Public Relations

by Debbie Leven

PR tools

A number of tools may be used by the PR department or your PR adviser, including

  • The press release
  • The press pack
  • The press briefing
  • The press conference
  • Photography
  • The photo call
  • Telephone/email ‘pitch’
  • Case studies
  • Press notice
  • Letters to editor
  • Interview
  • Statement
  • Articles.

The choice of tool depends on whether the PR activity is proactive or reactive, the type of press and media, the type of story and the timeliness of response.

The press release

A useful tool at hand for the PR department or consultant/adviser is the press release. A press release is copy that is written about a news story by or on behalf of an organisation, and it is used to inform journalists. The aim of any press release is to make it as easy as possible for the journalist to use it. It is worth remembering, however, that journalists will, inevitably, re-write/amend it to fit their house style/the story they are writing/their own agenda. The press release is issued by email and post.

Your PR department or PR adviser will be keen to ‘hoover’ up ideas from other departments for PR – to identify news and feature opportunities. If there is a news opportunity, then it is likely they will want to work with that particular department to draft and finalise a press release.

It’s not unusual for those not experienced in PR to want to change press releases to add in more content or change the style. Of course, grammar should always be correct, but it’s important to understand that a press release is written in a particular style and format to spark interest from journalists.

As a tool, the press release is designed to get journalists interested in a news story. Information is short and concise to encourage journalists to use and/or follow-up on the story. Any news release will answer the following questions about the story: who, what, why, where, when, how? The release may also include a quote as well as contact details for further information. It’s not unusual for any press release to include a short summary (couple of sentences) on what the organisation does in ‘notes to editors’ at the end of the document – this description is sometimes referred to as a ‘boilerplate’.

The press pack

A press pack is a collection of documents designed to give further background briefing for journalists. It may give an overview of the history of the company, its products and services, its markets, key people and other relevant information. This is often used to support press releases, but is also stand-alone, to give journalists a better understanding of the organisation. Increasingly, press pack information is being placed on websites of organisations for journalists to download.

The press pack, or kit, brings together all the information that will be relevant to the press and media – giving them the information that they want, in one place. A press pack might include any, or all, of the following:

  • Press release
  • Backgrounder – background information on the organisation and its products/services which would, typically, answer the following questions –
  • When was the business established?
  • Who established it, what was the background to it being established?
  • Where is the business based; how many sites does it have; how many staff?
  • How big is the business; what’s its turnover; who are its clients?
  • What is the product range/services offered?
  • Who are the key people; what are their backgrounds?
  • Is the business a member of any bodies/associations?
  • Has the business won any awards?
  • Briefing note – specifically related to your announcement (this could, for example, be related to research, further product detail, product application, outline of products/services)
  • Biographies of key people
  • Frequently asked questions – useful if the subject is complicated or technical
  • Case studies – to highlight the benefits of the product/service
  • Photography to support the release of products, and pictures of buildings and/or key spokespeople, if relevant.

The press briefing

A press briefing is a telephone conversation, or face-to-face meeting, to give journalists the opportunity to get an in-depth understanding of a subject or issue. It may be linked to a specific news event, but it is more likely that it will take place in relation to up-and-coming announcements, or activities, or forthcoming significant changes. It’s a useful way for journalists, on an individual basis, to get an understanding of a subject in advance of, or in relation to, a news story.

The press conference

A press conference is an organised event to announce something to which journalists are invited to attend. The format is usually one where a statement is made; this is then followed by journalists asking questions. There may also be an opportunity for journalists to interview key people at the event or carry out filming or photography.

A major national announcement may well warrant a press conference. However, fewer journalists work on publications and programmes compared to several years ago. The changing shape and demand of news means that journalists, particularly those working for print media, can get much of what they need for the story without leaving the office. So, press conferences don’t have quite the role they did in the past.

Photography

Photography is very important to help convey the news and ideas in a story – a picture paints a thousand words. When you think about how you read publications, or look at websites, you will recognise that photography plays an important part in attracting your attention.

In addition, publications may report on a story by using a photograph plus a caption – called a photo story. This is a useful way to get coverage, but demands imagination when it comes to choosing the type of shot.

Usually, the PR department will build up a photography bank for use in supporting PR activity. Typically, photographs would include

  • Key spokespeople/people in the organisation
  • Staff in different roles
  • Products (different models, varying uses of, use in different settings and so on)
  • Shots to reflect services provided
  • Buildings – external and internal shots
  • Processes – shots to demonstrate any processes being carried out that are relevant to the organisation and what it does
  • A ‘pack shot’ – this is used to describe a photograph taken of something that is stand-alone, such as product or information leaflets, often using a plain background.

The photo call

Sometimes, photo opportunities are staged and an invitation might be sent to the photo desks of press and media to attend. Likewise, there are specialist photo agencies that will send their photographer to an event and then syndicate the shots, making them available to press and media for a fee. A staged photo shoot is particularly suited to events and activities involving celebrities and well-known personalities, launching/unveiling something or staged stunts – anything that includes something unusual. Alternatively, photography can be arranged separately and then used in conjunction with the relevant story or announcements.

Telephone or email ‘pitch’

As well as issuing press releases, PR professionals also seek ways of securing coverage by suggesting angles and ideas for articles to journalists. They will then help the journalists to source information/comment, including information and comment from their organisation. As the PR professional gets to know what appeals to the readers/viewers of key press and media outlets, and the knowledge and interests of the journalist, they will present relevant angle and ideas.

Case studies

Case studies help to demonstrate personal experience. As human interest is a key ingredient in a story for journalists, case studies are an ideal vehicle. They are written to give journalists a thumbnail sketch of what has happened. It’s not unusual to see news coverage of a story during the week and then more in depth coverage at the weekend, including personal stories (case studies) and further comment. Many organisations build up a case study bank of experiences of people who are happy to have their story told or to talk to journalists. The case study will demonstrate how the organisation has helped. So, case studies might, for example, include

  • Staff opportunities in the organisation – where a training scheme has helped staff develop new skills
  • Customer experience – where a customer had a particular problem and the organisation helped to solve that problem
  • Personal experience – to highlight a problem or issue facing individuals or groups of people
  • Results of collaboration – where an organisation has joined forces with others to push forward an initiative.

Press notice

A press notice is a short and concise document used to announce something to the press and media. It may be used to invite press and media to an event: for example, a press conference or a launch. It provides date and time information, with a short description of the event. The aim is to encourage journalists to make a note of the details and send someone along to the event. The press notice can also be used to highlight comment from someone who is stating an opinion in relation to a current news story.

Letter to the editor

There is opportunity to get profile by commenting on news stories and the coverage of those stories. In general, publications will have letters pages to which readers are invited to send in their comments. This is an effective way of registering opinion about stories and positioning individuals as knowledgeable in the sector.

Interviews

After a press release is issued, the PR department or PR adviser may well contact journalists to offer them the opportunity of an interview. For press journalists, these tend to take place over the phone. Some organisations have dedicated facilities so that spokespeople can give radio interviews from the office. Traditional phone lines aren’t ideal for radio interviews, so a radio station interested in an interview (particularly a lengthy one) may prefer the spokesperson to go to a local studio or come into the programme’s studio, depending on the type of piece to be broadcast. The same is true for television interviews. Interviews may also take place ‘out in the field’ – this very much depends on the story, and whether geography is an important part of the story, as well as timeliness.

Statement

A statement is a written note which is given to journalists. It may also be read out at a press conference or gathering. It gives updated information on something that has happened – outlining facts, stating a position, indicating what is being done and so on.

Articles

PR professionals work with journalists to give them information (press releases, case studies) for articles – news stories as well as more lengthy and in depth feature articles. Some publications will also accept articles in the name of a contributor who is not employed by the publication. These articles usually provide insight and expert knowledge about an issue, sector, challenge and so on. Articles such as these help to build credibility for both the individual and the organisation. Some organisations also use such material in their other marketing activities.