Rob Tomkinson: PR and the art of making something out of nothing

I’ll let you into a secret. Journalists don’t care about your press release.

They care about you, your story, your company’s story, the story of your employees, your customers and the community or industry around you.

The press release might be the medium by which you tell them your story, but it’s what you say in those few hundred words that can make them sit up and pay attention or move on to the next one.

The question, then, is what do you have to say?

And the answer to that doesn’t always come easy. Most companies don’t have ready-made stories to send out every week, and of those that do, how many are actually worthy of a journalist’s time.

The larger the company, the easier it becomes to generate stories. However it isn’t just big business, or a big budget, that gets to have all of the headlines – you just have to be creative and follow some universal rules of good PR.

Who are you talking to?

I don’t mean your customers – you already know who they are. I mean the media; the websites, magazines, newspapers, TV or radio that your customers read, watch or listen to.

Spend some time reading the news in the same places as your customers and look for stories that relate to your business (unfortunately there aren’t any shortcuts here, but the time you spend researching at this stage will pay off later).

Look at yourself

What makes your business special, and ultimately better than the competition? Why do people buy from you? Which products or services do you want to sell more of? And which topics or subjects are you qualified to talk about?

Answer those questions to make sure you’re spending your time (and money) on the right PR that will give you the best return on investment.

Face the facts

By this point you know your story and you know the types of stories your customers are interested in reading.

Now it’s time to go hunting – for stats!

Look for publicly available information relating to your customers that you can analyse to spot interesting trends or topics hidden within.

These can be the spark for a press story of your own – try linking what you find to different areas of your business or your expertise, and keep going until, bingo!

The big idea

This is the part that’s not so easy to script, but if you follow the steps above in detail, inspiration should begin to emerge.

It could be taking government data about your industry and relating it to what’s happening here in Lincolnshire, or it could be carrying out a survey of your own customers to challenge or support data you’ve found elsewhere. Have some fun here!

Do your homework

Once you have your big idea, unpick it like a journalist would do.

Challenge the story (Paxman-style), make sure the sources of any data are trusted (government data is usually, but not exclusively, the best).

Make sure any statements of fact are truthful and if you can, support your story with comments from independent third parties who speak from positions of authority, just like you do. Make sure your business has something valuable to add to the conversation.

If your story falls down under that scrutiny, start the process again.

Cross the channel

Now you’ve got your big idea ready in a press release, it’s time to think beyond it, to email marketing, PPC, SEO and more.

If you’re after some ideas for how to make the most of new digital channels, keep an eye on this year’s Lincolnshire Digital and Tech Awards in May.

And finally… making the extraordinary out of something

Follow the steps above whether you’re scratching around for stories or sitting on an amazing story.

You’ll be making journalists’ lives easier and sending out press stories that are genuinely interesting to their readers every time.