COMMENT: Eight tips to win your agency great trade PR

One of the most common things I hear from agency bosses is “We’re not very good at doing our own PR, but we really should make the effort”.  

It usually follows them complaining about the coverage one of their (of course) far less brilliant rivals has been getting.

So what follows is some of the advice I give them. It’s based mainly on my time as editor of B&T so tends to apply to the marketing trade press. But I suspect that some of it can be more widely applied in other B2B sectors. PR people and my fellow editors, please do feel free to disagree with what follows.

  • 1. Start!

The most important thing about getting PR for your agency is starting. It sounds obvious, but even if you do it badly and make mistakes along the way, then it’s far better than not trying. In Confessions of an Advertising Man, David Ogilvy made clear that getting trade press was his first priority when he set up. Do you really think you know better than him?

Good PR for an agency builds a sense of momentum, can impress potential clients and is exceleltn for staff morale.

You almost certainly don’t need to hire a PR agency – you can achieve 90% of what they can, and sometimes  more because you understand your product better – if you only put in the time and effort.

  • 2. Understand what journalists want

I’ve had some incredibly frustrating conversations with agencies (and even professional PRs doing trade press) where I’ve spent several ages  explaining what I’m looking for, only for the conversation to conclude with them telling me how brilliant they are and can I please  write a story about that please. Yes you’ve got a message you want to put across, but think about how that might work for the publication.

  • 3. Different doors

Every title is different, but remember there is more than one way in and usually more than one relationship to build. The news pages, and more often  now, daily news emails, often consist of one-fact stories – somebody has been hired/ fired/ got onto a pitch list/ won an account/ launched a campaign. The comments that follow are reaction to that. Your point of contact on that side is either the news editor, or the relevant reporter – each of whom will generally have their own beat.

Then there’s the features section. That offers a huge variety of opportunities. Don’t email and vaguely offer to write an opinion piece. People do that all the time. Think about the issue you feel strongly about and pitch that. If they say yes, don’t turn it into an ad for yourself – win over the readers with your intelligence and expertise. If you plug yourself, it will get spiked and the journo won’t ask you again; or worse, they’ll publish it and you’ll look like an idiot.

B&T and AdNews both publish a forward features list. (The main reason is so they can sell some ads against them. That’s why sometimes every other bloody feature seems to be about outdoor and online – they’re the people currently supporting the trade press.) But get hold of the list and where you’ve got something intelligent to say, make contact with the features editor who can put you in touch with the journalist commissioned to write it. Remember this process begins long in advance.

  • 4. Get to know the journos.

Don’t be bashful. Without contacts, journalists don’t get stories. We like to hear from you. Taking them out for lunch won’t automatically get you written about, but if they know you, and what you stand for, they are more likely to ring you up for a comment next time something relevant comes  up.

And a familiar name on the email or voicemail is more likely to be listened to than a stranger when you do have a story. (For instance, as I write this, it’s not even 10am. Since I checked my messages at 10pm last night, I’ve had 39 emails – and that’s not counting spam.  It will get worse as the day goes on. Sadly I won’t be able to act on all of them.)

What also helps you to move up the list is tip-offs. If you hear about who’s won a bit of business out in the market; or the gossip about who’s been fired, tip off your favourite journo. If you’ve just lost the pitch, it’s going to be public in an hour or two anyway. If you help the journo break it first, they owe you, and you’ve also just messed up your rival’s PR plans.

You’ll be surprised how much likely the journo will then be to open your next email. Or how much sooner they think of you when a slot suddenly opens up on the profile page.

  • 5. Don’t leave it too late

Something that has only just happened, is just about to happen, or is happening right now is what journalists look for. If you did a brilliant experiential campaign and the results are in, it’s probably too late. If you’re lucky it might make a case study against a feature, if the paper happens to be doing something relevant. If you’d photographed the stunt first thing this morning, and emailed the picture by lunchtime then you have a chance.

If you win an award, send out the press release within hours. You’d be amazed how many people are still sending them out weeks afterwards, and wondering  why they get no coverage.

For Mumbrella, if you won an award in New York last night, if you haven’t told me by midmorning today, it’s dead as a topic.

  • 6. Be accessible.

There are still PRs who think they can be a gatekeeper. I’m a journo in a hurry. I want to put my next story up in 20 minutes. If you won’t let me call your boss directly – and let me have their mobile number; then that’s tough. I’ll call someone I can talk to now. It’s up to you to decide if PR is a priority for you – if it is, then we can do business. If you’ve got other priorities (and I do understand that you have a business to run), then no hard feelings but you’re not going to hear from me again.

The same goes for the magazines too. Just because they’re weekly doesn’t mean the reporter has a week to write their story. Different pages go to press every day. Their deadline is almost certainly only hours away.

People who call back quickly or take a call straight away get asked again.

  • 7. Be interesting

The best way of getting quoted is by having something  interesting to say. If you play it safe, you’ll barely appear. It’s better to stand for something, even if it annoys some of the people who read it.

  • 8. Don’t take it personally.

Sometimes you’ll get bad press.  You may be pissed off that it’s there, or even feel it’s been unfair or inaccurate.  It’s fine to let the editor know and talk it through – it can probably be sorted out. But don’t whine, and don’t pull up the drawbridge.

In most cases if the trade title has got it wrong they’ll feel they owe you one, and try to make it up to you next time. That’s if you haven’t made it personal. But every editor loves a feud – it’s just not necessarily a good idea to be on the wrong side of one.

And both sides have far more to gain if they can keep good relations.

Feel free to try some of the above out on me. I apologised in advance if I don’t reply to your first email…


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