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Twelve takeaways from attending Soulful PR Live 2017 - Dart PR
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Twelve takeaways from attending Soulful PR Live 2017

This week I travelled to London to attend Janet Murray’s Soulful PR Live, a conference aimed at small business entrepreneurs. Throughout the day delegates had the opportunity to hear from eight members of the national press about what makes a good story and how to work with the media. For anyone who missed it (or feels overwhelmed by onslaught of information), here are my top twelve takeaways from Soulful PR Live 2017.

The key themes for the day included:

Good PR is about building relationships

The first speaker of the day, Keir Mudie, Political Correspondent for the Sunday Mirror, set the tone for the day by saying “we’re delighted to hear from you”.  Contrary to the perception that all journalists on national media titles (especially the news desks) are too busy and stressed to hear from PRs and business owners with story ideas, Keir told delegates “we want your content”.

Another over-riding theme was for business owners to think how to add value or help a journalist. “Be creative,” added Keir. “Think what would make you valuable to us.”

Keir Mudie Sunday Mirror

This was amplified throughout the day, with Andrea Thompson, Features Director for Marie Claire magazine advising “try and be useful”.

Online media is (mostly) hungry for content

According to Keir, the internet is “ravenous for content”. With national newspapers now supporting an online as well as print presence, there are increased opportunities for businesses to help with content generation.

“You can be more creative online,” agreed Maya Wolfe Robinson, Commissioning Editor for the Guardian’s Opinion section.

In her speaker session she also suggested that good opinion article writers should be prepared to “have fun, don’t lose your voice”.

“We’re constantly looking for online content,” said Andrea.

It would be wrong to assume all online media are created equal however. “A specific angle is key to online”, advised Lynn Enright, News and Content Editor for digital title The Pool. She went on to say that with just 15 to 20 articles being posted a day on the site there are less opportunities to be featured.

Lynn Enright The Pool

You need to research the title you’re pitching to, and pitch to the right person

All speakers emphatically agreed that it’s imperative to know the title you’re pitching (or submitting your story idea) to. No-one wants to receive a pitch from someone who’s clearly not taken a good look at the publication to see what kind of articles their readers are interested in, and what topics they cover.  It’s also worth checking online to see if they’ve published something similar before – if it’s in the last two years the chances are they won’t run it again, said Abigail Radnor, Features Editor for The Guardian Weekend.

A tailored approach or the offer of an exclusive will be much more likely to get you a positive result.

“Is it exclusive? We love it,” said Keir.

Speakers also emphasised the important of getting your story in front of the right person. Abigail suggested that “if you think you have a story idea, phone up and ask our editorial assistant”, who would be happy to take calls and point people to the right columnist.

“Be clear what you want a journalist to do with your story idea,” said Anoosh Chakelian, senior writer for the New Statesman. Are you offering an interview, or will you write the piece?

The best pitches are brief and to the point

“Please put the important information at the top of your email,” begged Keir. A sentiment mirrored by Anoosh, who cited examples of bad press releases and pitches she’d recently received.

According to Maya, a good pitch for an opinion article is something pegged to a recent news story, and is short and simple. Don’t forget to include why you’re the right person to write it.

Both she and Anoosh stressed “we don’t want you to already have written the article”.

Journalists use Twitter to research stories AND writers

Editors don’t just use Twitter to search for story ideas, but also turn to the channel for commentator and writer inspiration. If you approach an opinion editor with an idea for an article you would like to write, the chances are they’ll check out your Twitter feed.

“I look for people with smart opinions,” said Maya. “And like to see what articles they’ve been sharing.”

Maya Wolfe Robinson Guardian

If you’re commenting on a topical issue you stand a better chance of being found. “Put your opinions out there,” agreed Anoosh.

Adrian Butler, Producer for ITV’s Good Morning Britain said: “If you have relevant blog content about a breaking news story then Tweet it”.

Good stories aren’t necessarily about your business

A trap many of us fall into is that of trying to tell your business story rather than coming up with story ideas around you and your business.

“Think what you would tell a friend about your business or story. Make it more gossipy.” To get featured on TV, the story has to be newsy and “of interest to a lot of the population,” said Adrian.

It can help to position your story as part of a wider trend

In certain situations you make need to embellish your story by making it part of a wider trend. If you come up with a feature idea for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour then it helps if you can put it together and include suggestions of other experts to back it up, was the advice from Producer Catherine Carr.

If you can identify your story as part of a wider trend it could make the perfect weekend supplement article for The Guardian. “You don’t have to have the other case studies on board,” said Abigail. “We can do that.”

Guardian Weekend

Bitesize pearls of wisdom:

With radio it pays to start small

If you want to be covered on the likes of Woman’s Hour then start by building a relationship with your local BBC stations, which are hungry for contributors, was Catherine’s top tip. With many national BBC journalists having cut their teeth on regional shows the old ‘alumni network’ can be a great way of getting you and your content passed up the chain.

Funny can be good

Don’t overestimate the appeal of humorous stories. “Funny is good, and under-rated in the news,” said Adrian. For Good Morning Britain he’s on the lookout for both “light and heat”.

Don’t hesitate, don’t decline an opportunity

In the fast-moving world of broadcast and news a moment’s hesitation can mean you missing out. “Don’t wait,” said Adrian. “Don’t be Marmalade Lady”, a reference to an award-winning marmalade-maker who declined to appear on the show because she was too busy tending to her jams.

“Think what it would have done for her business if she’d just taken 48 hours out.”

Even journalists get nervous about speaking at live events

“I asked Janet if I could have a drink of something strong before coming on,” confessed Keir.

“Tell me to go and interview people on the streets of Hong Kong and I’m fine,” said Catherine, adding her discomfort at having to present to people face to face.

Toms do a really good range of leather shoes

Finally, one of my key takeaways from the event was admiring Catherine’s sparkly shoes, a pair of rose gold metallic leather Toms (she told me I could definitely get away with wearing a pair).

Toms jutti flats

Want to know how to overcome the fear of talking to national journalists? Read my blog post.