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From Bras to Balloons... Lessons in Media Magic

Successful entrepreneurs know how to get things for free. Their speciality is media coverage. Entrepreneurs like Michelle Mone and Richard Branson consistently generate headlines that money couldn’t buy.

Michelle Mone founded Ultimo, a bra company. She had a tiny budget of £500 to launch the brand and spent in on a publicity stunt, paying actors to dress up as plastic surgeons and stage a protest that Ultimo was so good that it was putting them out of business. She got hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of media attention from the stunt.

Branson is a legend in working with the media, he is probably most famous for his near death experiences in hot air balloons.

These headlines don’t just happen by accident… There is a highly structured process that has been implemented in order to generate such staggering results. In this blog post I am keen to explore the science behind media relations.

Getting press coverage requires journalists and editors wanting to write about your story. The best way to do this is by having a personal relationship with the journalist and or editor. Meeting with them in person and getting to know them. Many companies employ PR agencies, specifically because they have these valuable relationships in place.

If you’re starting from scratch building these relationships here are some pointers:

  1. Find out which media outlets are most relevant for you. You may get better results being featured in niche industry press rather than mass media.

  2. Identify who the relevant contact is within that media outlet.

  3. Call them up. This step needs preparation. You must start by explaining to the person why you’re relevant. Why should they bother listening to you. What are you doing that is of interest to them.

  4. Ask them what they are interested in. What headlines, stories, themes are they wanting to cover.

  5. Request permission to send over some ideas about a piece that might fit their interests.

When I first started trying to get media coverage, I would spend a huge amount of time writing a detailed press release. This is a futile waste of time. There is an easy hack to improve performance. Call the journalist and find out what they want to publish. Then write the press release they want. This will massively increase you chance of getting published.

Once you’ve discovered what kind of content a journalist will publish. You then need to package all the information up in a press release that is easy for them to use. Poorly structured press releases won’t get coverage. The aim is to make it as quick and easy as possible for a journalist to turn your press release into an article. Short paragraphs, easy-to-read language and bullet points are vital. Think fast communication of interesting information. There is a magic formula.

  • Write an interesting headline. Grab attention!

  • Provide a very brief intro paragraph. What is the most important thing you want to communicate, get it across in 30 words.

  • Provide context. What is happening to whom, when and where, why is this important, what is the winder impact, what do people think about this.

  • The information should be factual, with references.

  • There should be quotes to add emphasis to the main message selling points. The quotes should come for credible people.

  • Provide high quality photos. A picture is worth a thousand words. The right picture is engaging and impactful it supports the core message of the story.

  • More technical/analytic insight can be added in notes for Editors at the end.

  • Include contact details for story follow up and be ready to respond quickly to press enquiries. It is vital to grab the moment.

When writing the release it’s important to remember what news is. News is something that people haven't heard already. A good press release is part scientific investigation part dramatic story. People read stories, the raw facts must be brought to life with an interesting angle.

From a business perspective it makes sense to start planning the press release with a clear objective. E.G. acquire new clients, attract employees, improve image in industry. Then develop the story in a way that will also achieve your core objective. Most media content is like a trojan horse, a story with an ulterior motive, a subtle or subliminal message. Artful PR crafts this core business objective invisibly into a great story.

There are two types of press release. Hard and Comment.

Hard is raw facts about something of significance. Significance depends on the media's audience. This can vary from niche to mass market. An example might be a niche new product launch in an a small industry journal, or reporting the outbreak of a war on a global TV channel. Hard news can be created from research, uncovering interesting facts and turning them into a story.

Comment is providing an opinion and commentary on current themes and trending topics. If you can become an industry expert or a person of significance you will be asked to comment regularly by the media. You can provide valuable insight, and put it into a context that benefits yourself. E.G. Richard Branson talking about the effects of Brexit.

For a start up company media probably won’t care about your hard news. It’s not news that you’ve moved office, or hired some. In my experience it is much more effective for a small company to work on commentary news, providing a view on popular trending subjects is more likely to get exposure.

It doesn’t matter if your news is about a PR stunt, commentary, or hard facts. It still needs a journalist to pick it up and publish it. I hope that sharing my limited insight into the world of media will spark some ideas of how you can work with journalists to promote your message.


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