At the start of 2015, I wrote about the 7 things I thought every press officer should have to hand. This is a slightly revised version of that blog post.
Our team work with many large multi-faceted press offices which have systems, templates and procedures galore. But we also often come across the odd poor marketing person who has had PR added to their job description without ceremony, briefing or training. And there are plenty of one-man-band press officers who have never worked in the large organisations and whilst they do a good job they feel they don’t really know what else they should be doing. If you recognise yourself here, this article is for you. Since I first wrote it social media has continued to increase in importance and complexity. Now no PR person can afford to not be across their companies social media presence, whatever that entails so I have added an eighth point to acknowledge this.
New to PR? here’s where to start
1. Media List
Sounds basic but is often missing. As a proactive PR, you will need an up-to-date list of all your relevant journalists. You might want to add other useful information such as how they like to be contacted: phone, email, twitter or (heaven help us) fax machine. You might want to add their publication or deadline dates or times as it is well worth avoiding these if you want to get their attention.
2. Spokesperson List
You will also need a list of your company spokespeople and their out-of-hours contact numbers. Notes on anything relevant, such as what they can’t or don’t want to talk about and what their family responsibilities are, will all save time if you need someone in a hurry. You might also want to make a note of when they were last media trained!
3. Style Guide
Some organisations will have a style guide. If yours doesn’t you may want to create one to ensure all external written communications are standardised. The style guide will lay out such things as which terms need to be capitalised, whether you use British English or American English spellings and how you use names e.g. first and the second name on first outing but just surname on second. If you don’t know where to start you could do worse than browse the Economist Style Guide which is the gold standard. If you are starting from scratch don’t assume it has to be complicated: start with the obvious and add to it over time.
4. Jargon Buster
We think every organisation needs this and we have drawn them up ourselves for one or two clients. Jargon is the bane of a journalist’s life and if you can do the work to translate your internal jargon you will win better coverage. It is very hard for spokespeople to come up with alternative colloquial phrases during an interview. Much easier, if the PR person suggests some considered options as part of the interview preparation.
5. Events Calendar
We all have diaries and calendars of course but you might want to create one specifically for internal and relevant external events. Launch dates, executive board meetings, trade shows, etc. are all relevant to the timing of press releases and other PR events. So are the introduction of new regulations or the launch of a rival company. It is much easier to plan if you have these all laid out on one at-a-glance calendar.
6. Prepared Reactive Lines
Most organisations have negative questions that spokespeople dread coming up in an interview. Often they will relate to issues that go back years. It is essential for the press office to know what the line is on all these issues and useful to capture these reactive lines in a document. Updates will be necessary at frequent intervals but it is much quicker to update than to start from scratch.
7. Crisis Comms Plan
Crisis Communications Plans come in all shapes and sizes. You can hire the big PR agencies to provide a ‘risk audit’ of your organisation and then, at some expense, provide detailed plans for each eventuality. This is probably way over the top for most organisations. But a couple of hours spent identifying the awful or disruptive things that could happen and then working out the PR strategy could be useful. If you put it in writing and get senior management sign-off this will save you time if something does happen; rather than waiting for decisions you will be able to swing into action.
8. Social Media Strategy
This may or may not be the responsibility of the press office but either way, anyone dealing with external affairs should at least know what the Social Media strategy is and whose job it is to both monitor and post. The strategy should identify the objectives and the action plan. It should identify who posts, what the guidelines are, and in particular how to separate personal and professional social media. It should identify the active channels and perhaps the less active ones. For example, The Media Coach has a token presence on Facebook but to date, we have concentrated our efforts on LinkedIn with slightly more than a token presence on Twitter. For us YouTube is important but so far Instagram is not. You need someone in your organisation who can read the data. This will tell you what works and what doesn’t the information that has to then be shared with those curating the content.
At The Media Coach, we have huge respect for PR people and see first hand how hard most of them work. Many are ignored when things go right and blamed when things go wrong. We believe the profession should do its own PR – internally and externally – and make it clear to the senior management team that there is structure, judgement and real knowledge behind each decision. Don’t let anyone get away with believing it is all fluff!