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Getting yourself heard

AN A to Z guide to working with the media in accordance with the ABPI

A collection of microphones set up for an interviewA is for ABPI
Love it or hate it we are bound by the ABPI Code of Practice. As PR professionals we live and die by Clause 22 and assume the enormous responsibility of communicating our client's message to the UK media. The revised code has strengthened advice to PR professionals about media relations and patient group activities.

B is for briefings
This is the best bit of being in PR. Briefings provide an opportunity to meet face-to-face, really 'sell' your story and help your target journalist develop a pitch that will please their editor and reach their audience. Think carefully and consider how strong your story actually is before scheduling briefings or indeed press conferences.

C is for case studies
Young, attractive and 'extraordinary' patient case studies with a story to tell are what the media want. However, in today's code compliant environment, this is often difficult. The R-M approach is to work closely with our client and direct the media to patient groups where appropriate.

D is for deadlines
Deadlines are sacred to journalists. Dealing with deadlines requires you to know the schedules of your target publications inside and out. A journalist's biggest pet peeve is receiving phone calls from PRs on deadline
· they will either ignore the call or give you short shrift and hang up the phone.

E is for embargo
Embargoes are at the heart of every good PR strategy providing a mechanism to control the release of a news story, allowing simultaneous global distribution and ensuring key journalists are pre-briefed in advance. You should only share embargoed news with media you trust – this is where your media relationships come in. Over time you work out which journalists will play by the rules, and which won't – and the ones who don't play ball won't get the story.

F is for factoids
Factoids are the essential foundations to any story and can help PRs tailor stories for an individual journalist's needs. Before you make contact with the journalist make sure you have a robust set of factoids ready to use; this will save you time, stress and improve your media relationships.

G is for The Guardian
The Guardian represents an important and influential political media target with a very specific remit in terms of news topics. They are not interested in 'my drug is better than your drug' news stories. Take a step back and look at your news story in light of the current political environment. If possible link it to current issues and then you are ready to pitch your story to The Guardian.

H is for headlines
PR that makes headlines is what every client wants. The headline is what every good PR pitch hangs on. Start with the headline and then help the journalists fill in the gaps to build their story.

I is for the internet
The huge success of internet-based news services is dramatically changing the way the mainstream media and PRs work. It is important to build relationships with the editorial teams and understand the unique demands of online news services. This is the future and it is time for PRs to step up to the mark or risk being left behind.

J is for journalists
Journalists traditionally love to hate PRs. However, good PRs who know their subject matter are worth their weight in gold to busy news editors. In fact, good relationships can be (surprisingly) mutually beneficial, as often journalists will call you looking
for news stories. The two golden rules are know the journalist you are speaking with and know your subject area inside out.

K is for keep calm
Media relations can be hectic and stressful. However, no matter what happens do your best to stay calm and deal with each media enquiry quickly and efficiently. Do not be afraid to say no if a media request is not possible. If you do not know the answer
to a question, don't make it up, take time to do further research and call them back as soon as possible with the information they need.

L is for lunch
Liquid or solid, the choice is yours. Lunch is the perfect way to catch up with journalists and cement those all important relationships. Lunch fits perfectly in between the morning grind of obligatory press briefings and the afternoon race to meet media deadlines.

M is for media materials
Simplicity is the magic word when preparing materials for the media. A two-page press release clearly setting out the story and a concise backgrounder should suffice in most cases. Make sure the wording is correct, the messages are clear and that accurate contact details are included if a journalist requires additional information.

N is for national media
The national media (print and broadcast) is the holy grail of media relations. Big circulations and varied audiences ensure the message achieves maximum impact and influence. National newspapers should be contacted as early in the day as possible and
broadcast outlets should not be contacted when on air.

O is for organisation
Media relations can be very stressful if you are unprepared and great fun if you are organised. Create a checklist and make sure you have everything you need before you begin. Key elements include:
· Client approved materials
· Approved spokespeople quotes
· Spokespeople availability and contact details
· Up-to-date client approved media list

P is for the picture desk
A picture is worth a thousands words and can add real value to your pitch. Every print based outlet will have a picture desk and editor. Work with a professional photographer and develop a selection of photographs (a maximum of four) to
illustrate your story, if appropriate. When pitching your story be sure to tell the journalist that you have sent pictures to the picture desk.

Q is for Q&As
Anticipate all questions and be prepared. Q&As should not be restricted to crisis situations – every media relations drive will throw up questions. How much does it cost? Where was it developed? How many people are affected? Simple questions that are easy to answer – all you need is a Q&A prepared and approved in advance.

R is for regional press
Regional press is the Cinderella of the PR world. The power of the regional press, especially when it comes to healthcare, is phenomenal. A hit in a major regional news outlet can be worth more than a hit with a national where the story is of local importance. Treat the regional media with respect, take the time to build contacts and they will repay you in spades.

S is for spokespeople
Media spokespeople form the backbone of every successful media relations campaign. Credibility, availability and an ability to deliver concise and media friendly sound bites are an absolute must.

T is for the trade press
Many PRs and clients overlook the importance of trade magazines. The targeted nature of this media makes the information that appears within them even more powerful. Unlike general interest publications, readers of trade magazines and journals already have an established interest. It is always a good idea to obtain a copy of the publication's editorial calendar to see if you can tie your media relations into a specific theme or issue.

U is for UK press
Always treat the UK press with the utmost respect. The UK press has a reputation for being the toughest in the world in their determination to get information. It is one of the most challenging, influential and exciting media for a PR to deal with.

V is for video news releases
(VNR) and B-rolls

A VNR is the equivalent of a press release and a B-roll is the equivalent of a backgrounder for TV journalists. VNRs are very popular in the US, however, they are generally not accepted by the UK media. They are an edited news story, usually 30-90 seconds, complete with narration, interviews, background video names and titles. B-roll is widely used and requested by the UK broadcast media. B-roll includes a series of unedited video shots and interviews related to the news story.

W is for women's press
The women's press cover a diverse range of publications from Take A Break to Good Housekeeping to Tatler. All are hugely influential and directly target the health decision makers in society – women. Women's magazines hang around GP surgeries, hairdressers and so on and have a long shelf life. As with all media, know your target. Take A Break will not deal with celebrities while Tatler thrives on them. Both weekly and monthly publications have long lead times ranging from six weeks to six months, so, when working with the women's press, plan in advance to bolster your media relations campaign.

X is for the X factor
Media relations is all about PRs who firstly have the X factor in terms of media relations, and secondly can communicate the X factor of any story clearly and concisely to a journalist. Practice your pitch before you speak with the journalist to ensure you capture their attention and communicate clearly.

Y is for yesterday's news
In today's 24-hour news environment, online outlets are easily accessible long after today's newspaper is 'tomorrow's fish and chip wrapping'. In today's modern age, stories never die and yesterday's news is technically an outdated term. Indeed, a good PR professional sees the opportunity to ensure yesterday's news continues to evolve, keeping a story in the news for the clients long after an embargo breaks.

Z is for Z list celebrities
Celebrities can breathe life and media interest into disease awareness campaigns if budgets allow. Used carefully, a celebrity can personalise a story.

The Author
Alison MacKenzie is joint director at Reynolds-MacKenzie.
She can be contacted at or on +44 (0) 20 7031 4360.

3rd November 2009


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