When you consider public relations for your company you should spend some time thinking about George Orwell’s thoughts on the matter.
“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations,” he said.
Journalists on the whole tend to consider themselves to be non-conformists. But almost without exception swallow Orwell’s aphorisms as gospel.
So what does that mean for any business owner or manager in practical terms?
Firstly, it means that real journalists who cover your industry are very much interested in writing stories that will almost certainly not flatter the companies they report on. Even better if they can cut a tall poppy down to size. Yes! That means your company too.
The best you can expect from a good journalist is a warts and all description.
Improving on that, or defending you against bad news is the artful skill of a good public relations practitioner working on your behalf.
Orwell’s maxim also means it’s entirely likely that shoddy scattergun press releases written by your marketing manager and littered with glorious hyperbole are not going to get much traction with trade magazines and attract even less notice in the local, national and international press.
And it won’t matter how many names you’ve got in your contacts book, or how many lovely drinks you bought for all those journos. If your story is a dog, they will not be interested. How could they? They’ve got to sell it to their boss: the editor.
As a former editor at Reuters I can tell you that we can smell a good story and a bad one from a thousand paces, and as the stinky dog starts wandering towards the desk we start shaking our heads.
Lastly, it means that even the strongest companies can get worked over. But those with good PR understand how to roll with the punches, occasionally deflect them, land some of their own jabs and finish most rounds with a draw or a win.
This past week the FT feted Cambridge chip designer ARM with the headline: “ARM buoyed by race to build Internet of things.” But the Telegraph headline on the same day was less flattering. “Weak Apple forecast hits shares in chip designer ARM”.
How does one interpret the wide disparity in those headlines? It’s a chicken and egg speculation here, but I am going to suggest that Apple’s forecast probably did not come as a bolt out of the blue for ARM.
What do you do when you can see bad weather is on the horizon? You make preparations.
Hence, ARM wheels out Chief Executive Simon Segars for an interview with the FT’s European Technology Correspondent Murad Ahmed to talk about how it’s been a “very good second quarter for us”. And: “We believe that the internet of things is going to be a technology trend that benefits ARM and benefits our licensees in general.”
Ahmed’s piece focuses on the ARM key message (our super future prospects at the heart of the Internet of Things!) to help weather what will hopefully be a brief tempest in the technology industry tea cup over slowing sales in smartphones that is the focus of Telegraph Business Reporter Tara Cunningham’s piece.
Both stories have the same basic information, but the FT piece is longer and more in-depth because they’ve had the privilege of an interview with the big cheese.
In short, when bad news is coming, get out and tell your story quick! Have a good narrative and get your key message into channels that speak to your prime audience.
For a FTSE 100 company like ARM, who want to assure investors that they are already moving to replace smartphone sales with a whizzy new market, the FT trumps pretty much anyone else.
“How does that apply to me?” asks the average SME CEO. “We’re not a FTSE 100 company.”
You might not be. However, you still have customers, investors, rivals, a website and maybe even some social media touting your brand. There may be a trade magazine or other press focused just on your industry.
Have you considered what your key message is to them this quarter, this year? Have you given your customers an articulate reason to buy? Have you taken the free ad space available in local, trade or national press by being the focus of an article? Is your message joined up for all your channels? Have you considered a crisis communications plan? Do you know the journalists, bloggers and social media influencers in your industry and what they think? Do they know you?
If you are not taking advantage of these opportunities to tell your story as often as possible, to define yourself in your market the way you would like to be perceived then others will do that for you, your competitors, your unhappy customers on Twitter and your website, investors in the industry and those pesky journalists.
Or you could be one step ahead of them all with some decent PR.
By Paul Casciato