The Language of 2020
2020, the year when communication became critical on so many levels; from ‘we’re open' or ‘we’re closed’ for business to keeping in touch with family and friends to the Government’s confusing communications regarding how we should all navigate a global pandemic with one set of increasingly complex guidelines after another! (Who can forget Matt Lucas’s parody of Boris Johnson – work from home, don’t work from home or his equally brilliant publicity for GBBO "stay alert, protect cake, save loaves").
One thing is clear: language matters.
2020 has been a year of acronyms – WFH; PPE; NHS; the R number – if you don’t know what they stand for, where have you been? Probably hiding under a duvet if you’ve got any sense!
It’s also been the year when businesses ‘pivoted’ and ‘learnt lessons from lockdown’; children were ‘home-schooled’; adults ‘worked from home’ and we all ‘clapped for carers’.
Technology became our ‘lockdown lifeline’ with virtual Zoom, Teams and WhatsApp video meetings and webinars keeping us all connected and communicating.
We’ve cancelled holidays; took part in ‘eat out to help out’; invested in home gym kits; worked out in our living rooms; become walkers, runners, cyclists; baked sourdough and banana bread; wiled away hours with board games and jigsaw puzzles; worked our way through book lists; listened to podcasts; live-streamed cultural events; exhausted Netflix and held virtual wine tastings, dinner parties and quizzes.
Rainbows appeared in windows; we got behind local businesses; we found a new sense of ‘togetherness and community spirit’; we embraced Captain Tom as a national hero and jumped up and down in the living room with Joe Wickes.
In these ‘unprecedented times’, we’ve navigated ‘unchartered territory’, ‘minimised risk’ via ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolating’, ‘shielding’, ‘washing hands’, ‘sanitising’ (everything!), ‘taking out’, ‘clicking and collecting’, ‘wearing masks’ – all of which has become part of our ‘new normal’.
As communicators, PR professionals have had a giant role to play: helping to shape communications, hone the tone, use the right vocabulary and manage brand messaging to respond to the mood of the nation and the ever-changing status quo.
An invisible, silent enemy has elicited a completely new lexicon and communication has never been more vital.
The Hoot & Holler A to Z of PR
Here is the complete alphabet of top PR tips from the Hoot & Holler #PRAtoZ, which I ran as a month-long series of daily tips on my social media feeds during September 2020.
The oft’ misunderstood tool in the marketing toolbox, PR isn’t rocket science but it does take a certain amount of know-how and skill.
Whether you actively manage your PR or not, every organisation, business or brand has a reputation. Taking the decision to actively manage your reputation by implementing a PR campaign or strategy will:
A is for Angle – if you’re pitching a story to the media you need a news angle or something that will grab the journalist’s attention and that will in turn appeal to their readers. So, for example, say you’re a drink brand, re-packaging your core line – that alone probably isn’t going to gain you column inches. Imagine how many companies are regularly doing that. You’re probably going to have to take an ad to get that in front of your key audience. However, if your new packaging is truly mould breaking, category changing, market-leading, then now you have our attention. Seasoned PR professionals are great at spotting a good story.
B is for brand awareness – if you are looking to raise your brand awareness this is definitely something that PR can do. By generating column inches, sparking a debate, putting forward an opinion you are getting your brand name out there, increasing your visibility and engaging with different audiences.
B is also for boilerplate – this is the bit at the bottom of your press release that gives some standard additional information about the company / campaign / campaign partners e.g. where you’re based, how many employees you have, what you do (in a nutshell). It can be used on all of your communications.
C is for content creation – as communications experts, PR pros are ideally placed to create content for websites, newsletters, blogs and social media. This can be part form part of your integrated marketing campaign so that your blog, social media posts and company news reflect the messages and stories you are putting out to external media as part of your media relations campaign. Although, the tone and style of your brand content will be less formal, a PR expert can help you develop a style that reflects your brand values and ethos.
C is also for caption – making sure your hi-res images to accompany your stories are captioned. This is a pretty basic one, but good PR is about attention to detail and making life easy for the media – the easier you make it, the more likely you are to get featured. So, if your images are captioned – by this we mean that the file is saved by brand name / product name / name and job title (for a person) plus a date this is going to make matching your image to the copy you submitted for a feature so much easier.
D is for ‘Don’t miss the deadline!’ – the media world works quickly, so PRs have to follow suit and be agile. This means getting information over to journalists in a timely fashion, which is often yesterday! If you can’t meet the lead time then you’re out, no matter how good your story is.
One of journalists’ pet hates is when they decide to run a story and the company is unable to respond in time. The journalist shouldn’t have to chase you. Keep them informed with realistic timings. Have material ready to go – a range of hi-res images (portrait, landscape, cut-out pack shots and lifestyle), ready to use approved quotes, signed-off press releases and quick access to a spokesperson for interviews. This is a sure-fire way to encourage the journalist to work with your organisation again in the future as they’ll trust you to deliver what you say you will.
E is for exclusive – if you’ve got a great story and you have a particular publication that you’re keen to get into, consider offering an exclusive. This means that the publication gets first dibs on the story and you don’t share it with competing outlets. In exchange, you should get some good quality coverage.
E is for earned media / editorial – achieving positive earned media or editorial is almost always the end-game in media relations (there are times when you will be doing your utmost to stay out of the media). By persuading the journalist that your product deserves to be featured because of its great sustainability credentials, you are earning the editorial. Investing or partnering with an expert to bring your brand credibility e.g. a healthy food product that has proven immune-boosting properties would do well to work with a qualified nutritionist who can provide expert comment.
F is for features / forward features – many publications, particularly B2B, have a calendar of editorial feature opps that they work to. This is something you can tap into by finding out who is writing the feature and getting them to share the feature brief or synopsis with some Q&A. You then have the opportunity to supply some expert insight and get credited.
G is for giveaway – this is another relatively low-cost tool in media relations for gaining exposure for your brand. If you have an allocation of product, merchandise or tickets that you’re willing to giveaway to meet a publication’s minimum prize value, then this commitment guarantees you control of your copy and image. You can write the copy, control the messaging and pick a branded image to be used without directly paying for the space. It can deliver some high-profile brand exposure for relatively low cost and generates good will.
G is also for goody bag – media outlets are often looking for branded items as gifts for goody bags for events they are hosting and this can be a way of getting your brand or new product into the hands of some influential people. Just make sure the profile of the event audience is a good fit for your brand.
H is for hot potato – if you have an issue that needs managing then this is a job for a PR specialist. PR pros can help to manage your communications strategy and draft statements for use in all your communications. Ideally, good crisis communications should involve strategic PR consultancy at management level early on, so that advice can be sought before things get out of control. In the long term, PRs can identify potential hot potatoes and put in place some crisis planning, they can also help with media training your spokespeople for the future.
H is also for hours – thinking of hiring an agency or an independent PR? Most work by the hour, so you’ll agree a set number of hours per month to suit your budget and priorities and the consultancy will keep track of activity and hours via a timesheet and monthly reporting system.
I is for influencer marketing – did you know that working with an influencer on social media is a great way of increasing awareness, gaining new followers and even generating sales by gifting them a discount code? Influencers are super versatile and will create a story or post or even a giveaway in return for gifted items. If you have some promotional budget available, they can create a blog post, a series of posts or even do an Instagram takeover where they guest on your channel bringing fresh content and a new audience.
Key things to look at when picking your influencer partners are post engagements, number of followers and is their content high quality, professional, do they use correct hashtags e.g. #gifted or #ad. Also, is there a good match between the influencer’s brand persona and your brand’s ethos and values?
J is for journalists – journalists and PRs have always enjoyed a bit of a love/hate relationship in many ways, after all, on one hand, journalists want a juicy, warts-and-all story, while PRs, on the other hand, are protecting their organisation’s reputation and controlling the messaging. Mostly, the PR-journalist relationship is very productive and mutually beneficial: journalists are always on the hunt for new ideas for stories and features and a good PR – providing story angles, information, expert comment and images – can really make their life much easier and give them access to some good quality resources.
Follow the #journorequest on Twitter and check it regularly during the day to stay up-to-date on media request that are posted.
K & L
K is for kicker – part of a writer’s toolkit. Typically, the introduction to the lead, it’s a sentence or two that leads into the main article or blog. In terms of formatting it is usually set apart from the rest of the copy, drawing in the reader’s attention. A kicker can also be a paragraph that closes the article, summarizing the important points.
L is for lede – the introductory part of an article or blog. Usually the place where the writer includes the ‘who, what, when, where and why’ and the gist of the piece. When I was taught to write press releases as a junior PR exec we were always told that journalists will cut from the release from the bottom up so make sure you get your key information high up in the release.
M is for media monitoring and market intelligence – as a junior exec in my first role in a PR agency, media monitoring or press cuttings, as they were then known, were the bane of my life. We were victims of our own success, with a stack of press clippings to rival the Encyclopaedia Britannica at the end of each month that had to be collated, photocopied and bound (remember binders?) into books for clients. These days there are still specialist companies who can monitor print and online media and deliver inks and articles electronically that feature mentions of your business. As well as searching for your company or brand name you can also search for a generic term related to your business, which will throw up lots of articles showing what competitors are up to and giving you a snapshot of your industry and even potential new business leads.
A word to the wise, if you are investing in media monitoring, you need current NLA and CLA licences to cover copyright. There are also specific licence requirements for sharing articles and links internally or externally and even separate arrangements for re-publishing on social media and company websites.
N is for newsjacking – when you piggyback on a news story, event, film or tv series launch to create noise around your own brand. For example, let’s say you’re a dance studio or a brand of dancewear, you might create a series of social media posts or a press release based around a new series of Strictly Come Dancing to launch a new dance class to learn some steps from Strictly, comment on what happened that week, proffer your own take on movie week or simply discuss your favourite costume or dance style. Be creative, use it as a launch pad or just entertain your community and be visible!
O is for open letter – this is a powerful way of communicating with a wide audience via a letter intended to be read by many rather than a private missive between two individuals. There are two types of open letter:
Still not convinced about the value of PR?
P is for #powerofpr – check out the new campaign to promote the PR industry for the PRCA – more details on their website. #powerofpr is designed to champion the value of PR to business and society.
Don’t leave your reputation to chance – manage your messages and relationships and look after your reputation. It’s about what you do and how you behave more than what you say. Make sure you can back up your claims with bullet-proof credentials. This is where PR comes in at the strategic level of any business planning - advising and consulting on business decisions before a harmful decision is made.
Q is for Q&As – when you are launching a new product or service, it pays to think about things from your customer’s point of view. Developing some key questions and answers will stand you in good stead and ensure you have thought through and around any potential pitfalls. By using prepared Q&As, your team can be consistent in the answers they are giving. It’s also a good idea to have Q&As for the media, who will be researching their story, asking their own questions and looking for fresh angles.
Q is also for quotes – always good to include a quote in your press releases which adds relevant information and insight to your story e.g. it can talk about the motivation for a product or service launch and the benefits it brings to your customers. Providing well-written, punchy quotes can also be an excellent way of getting your business into an industry feature or business story – the media are always looking for expert insight and opinions.
R is for reach – unless you have an incredible marketing & PR budget it’s unlikely that you can stretch to every media opportunity on offer so it’s all about prioritising and targeting the media outlets or influencers who are already talking to your customers or potential customers. In order to make an informed decision, you need to know more about a publication’s circulation and readership demographic or if it’s a blogger you are targeting, find out the DA (Domain Authority) of their blog and their audience reach or for an influencer, check out what sort of engagement they achieve on their posts – the number of followers isn’t enough alone. Most publications have a media pack that will give you all this kind of information and most serious bloggers and influencers will also supply a media pack or at least be able to give you their key stats.
S is for stats – the media love a stat! Sharing some market insight via some research you’ve commissioned is almost guaranteed to get you some column inches. Omnibus surveys are a cost-effective way of asking questions to inform your business practice and comparing trends within markets. It also allows you to position your business as the experts in your field. On the other hand, quirky stats such as the most popular time and place to drink your morning cuppa (if you’re a tea or coffee company) are also great for grabbing headlines.
Day T is for testimonials – customer testimonials are the best way to increase customer confidence and trust in your brand. If a third party who has no vested interest in your business is singing your praises this is the best kind of PR, third party endorsement. How many times have you won business based on a recommendation or used a business based on a friend’s recommendation? Don’t be afraid to share testimonials on your website, on your social media channels and in your customer communications.
U is for understanding your customer – great brands know exactly who their customer is and what their customers want. Thinking about a FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) brand which often has mass appeal, customers will fall into different categories with different motivations for buying a product. In this case you’ll need to segment your messages to show you understand each sub-set of customers.
On the other hand, if you know that the majority of your customers specifically fall into the millennial and generation z segments of the population, then you can use market research studies to understand what motivates them. Even better, poll your customers and ask them what they want. This will inform your customer communications and ensure you are providing relevant blog and social media content that is highly targeted, useful and personalised.
V is for voice and video content – two ways in which you can engage your customer via your social media channels and customer newsletters. Your brand voice needs to chime with your audience. Imagine you are sitting opposite one of your customers telling them about your business over a coffee? Are you using their language, are you holding their attention, is what you are saying relevant to their lifestyle and needs?
Video = hot content. You only have to look at all the ways that are available now for showcasing video content to know that this is a sure-fire way of grabbing your audience’s attention: Instagram reels; IGTV; YouTube; Facebook Live; Tik Tok. Video is a dynamic way of connecting with your audience and great for demonstrating a recipe, showing customers the Covid-19 safety precautions that you have put in place at your shop or just simply putting a face to a name. Social media algorithms love video content.
W is for White Paper – an in-depth, authoritative paper or report, which an organisation can publish and own as part of a wider series of blog posts. This is a good PR tool for B2B businesses who are looking to educate their audience about a particular topic and the challenges surrounding it for their potential customers / partners. It’s a vehicle for presenting evidence and facts in the form of research and data and exploring solutions to the problem. The idea is to influence buying decisions of potential customers but not to overtly sell a product.
Did you know that the term White Paper originated from government publications that sought to explain and educate about complex issues?
X is for X factor and eXceptional – a good PR can identify the X factor that is going to make your brand sing in the media. It’s about pulling out key messages, USPs and focusing on what makes it eXceptional from all the other products out there. It might be a carbon-neutral production facility that promotes looking after our planet and avoiding global pandemics or a completely sugar-free product that can leverage the war against obesity news agenda.
Have you identified your X factor? Mine is brand storytelling.
Y is for Yellow News – this is a brand of media monitoring that I use for Hoot & Holler clients. It monitors set keywords such as a client’s brand name, a generic term and/or a competitor name – in the press and online media. You receive a daily round-up of articles and links to mentions in the media. As well as allowing us to keep a tally on the media coverage we are generating, it also allows us to keep track of the client’s market and can even generate sales leads in some cases. The service also has the ability to generate analysis reports presenting metrics on media reach and the key messages.
Z is for creating buZZ and taking a brand from zero to hero. A great way to round-up the Hoot & Holler A to Z of PR: PR is about amplification, education and generally creating some buZZ around your product or service. It’s about getting people talking about and connecting with your business. It’s about ensuring you’re communicating the right messages, making sure your audience know the story behind the brand, what’s good about it, what needs it meets and why they need it in their life.
And that is what they call a wrap!
Now, it might seem logical that if you're looking for top-drawer PR you'd plump for an all singing-all dancing, full service agency, working with the top names. Makes sense, right? But, do you need all singing-all dancing? More to the point, is your budget up to it? If your answer to these is 'Yes' then maybe you don't need to read any further, but then again maybe you should....
More often than not, your independent PR practitioner has honed their skillset and experience at said top-notch agency and taken the leap to "do it their way" because of personal circumstances or to make a proactive lifestyle choice. Just because they're flying solo it doesn't mean that they can't add value to your business with the same creativity and professionalism. What's more, with minimal overheads - the majority work from home - they can certainly offer more bang for your buck.
Then, consider this: independents are dynamic individuals who are super-motivated to succeed. They absolutely have to be. Firstly, they're a business leader committed to succeeding. Like a leader, they are accountable: for every piece of advice they give, every release they issue and ultimately for ensuring they are delivering results that meet the client's objectives. When you choose an independent practitioner you're definitely getting 'what you see on the label' and there is nowhere to hide.
By opting for a freelancer, you can find someone who really matches your needs. There will be a freelancer with the sector specialisms and specific skillset that is the perfect fit for your business. But, hang on, what if there is something they don't have experience of? If there is one thing Indie PRs are good at it's networking - they'll know someone who can.
Still not convinced? Perhaps you're thinking "yep, but they can't possibly be up to speed with the latest knowledge and skills because they don't have access to the agency talent pool?" I'd argue: yes, actually (of course, I would!). Indies have to be even more committed to training and personal development to ensure they are relevant. With industry organisations such as the CIPR and PRCA, there are plenty of ways to plug into a continuous personal development programme. What's more, the CIPR have just announced the launch of an independent practitioners group, so the good news is we now have a dedicated support network. Add to this online marketplace platforms such as The PR Cavalry and The Work Crowd, which are akin to dating apps for clients and PRs, and you could go as far to say that 2019 will be "the Year of the Indie PR".
So what are you waiting for, go find yourself an all singing-all dancing, #trending indie PR!
#indiePR #CIPRindie #entrepreneur #publicrelations
Clare Pope, always has her head in a book - current read Gathering Storm by Rachel Hore