticking the right boxes with its intended targets. 

It will have gone around the various ad agency departments numerous times – creative, research and insight, production, media planning, buying.  Plus, the client will have picked it over in fastidious detail. It will have been subjected to rigorous target audience research and testing.  

All of which means that some viewers are just collateral, on the fringes of the target audience. Or, as the Cambridge dictionary puts it: connected but less important, of the same family although not directly related.  

The agency bought an ad package, and I just came with it – collateral audience. 

Sometimes similar can be said of PR. Who can honestly say they haven’t mailed a distribution list knowing that not every journalist or publication is entirely relevant?  Does that make them collateral journalists?

We all know that journalists loath the blanket mailing of press releases.  

It lands in their inbox or as a link on their Twitter or Linkedin pages because they’re one of hundreds on a list somewhere which the sender either didn’t have time to pick through, or simply didn’t bother. Or worse still, didn’t know enough about the sector or publication to know who would be interested in the release and who wouldn’t. Both approaches inevitably give PR a bad name and make our jobs harder. 

Targeting is important. Journalists often claim to receive hundreds, if not thousands, of releases every day. Blankets mailings just create ínbox noise.  

So how can PRs cut through the noise? 

  1. First make sure your release is relevant news for the publication you’re sending it to. Obvious you’d hope, but a common fault. 
  2. Have a good subject line that grabs journalists’ attention: not wacky phrases, but something that tells them you’ve got a good story for them.  
  3. Get your news in the first para. Make them want to read on. 
  4. Lose unnecessary words, cut the waffle, stick to the facts. In short, cut out even more noise. 
  5. Make it interesting – sometimes easier said than done, but that’s where the writer’s skill lies.  
  6. Build relationships with journalists so your name or name of company alone will prompt interest. 

I could go on but I think you get the gist. Noise proves nothing. Rise above it. 

Four ways to communicate pro-environmental actions

 

#CIPRClimateComms – Sustainability needs more than lip-service

“Saving the planet is now a communications challenge” from David Attenborough is one of my favourite quotes, in fact it’s already inspired a number of blog posts from the Twelve PR team and we picked the quote to represent June on our anniversary desk calendar.

It is obviously a quote that resonates with many as it was also chosen by CIPR to inspire their climate change conference last month – full title ‘Climate Change and the Role of PR: Why communication is key’.

Over the half day, speakers looked at the real challenge we have on our hands when it comes to climate change, sustainability and saving our planet whilst looking at ways we as an industry can better understand the issues surrounding global warming and transition to Net Zero.

Speakers also covered how PRs can support clients and employers in their journey to become more sustainable. For some of the top insights, I’d highly recommend checking out the #CIPRClimateComms hashtag on Twitter.

For me the discussion between Sian Conway-Wood of #EthicalHour, CommsHero’s Asif Choudry and PersonaR & WhiteElephantDigital’s Andras Sztaniszlav resonated the most as they discussed ‘greenwashing’. This is the process of conveying misleading information about how a company’s products or practices are more environmentally sound when the claims are largely unsubstantiated.

‘‘We’re all being greenwashed from all angles. There are companies that are doing this intentionally, and the small businesses that just don’t know any better. But we can be the gatekeepers,” commented Sian Conway-Wood.

Greenwashing is nothing but detrimental

Greenwashing can be deeply confusing for consumers who are genuinely looking to switch to products with a greater eco-focus. Once it’s realised that green claims are false, motivation to live more sustainably is damaged.

The panel’s main thrust was that as PRs we play an important role in ensuring the sustainability messages we communicate on behalf of our clients are genuine.

At Twelve, I’m proud to work with clients where authenticity is a central component of their business practices; sustainability is a conscious choice and our communications programmes don’t just pay lip service.

For example, we support the packaging division at Tata Steel, a world leader in sustainable steelmaking and one of the largest steel producers in Europe.  In its 2020 Sustainability Report, the steel producer laid out its commitment to carbon-neutral steelmaking by 2050. It is investing in breakthrough technologies including carbon capture, using hydrogen and HIsarna – a radical new technology for making iron which has been in development since 2011.

By 2033, Tata Steel’s ambition is to have HIsarna working at full scale and ready to replace one of the blast furnaces, the traditional method for making steel. HIsarna can cut up to 100 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, when combined with carbon capture.

Similarly, client Altelium is at the forefront of insurtech solutions in the green energy market. Using real-time information about battery state-of-health combined with AI technology, it supports customers who need to make investment or operational decisions about electric vehicle batteries in first and second life situations.

How we should be communicating pro-environmental actions

At the end, when I look at my notes from the #CIPRClimateComms conference, I came away with four key learnings; four ways to communicate pro-environmental actions:

  1. Concentrate on providing the solution or action

I wrote a previous piece for the Twelve PR blog about the importance of behaviour change and how by providing straightforward advice, people feel empowered.

  1. Positive message and highlight the benefits

By showcasing the positive message, it reinforces motivation. My favourite mantra is ‘small action, big impact’.  This phrase was used by previous client Cawleys Waste Management to encourage its clients to embrace easy recycling at work such as separating paper from food waste to improve resource recovery.

Similarly, often people won’t take action if they don’t think their actions will have any personal benefits – not everyone is motivated by saving the planet, although personally, I think they should be.

Veganism is a great case study. Sarah Pascoe, comedian, is quoted as saying on social media: “I decided that I was going to do 100 days being vegan, and I was going to write it up and see how I felt. But within a week, I felt so much better in my body, that it became ‘oh I am definitely going to do this forever.’ My digestion immediately improved”…

  1. Peer pressure

There’s nothing like a spot of peer pressure to encourage others to adopt sustainable practices. In a survey we conducted for Metal Packaging Manufacturers Association between parents and children on recycling attitudes, 41 per cent of parents said they believe it was their children who drove recycling and a further 43 per cent had faced a telling off from their offspring – an average of three times a week! – for not making more effort with recycling.

  1. Relatable messengers

I spotted this in a write-up from Sustainable Sidekicks, choosing a messenger that people can relate to or trust is crucial. Our June cover star, David Attenborough, is perfect example and his Blue Planet series shows how the right messenger can galvanise a worldwide audience.

If you would like help conveying your pro-environmental messages, get in touch – jessica@twelvepr.co.uk