22
May
Cait Dacey

Pitching to media during a global pandemic

Posted by Cait DaceyTagged , , , , , ,

The PR industry has evolved a great deal over time, with the original focus solely on securing coverage, to adapting broad offerings, much like the services offered at Stand – including digital, strategy, insight and creative. However, while excelling in these areas, it’s still important that agencies deliver outstanding results when it comes to coverage. Getting news in the paper, online and on the TV and radio may be harder on some days than others, but once you understand what makes a story, and you push your team in that direction, coverage should follow – right?

Well, in the last two months since the UK went into lockdown, our media creds at Stand have been tested like never before. The landscape has changed rapidly – where journalists may have previously covered specific topics, now many are working across a wide range of stories. Staff at media outlets have been furloughed, and you may have thought that getting someone on the phone was difficult in January, but now it’s near impossible, with a large proportion of the UK workforce working-from-home (journalists included).

This has proved to be an interesting time to be a member of the PR industry. Anyone who knows me will also know I love a challenge and am lucky to be surrounded by colleagues who do too.

Through trial and error, we’ve worked out a few top tips that have helped us to attain superb results, even during a global pandemic:

  1. Keep adapting

As members of the PR industry, we know what truly makes a story, but in the current landscape the first package of content might not always work. Don’t be afraid to strip back your pitch to the seed of the idea, if it doesn’t work the first time around. Adapt the angle, who you’re pitching to, the type of story you’re trying to secure – be it a news article, interview or opinion piece.

  1. Call the news desks

Calling the news desk in a normal climate wouldn’t be the go-to telephone line. However, with fewer staff in the office it’s currently one of the only numbers that gets answered. We’ve found the news desk line to be a huge help during lockdown, as even if they aren’t the right people to speak to, they will almost always point you in the direction of someone who’ll be interested in your piece.

  1. Newsjacking

The media landscape is moving rapidly during the pandemic. Even if you can’t get your client mentioned in breaking announcements, it’s always worth contacting the journalist who wrote about the topic to set up an interview with your spokesperson. Their interest in the subject matter and the expertise of your client could mean that a follow up piece on the subject is a possibility.

  1. Communication is key

At Stand, we’ve increased the communication between our client teams during lockdown. This has included setting up a media-specific internal channel that allows us to share insights from sell ins, as well as allowing team members to cross-sell stories, so we aren’t clogging up journalists’ inboxes.

  1. To mention or not to mention?

A large sector of the news currently being published is understandably focused on Covid-19. We’ve found that if you’re going out with a story, you need to be clear on whether your news is Covid-19 related or not. If you have a story to tell that’s in the public interest and relevant to the pandemic, don’t hold back on soft messaging. However, it’s important to resist shoehorning a mention to the crisis in if it isn’t relevant – news outlets also want positive news!

It can be difficult to get the balance right, but when you do, it really works. Our team working on Anchor Hanover, secured 293 pieces of coverage to celebrate VE Day, which looked at how care homes were commemorating the occasion during lockdown. Amongst the hundreds of pieces, the story was covered by outlets including ITV, BBC, Daily Express, Yahoo! and The Telegraph.

On either side of the spectrum, it’s imperative that the story is authentic. If your client is making positive change, or taking a stand, it has to be meaningful and not just a token gesture.

 

  1. Working relationships

Prior to the pandemic, our working relationships with journalists were incredibly important and in the midst of pandemic disruption we’ve seen these become even more highly valued. Having already built these relationships, journalists know they can come to us for dependable and insightful content, and when teams are smaller than ever, knowing they can rely on our agency has resulted in brilliant coverage. A great example of this is a recent piece on BBC R4 which featured our client, Dimensions, in a segment about the impact of Covid-19 on people with learning disabilities.

  1. Trust your gut

Fundamentally, you always need to trust your gut when it comes to getting coverage, even during a global pandemic. You get a feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know you have a good story on your hands. Even if it takes a little longer than usual, don’t be afraid to keep pushing the narrative when you know it’s got legs. On the other hand, if a story isn’t working, and you know in the back of your mind that it’s not quite strong enough, don’t be afraid to go back to the drawing board.

Whether you’re in PR, journalism or any other sector, we are all weathering the same storm and ironing out ways to adapt to the ‘new normal’. But, if you have an authentic and interesting story to tell, there will always be someone to listen.

 

 

12
May
Lucy Chapple

Why do some government slogans fall flat?

Posted by Lucy Chapple

Yesterday the Johnson government unveiled a new phased plan to ease the lock down, and with it a shiny new slogan, ‘Stay alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives’. The internet was quick to hand down its verdict on the new messaging, with memes mocking the ‘vague and meaningless’ strap-line appearing within minutes of Johnson’s tweet. First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon was an early critic, dismissing the new slogan outright. This morning, most media commentators have lambasted the ‘stay alert’ directive as a communications blunder with big consequences for the Government and it’s Covid strategy, which relies on public support and compliance.

Why do some government slogans fall flat and what are the consequences?

Slogans are a memorable motto or phrase repeated by a leader or a government (but also in commercial contexts) with the goal of persuading members of the public to act.  We often associate slogans with political campaigns, where they serve an obvious purpose and communicate a clear call to action – vote for me.

Campaign slogans with a sharply articulated claim and emotional through line are more likely to land with target audiences. Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ spoke to the disenfranchised working poor, playing on fear and nostalgia. This isn’t to say vague and pithy slogans can’t be effective, and Barack Obama’s ‘Yes We Can’ became a unifying cry on the campaign trail, though this may speak more to the man and the moment, than the mantra.

A good slogan inspires unity and action, whilst a poorly crafted slogan will land in a politician’s face like spit in the wind. In 2016, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull got a taste when he rolled out his new slogan ‘Continuity and Change’ on breakfast radio. Turnbull hoped it would act as a dog whistle to his conservative base whilst distancing him from his predecessor Tony Abbott. ‘Continuity and Change’ is rhetorically gutless, and also sounds vaguely American, a hanging offence for Australian politicians. Perhaps more so than any other population, Australians appreciate vigorous and frank communication from our leaders (the Australian Democrats who held the balance of power in the senate in the late seventies won favour with the campaign slogan ‘Keeping the Bastards Honest’). Veiled accusations of gutlessness became an albatross around Turnbull’s neck throughout his term as Prime Minister and ‘Continuity and Change’ has become one of the most memorable and mocked government slogans in our history.

Slogans are used in war time as a recruitment tool and to encourage desirable behaviour on the home front. In a piece for the Guardian, historian Richard Overy writes “whenever there is a crisis in Britain, we are treated to invocations of the ‘blitz spirit'”, and language suited to war time has been frequently invoked throughout the Covid pandemic by world leaders. Some of the most impactful slogans from the First and Second World Wars, linked undesirable behaviour with a loss of human life (‘Loose lips sink ships’). Johnson’s original slogan ‘Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives’, employs a similar device to encourage compliance with strict social distancing.

The immediate response to the new slogan, ‘Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives.’ suggests it hasn’t quite passed the pub test. My British colleagues tell me this is an Australianism that may require explanation! In days past, Australian journalists canvassed public opinion about a new policy or announcement at the local pub, to understand how messages landed with the everyday Australian. And so, the idea of ‘passing the pub test’ was born, and the phrase is now used to describe whether or not a policy, idea or message is likely to be accepted by the average joe.

Where ‘Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives’ provided a clear directive to those who value our public health system and society’s most vulnerable, ‘Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives’ rings hollow. Nicola Sturgeon rejected the new slogan because she said she doesn’t understand what it means, and many Brits have also voiced confusion, left wondering how to ‘stay alert’, faced with an invisible enemy.

It’s easy to be cynical of civil service straplines, but public health slogans have the potential to save lives. Global ‘Smoking Kills’ campaigns are an obvious example. We know from the work we do at Stand, that meaningful behaviour change campaigns challenge the way people think, feel and act, with an ‘ask’ that is both clear and achievable. In a recent learning and development session, my colleague Eryl Bradley analysed the impact of a successful UK Sepsis Trust campaign that does this well. Sepsis is an indiscriminate killer with a long list of symptoms that are easily missed, or misdiagnosed by people, parents and health professionals alike. Rather than focusing on raising mass public awareness of a very complicated list of symptoms, the campaign hinged on a strap-line you may have seen in posters in GP offices around the country: ‘Just ask: Could it be sepsis?’.

‘Stay home’ is a brutally simple ask and the Johnson government was right to communicate it clearly and without apology. ‘Stay alert’ is far less clear and it remains to be seen whether this imprecise language will have the disastrous consequences that some have predicted. However, dropping ‘protect the NHS’ is foolish beyond measure. Appreciation for the NHS and a shared desire to protect the British institution unifies and motivates us. It will be interesting to see whether the Johnson government keeps calm and carries on, hammering home the ‘stay alert’ strap-line in the wake of mounting criticism, or scraps the new slogan entirely.

04
May
Grace French

During lockdown, the power of a book is even more profound

Posted by Grace FrenchTagged , , , ,

In our second year working with the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction, we’ve found ourselves pitching the story to the press in amongst an incredibly unpredictable and competitive media landscape. Headlines are rightfully dominated by news around the ever-evolving coronavirus pandemic, and media outlets are increasingly offering support and guidance to the public on how to navigate our temporary ‘new normal’.

In this astounding landscape we find ourselves in, more and more people in lockdown are turning to the power of a book for comfort, escapism, and inspiration. Our strategic thought for the Women’s Prize for Fiction focuses on communicating how books written by women are for everyone, so we knew that this year more than ever, it was vital for these fantastic books to reach as many people as possible.

We announced the 2020 shortlist on 21st April, in the Prize’s 25th anniversary year. We were determined to cut through the noise with a quality and diverse list of books that readers could truly benefit from during this challenging time. With a digital shortlist announcement taking the place of an event due to the lockdown, we changed tack and left no stone unturned during our media sell in. We developed and shared a visually rich media package and offered in-depth interviews with chair of Judges Martha Lane Fox, and with the shortlisted authors.

The moment Martha Lane Fox took to twitter to announce the shortlist in a video broadcast, the shortlist was discussed in detail on BBC Front Row. The launch secured over 311 dedicated hits across broadcast, print and online including 23 national, 12 consumer and 263 regional – and counting. Achieving our strategic goal of reaching new audiences, we secured numerous hits in new publications for the Prize including The Sun and SheerLuxe..

With the winner’s announcement rescheduled till 9thSeptember, we’ll be spending the next few months amplifying the shortlist – and curled up on our sofas working our way through the books ourselves!

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 shortlist:

  • Dominicana by Angie Cruz
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
  • The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
  • Hamnet by Maggie O’ Farrell
  • Weather by Jenny Offill
28
Apr
Francesca Rivett-Carnac

Lessons from Remote Working #4 – Embracing vulnerability

Posted by Francesca Rivett-CarnacTagged , , , , ,

It’s amazing how powerful a human connection can be when we see beyond someone’s professional façade and catch a glimmer of their real life in all its chaotic, mundane glory.

After five weeks in lockdown, the surprise appearance of small children in business video conferences now feels completely normal. People’s pets regularly grace my screen. I’ve seen piles of washing-up in my colleagues’ kitchens, and they’ve seen mine.

I’ve received new business calls, and not felt a hint of shame in warning that I’ll need to go if my daughter wakes from her nap. I’ve had frank conversations with clients about the emotional toll of life under lockdown. I’ve exchanged honest stories with colleagues that two months ago might have felt like oversharing.

Through necessity rather than choice, we’ve all had to reveal parts of ourselves that in normal circumstances would be neatly hidden away, out of sight from our professional spheres. And in the process of revealing some of these vulnerabilities, we’ve created stronger connections with the people we’re working and doing business with.

An incident like this wouldn't seem so weird in lockdown
We’ve seen many more of these incidents during lockdown

I think there’s an important lesson for brands in this. As humans, we are all looking for connection. Connection to a person. Connection to a book. Connection to an animal. Connection to a piece of music. It’s no different for brands, and the brands that have done well in the last six difficult weeks have been those who’ve been brave enough to open-up and share their challenges in an honest and open way.

Revealing your vulnerabilities as a brand might feel counterintuitive, risky even, but it’s a good thing. We talk a lot in comms about the importance of brand authenticity, and sharing vulnerability is a critical part of this. A brand that has the confidence to reveal the highs and lows of its journey will create an emotional bond with its community, who will become invested in that brand’s progress and success.

In the post-Covid world that we’re all desperately longing for, comms professionals should think back to the moments of real connection they found during these difficult times. It probably wasn’t with carefully curated images or tales of perfection. More likely, it was the moment when someone let us into their imperfect world and shared what was really going on. We need to encourage brands to do the same, and not just during times of crisis.

 

14
Apr
Laura Oliphant

Lessons from Remote Working #3 – Believe in better, now and in life post lockdown

Posted by Laura Oliphant

We shut the Stand office and started to work remotely nearly four weeks ago. Twenty people scattered across the country, rather than in an open plan office in WC1. It’s this change in environment I’ve found the toughest. For an extrovert, who gets their energy from others, I’ve found the need to call, video or text, rather than wander and talk, quite exhausting. Not just at work, but with family and friends. I miss the interaction, the noise, the physical presence of others. I’ve had to entertain myself, rather than get my buzz from people and activities around me. But I’ve learnt that I don’t need to be ‘busy’ all the time. That drive to ‘use every moment’ and ‘live life to the full’ comes from me, and I am not sure what it achieves. I definitely don’t want to self-isolate on a permanent basis, but it is OK to do nothing sometimes.

Read more “Lessons from Remote Working #3 – Believe in better, now and in life post lockdown”