To work with newspaper letters pages requires PR practitioners to understand their ethos

Letters

THE LETTERS PAGE can be one of the most-read parts of a publication. That’s because readers see it as their page – one where they get to express their opinions. It is, therefore, a valuable property for public relations consultants.

The problem for PR people is that letters editors of newspapers prefer letters from normal readers, and most of the letters sent by PR flacks are worthless. But there are still plenty of letters published in the press from companies and charities, and if you can avoid sending a letter that sounds like a press release, you have a good chance of getting published.

For a letter to be printed, the writer needs to get into the spirit of a letters page. It needs to be written as you would speak, not how a committee of jargon-lovers would write it. A letter saying that the government’s criteria for approving drugs on the NHS is harming drug companies’ profits is a selfinterested letter. Letters editors are going to wonder how much the readers will care.

The letter would be much more appealing if it said that “your readers who are concerned about getting the best treatment” should be worried that increased government rationing is going to stop them getting the latest drugs.

This is basically the same point, but from a more reader-friendly direction.

Infuriatingly, many letters sent by bad PR companies seem to be no more than an attempt to tick boxes on their to-do lists, rather than a genuine attempt to get a letter printed. They read like recycled press releases – and probably are.

So it is vital to write the letter with the aim of informing readers, rather than as an attempt to get free publicity. Writing the letter simply to get the chief executive’s name in print is a bad motivation, because you will most likely write a bad letter. However, genuinely trying to help out the readers will lead to good publicity.

The lack of naked self-interest is why charities do very well at getting their letters printed, whereas companies are often less successful, unless they are responding to a City story referencing them.

This post is based on an extract from The PR Masterclass (out now from Wiley)

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: July 27th, 2015, In Categories: Media relations

‘There are great challenges for people to come out when they’re in business’

IN AN insightful discussion, Sir Martin Sorrell of the public relations and marketing group WPP asks Lord Browne about the issue of sexuality in business and the challenges for coming out at work.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: July 26th, 2015, In Categories: Diversity

Plans are afoot for a gay PR network

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I HAVE been genuinely amazed by the response to my PRWeek article on the need for a support network for gay PR practitioners. Apart from a Tweet by former CIPR board member Sarah Hall, there has been almost nothing on Twitter about it – people can be wary of outing themselves so publicly. But my email inbox has been overflowing with messages from people who found the message encouraging. One person even picked up the phone to discuss it.

Plans are afoot to establish a network for gay people in PR and marketing communications roles. I’ll keep you updated.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: July 25th, 2015, In Categories: Diversity

Why press conferences generally don’t work

Press conference

FOR MOST organisations, press conferences should be avoided. There are certain product launches or announcements where a press conference works. They involve stories in which every relevant journalist has to cover the story. Manchester United, for example, can get a journalist from each news organisation that has soccer coverage to attend. That is, alas, not the case for the majority of companies.

Most journalists find themselves tied down to their desk, and travelling across a city to come to get information that could just be written in a press release wastes their time. I once went to a press conference attended by only two journalists. This sort of attendance looks embarrassing – even if the participants are the most important journalists you want to communicate with.

Lis Lewis-Jones is one of many practitioners who has cut back on press conferences. She talks about when she first started working in PR: “I worked in house at Birmingham Airport. We regularly held press conferences and a variety of local, regional, business, trade publications and broadcast journalists would attend. I actually can’t remember the last time I organised a press conference – the media just don’t have the time or the resources to attend.”

It may be that ditching the word “conference” fixes the problem, or instead just meeting journalists one-on-one. When I reviewed Apple’s Aperture photo software for a computing magazine, the technology firm flew me out to Munich to their European HQ for a demonstration. I attended with a small group of other journalists, from various European countries.

It was not a press conference per se, and, as I understood it, other journalists were being shown the software on different days. So the fact that only half a dozen of us attended was not unexpected. The firm wanted to demo it to the press before letting us use it on our own computers so that we all understood the important features and how they worked. It was a smart strategy.

However, even when an announcement merits a press conference, it can go badly. I went to a press conference in Paris along with a Guardian journalist. He was hostile to what the company hosting the event was doing, and his questions were heard by all those present. The result was that every journalist listened to both the favourable angle the company the company wanted to project and to a very critical view, too.

This post is based on an extract from The PR Masterclass (out now from Wiley)

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: July 24th, 2015, In Categories: Media relations

Why gay public relations practitioners need a support network

OVER TEN per cent of men working in public relations are gay. Find out the challenges for the LGBT community working in PR in my latest article for PRWeek.

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Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: July 23rd, 2015, In Categories: Media relations