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DIY press work

Imagine that you've been working on a project that might possibly warrant media attention. Budgetary constraints prohibit you from employing a public relations company, which makes it necessary to take the DIY route.

You have considered the many possible options of dealing with the press from meetings and interviews to site visits, lunches and roadshows. After much deliberating, you decide to embark on your own media relations campaign by writing a press release, sending it to a list of trade magazines and then simply sit back in the hope that it will be published and those eagerly awaited business enquires will coming flooding in. But is it really that simple?

Trade journalists alone typically receive between 200 and 300 press releases per week, while national newspapers receive hundreds more. Sending in an isolated press release is unlikely to be noticed, let alone published!

So, what does happen to a press release? A staggering 95 per cent are put straight in to the bin, which leaves only five per cent that either lead to immediate stories, or are used as part of a larger story. A few will be put to one-side and form ideas for future articles. Remember though, as well as punchy headlines, arty photography, technical drawings and diagrams can often play a big part in attracting a journalist's attention.

To stand a reasonable chance of a story being picked up means that certain guidelines are rigidly adhered to. For example, some magazines request press releases are emailed, while others may ask for faxes or hard copies sent through the post. It may sound petty, but get it wrong and you reduce the chances of being noticed.

In the same way, make sure that stories are addressed to the right correspondent. Sending press material to 'the editor' doesn't necessarily guarantee that the correct journalist will read it. Make sure you keep a magazine's editorial details up-to-date and remember that a journalist who writes about listed buildings, for example, may not be the same as the one who is interested in estate regeneration schemes.

This is why it is crucial to build relationships with individual editors, journalists and freelance journalists. All have different roles to play. Pick up the phone and try and sell your project. Remember, journalists are looking for stories, opinions, ideas, knowledge and controversy even. The story needs to be unusual and quirky. Be outspoken and contentious and you will increase your chances of being quoted. Bear in mind too that the journalist has engaged in a conversation with you because you are the expert, with views, opinions and experience. So sound excited and enthusiastic!

But before calling, try and anticipate what the journalist is likely to ask and prepare your response and message in reply. Remember you won't get a chance to see a story before it is printed.

The press has different ways of working. While some record conversations, others may simply take notes, or type as you are speaking. (I was recently told that some journalists keep notes for up to six years!). Don't be put off by a journalist who asks difficult questions, appears to be awkward and hostile or has a negative viewpoint.

If you don't know the answer to a question, it is okay to say you are unsure. Tell the journalist you'll find out and get straight back to him or her. But do get back, preferably within the hour, to avoid missing the opportunity of being quoted.

Don't expect the press to ask you the 'right' questions, which allow you to get your message across. It often boils down to creating opportunities. The message you want to send out has to be carefully planned and developed. There cannot be anything casual or impromptu about it. It has to be thought through so that the journalist gets all the necessary information you want him or her to have in a positive, straightforward way.

Being drawn in to a conversation about what one of your competitors is doing, for example, can be a dangerous avenue to pursue and often results in being misquoted. Instead, skilfully turn the conversation to the benefits of your own firm.

Forging good relations with the press will contribute enormously to the success of your practice. Dealing with the media without the expertise of a PR professional means appointing a company spokesperson who can be relied upon to be not only opinionated and interesting but also prepared to deal with those unexpected press calls. Once you have established a good rapport with a journalist you may be called on again and again. That is why handled correctly, early groundwork pays off in long-term exposure and coverage.

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