As part of our Marketing Sandwich Course webinars we spoke to Ismail Mulla, business reporter on The Yorkshire Post about how businesses should approach journalists to get PR coverage in local press in print and digital. We talked about which PR stories work best, how to gain cut through in a journalist email inbox with your PR story and how to structure your story. This was a really useful session with lots of burning questions answered around gaining gaining Digital PR coverage in local press.
You can watch the whole session below. We’ve also transcribed the webinar so you can skip the any questions you find useful.
Richard Michie: — This is the Marketing Optimist sandwich course. Today we’re speaking to Ismail Mulla who’s a business reporter on the Yorkshire Post. This is an opportunity for people to find out a little bit about Ismail, about what he does on the Yorkshire Post. I think we’ve got quite a few questions, quite a few people who are used to doing a bit of PR, some who are completely new to it. So I think, Ismail, what we’ll do is we’ll just jump in. If anyone’s got any questions, if you just want to put them into the comments section, send us a message in the chats, and we’ll kind of get to them. We’ll hopefully have a bit of a Q&A session at the end.
So, Ismail, tell us just a little bit about you and how you came to be in Yorkshire on the Yorkshire Post?
Ismail Mulla: — Well I’m Yorkshire born and bred, so I’ve always been here. I went to university at Leeds Beckett in 2009. I studied Journalism there, wanted to be a journalist from the age of 10, wasn’t sure about what specialism to do. Just generally interested in the usual stuff, our first thought, and then I kind of went into politics and did all sorts of stuff. Then once I graduated, the job market was tough, I ended up doing bits of freelance for various, sort of, free shoots aimed at the South Asian community, before there was a funded internship at the Yorkshire Post in 2014, which I did.
Then about a year later, they decided that they didn’t want to get rid of me or couldn’t get rid of me, or whatever. Then one of the reporters actually left just as my internship finished, and I took her spot. There I was, having done a year’s internship on the business desk, I became a business reporter. Then I went and did some more qualifications, became a senior a few years ago. And, yeah, the rest is history.
RM: — Being a reporter on the Yorkshire Post, I guess being a reporter just in general, is busy. I think before we kind of got started, I think you suggested to me that in your inbox you’ve got 2,600 emails or about?
IM: — I’ll give you the precise… 2,306 unread.
RM: — 2,306 unread.
IM: — Yeah.
How do I get a journalist to notice my story?
RM: — So, obviously getting hold of a journalist’s attention is something that everybody’s challenging, and I’m presuming that within that you’ve got spam from people trying to sell you whatever that we all get, as well as the kind of stories that are mixed in there. Some of these could be gold, some of them are going to be awful. So, when you’ve got an email that has got 2,300 emails in it, and you’re looking for stories, how on earth do you get anywhere with that?
IM: — Well, the way that I work is that if I see in the subject line, and I’m usually able to pick up whether it’s just somebody trying to sell me something, or whether it’s a story. So, you don’t have to have something specifically eye-catching in the headline, just make sure it’s sensible. The best piece of advice I ever got was from Tony Harney, the former news editor of the Yorkshire Post when I was on work experience, which is, he sat me down. He said to me, “Look, you’re a talented young man, but you’re trying to vomit everything in the first few paragraphs. That’s going to confuse everybody.”
“So, just imagine you were telling a friend a story… This story over a cup of coffee, and then write that way. If there’s a fire out there right now, you wouldn’t say, ‘Oh, there was a… The leaves were blustering in the wind,’ all that stuff sort of stuff. That would maybe be a while away. If there’s a fire right now you would say, ‘There’s a fire outside this location here right now.’ That would be your story.”
Similar thing for the subject line, you can put, “Press Release,” that would probably work if it is a press release. If it isn’t, then we’re just going to get annoyed and next time you send a press release, chances are it might even slip through the net, because you’ve tried to pitch… You tried to sell us something, I don’t know, like used car tires or something, by labeling press release and then the trust is gone. But you can label it press release and then, I don’t know.
If it’s an acquisition story, you can say that The Marketing Optimist has acquired Fish Tank Agency, or if… I’m picking out names from this sky now, but that tells a story. Literally, you just said, “Marketing Optimist acquires XYZ business.” Yeah, I know that, that’s a story. I know that this is an acquisition story, and all of this… And the gears start sort of whirring in my head, as to what I can perhaps do with it. So I quickly sort of… Then I will be more likely to open the email rather than moving on. So, yeah, that’s how I would suggest catching the attention of people. Keep it simple. That’s the one thing that a lot of… Both, sort of fully fledged PR people, and also businesses that want to do their own PR, sometimes can forget.
RM: — Okay. Obviously, with a ram packed email list and you’re up against deadlines and phone calls can come in left, right and center, what is the best way of catching the journalist’s eye? Because you’ve got email, you’ve got social media, you’ve got phone calls, you can be out on the street, what’s-
IM: — All journalists have their own way of dealing with things. Emails are usually the best way because the worst thing you can do to a journalist is ringing him up when he’s on deadline, like three o’clock on Wednesday afternoon, at the end of a really long shift already. That’s my deadline on a Wednesday because I finish at 3:00 on a Wednesday, because I start at 7:00 in the morning. But the worst you can do is call 5:00, 6:00 in the evening and, don’t get me wrong, your story might be good but it might not be for that day, for that moment. For example, Morrisons could be in trouble. They might have issued a profit warning that day. Their Chief executive may have been sacked in the morning and we’re doing a massive follow-up, having spoken to everybody, and you’re literally…
You’re putting together the pages for both web, because now we have web deadlines as well, round the clock. There’ll be like a 4:45 afternoon deadline, there’ll be like a midday deadline, I think there’s a six o’clock in the morning deadline. I think there’s even like a four o’clock early shift, for the early risers as well. There’s deadlines around the clock, but unless you’ve got something like a really major breaking story, which is Greg’s favorite term. Deputy Business Editor’s favorite term. For example, you found out that your business has been acquired by somebody and it’s a really large deal, say 50 million pounds or something, and you can disclose all that information, then you would pick up the phone and say, “Look, I’ve got this story. You really want this. I’ll email it to you.” Then that’s fair enough.
But the idea that you need to just pick up the phone constantly, on deadline in particular, it’s kind of, of the past. Having said that, it’s good to be… Occasionally, it’s good to pick up the phone and flag it up because if it is a major story, and this is where you kind of have to put yourself into journalists shoes and, or just sort of look up the story and think, “Is this really strong enough? Can I look at it dispassionately? Can I contact the journalist as if I was an independent arbiter of this story?” And say, “All right, this is genuinely a really, really eye-catching story,” so let me pick up the phone and say to him, “This is the story. This is what it means.”
The litmus test for me is usually, “How will it affect other people other than those within my business? Perhaps I’m new.” If you’re creating jobs, say for example, you’re going to create a hundred jobs, that might be worth picking up the phone to a journalist saying, “Look, I’ve got a great story, a hundred jobs being created. It’s in a former mining town,” even better because people have heard of mining towns. All of a sudden I’m kind of building sort of a theoretical story here, but I’m just pointing, sort of giving you hypotheticals that you could use to be thinking about your story and how you would build it out, if you get what I mean.
Is it a good idea to phone journalists with a story?
RM: — We just had a quick message from Nina, and she says, “Do you get many phone pitches still or has it reduced?
IM: — Since we’ve been out of the office it’s definitely reduced.
IM: — We do have company mobile phones. Some of us are good at using them, some of us are really bad at using them, but I rarely get phone calls these days, especially since we’ve been working from home, but we used to do… We did get quite a few phone pitches. Usually, you’ll get a stock response if a journalist is on a deadline. Just email me the information, then they’ll pick it up if it’s interesting. If it’s not interesting they still won’t pick it up regardless, whether you phone up or not.
I’ve become quite adept at using LinkedIn to try and get stories. It’s a rich minefield for finding good stories, but the same time, whenever I put out a call on LinkedIn, I’ll get a ton of stuff where people are just trying to sell me things, or are trying to use this story as a vehicle to sell me things, and it won’t work. It just doesn’t work because I’ll have a bunch of other so many interesting responses in my inbox, that I’ll go through. Then there’s people coming back too late as well. I’ll just have to try and say, “I’m really sorry, you’ve come back to me, I appreciate. This really fits the actual criteria of what I was looking for, but I was looking for that two days ago. So I won’t be able to do anything with this, but maybe in the future we can work together.” That’s my stock response to people.
I can’t respond to everybody, so sometimes your message will just go unread, or read but not responded to. That’s not because I’m being rude or impolite, it just… If I’m going through an email inbox of 2,600 and whatever emails it is, plus a LinkedIn inbox of God knows how many responses, it’s kind of really difficult and there’s not enough hours in the day right now for me to respond to everything.
Do journalists work to specific deadlines?
RM: — Quite a lot of times you mentioned about lots of deadlines that you have and that makes complete sense. I know you can only speak for yourself from probably just from the Yorkshire Post as it stands at the minute, but does that mean that there’s a good time for people to contact you and bad time? If the deadline is 12:00, for example, just do not send anything at 12:00, it’s just not going to get anywhere.
IM: — Once again, a lot of it is luck because it depends on what journalist is working to what deadline. So, one of my colleagues might be working to a 12:00 deadline, because they’ve got a story that really needs to be up midday. I might be working to a 4:00 deadline, so if you ring me up by lunchtime I might be like, “Yeah, sure, I’ll be happy to listen to your pitch.” But once again, I think email, keep it simple. Keep it sort of… The more information you can actually put in the body of the email, the better, really. So, if it is a press release, quite often the really good PR people manage to capture a lot of coverage just because A, they keep it simple; they know how a newspaper writes, they know what our publishing schedule is, they know what kind of… What we do in print.
Usually what we do in print is pretty solid and it can be transferred online as well. Online, we just add lots of things to it. Online sort of changed our publishing modus operandi as it were. We try and get things up either first, or if we’ve got our own exclusive content, it’ll go behind this paywall and we’ll sort of time it so that we’ve given that an opportunity to shine as well.
RM: — It’s an interesting point you said there about PR agencies and how they know how to write and craft things that come in. Obviously, some businesses on here can’t afford to use a PR agency. We do PR and I know we’ve done some for Russel with you, what’s the balance between a PR agency and a business directly contacting you? What’s the likelihood? Do you think there’s more of a spin towards an agency getting through, or do you think there’s just as much chance of a business getting through?
IM: — There’s just as much chance of a business getting through. In fact, there’s probably a better chance of a business going direct because it takes… We are human, we understand sometimes it takes a bit of… It takes bravery. I was going to use another word there which is probably rude. But it takes bravery to kind of make the approach sometimes, especially if you’re a small business of one man pumpkin man bun, only problem is you can sort of say, “Look, I’ve got this baking business. It’s really good, it’s really interesting. I’ve put my heart and soul into it,” things like that, but if I don’t have the time and the bandwidth, I probably wouldn’t chase it up there. Then it might take a while.
I don’t know if you guys saw this, I’m not going to plug all my personal stories, but there was a story that I did about Bloom Bakers, I think they were called, last week. They contacted me literally about six weeks before that story actually went live. I didn’t respond to their message for over a month. I fell it, all sorts of stuff happened between then and where I was. Then all of a sudden I was like, okay. It was in the back of my mind that this business had contacted me. I wanted to talk to them because they had an interesting story to tell. It was an online only bakery. So, how has the pandemic affected them because they also did a lot of personalized work for corporates?
Then I contacted them several weeks later, and I asked, “Are you still happy to talk to me? I apologize for not getting back in touch with you.” And then, not only did we do a story on them, we sent a photographer down to take pictures, and we gave them the full works, as it were, and a good showing in the Yorkshire Post. So there’s no added advantage of hiring a PR company other than that they bring the expertise that they bring the expertise that they bring to your coverage and company.
They know how to craft a news story, hopefully. The good ones will anyway. Sometimes you have to cut out the flimflam. Increasingly I’m speaking to PR people who keep telling me that, “We sent you press releases but unfortunately our clients don’t listen to us when we say to them that they don’t like certain things.” So, there are some clients who insist on having TM or Trademark, that isn’t going to make it into the print, or the OR symbol, or whatever, that isn’t just not going to make into the print… Into our print edition. It’s not going to make it online either because that’s just not the Yorkshire Post style.
We’ll take a press release if it’s really well written. we’ll still have to put it into our house style, but things we look for… First of all, in the intro, just be clear, “What’s the story?” Second paragraph, “What does it mean?” kind of thing. It’s, I think Nina was it, who asked a question earlier?
IM: — Nina will probably have heard of this, “Who, what, where, when why and how?” Just look at and think… Just ask yourself all those things, “Have I covered all those bases?” If you have, generally, you’ll have a really good story. Have some quotes in there, and then also, towards the end, just have lots of information about the company. How many staff does it employ? What’s the turnover? When was it founded? Who was it founded by?
I was contacted by a gentleman whose family had set up a baking business, home baking business, and then I asked, “Okay, can I name any of them?” He was like, “No, we can’t name any of them.” So I immediately said to him you’re going to struggle to get any PR coverage because people want to know who’s behind a business. That’s why people nowadays know who the Chief Executive of Lloyds Bank is. They know who the chairman of Sports Direct is. It’s no longer just Sports Direct, it’s Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct, things like that. So, people relate to people more than they do with faceless businesses.
Is there a good way to write press releases to get PR coverage in local press?
RM: — I think sometimes, because as you said, “When we’ve done press releases before, you do get clients who…” We’ll do the press release and send to them for approval before it comes out to you and all the journalists, and they just don’t like the way it’s written. Obviously we write it in a certain format, and they go, “Oh, no, can we just make it four times longer? Can we almost get a sail?” I think one of the problems we get from an agency side is that some clients go, “Okay, so we want to do some press, but actually what we really want to do is we need to sell more widgets.”
So they start off with going, “We’ve got a widget sale on,” and my job at that point is to go back to them and go, “Look, that’s not news. That’s an advertisement. So, you need to… If you want to sell more widgets, that’s grand because I know that’s what everyone is after, we don’t do PR just for the fun of it,” and you get that. But we need to make sure that, that’s the story rather than just an advert because if they really, really force me, and I send it, all that does is just annoy you and annoy the journalist by going, “Well, why have you even sent me that? There’s no chance me using it.”
So I think it’s a point around clients understanding that journalists work in a certain way, and it’s a mindset change a little bit for PR.
IM: — Well, that’s the thing, I mean that widgets thing that you mentioned, “Okay, we need to sell more widgets.” All right, what does selling more widgets mean for your business? Is it just increase… Maybe you could get a story in there about how it’s targeting profits of XYZ through sales of widgets or whatever, but to be honest, it’ll probably get pushed off the agenda very quickly by something else stronger. If you were to say we need to sell more widgets, and in order to do so we’re going to create 15 new jobs in Castleford or something, whatever.
All of a sudden we say, “Okay, XYZ Firm is creating 15 new jobs.” It means something to certain readers in Castleford. All of a sudden it becomes of importance to our readers, more than sort of, “This guy, he owns a tech company and he has lots of widgets to sell, and is looking to sell,” as it were.
Should you chase a journalist if they haven’t used your press release?
RM: — You mentioned earlier about, obviously, that cookie company that you spoke to, and it was a while… You spoke to them, it was like six, seven weeks until you actually put the story in. I know there’s a lot of people who would kind of go, “Well, can we chase you? Can we chase you?” Is that a sensible thing to do? And I know you might get that a lot because people might go… I know people ring every day or email every day.
IM: — I mean there are good PRs who still do that, and I don’t fault them for doing so. If it’s an email, it’s fine because if I don’t have the bandwidth to respond I’ll still be kicking it down the line. But occasionally, it’s actually a good idea just to bump it up so that if it has been missed. The key thing to be very careful about is if you’re emailing me and a colleague of mine, make sure that you keep track of the coverage, or you make sure that both of us are aware of it, because sometimes I’ll come back with a story and I… I’ll come off holiday or something, after two weeks away, then somebody would have emailed me and followed up again on the Monday that I’m back in, saying, “You were out of office so I’m following up for this story that I sent to you.”
I’ll be like, “Oh, great, let me take a look at this.” I’ll go up to the business editor, I’ll send him my list line, call it list line, it’s just a line of summing up the story. Then somebody else on the team will tell me, “Well, you do know we ran it whilst you were absent last week.” Then all of a sudden it’s just like, “Well, I’ve wasted my time trying to put together a list line and a plan,” maybe even did an interview then all of a sudden… It makes me look bad and it makes everybody look bad. So it’s best just to make sure that…
Because I can go through everything physically. We have to sort of… That’s why we work as a team and it’s not just a one man band on The Yorkshire Post, because we file so much coverage. We’re the only regional newspaper to have two business supplements a week. That can go up to 12 pages of busy times. We have a team of five which is pretty good across departments. A lot of the departments don’t have as many staff as we do right now. But even then, we have a city editor who has her own brief. We have a business editor and a deputy business editor. We’ve got, not just editorial stuff to do, they’ve got commercial stuff to do as well.
Then there’s me and Lizzie as business reporters. Lizzie works three days a week. I work the full week. Lizzie has the commercial property brief, so she looks after that. Then there’s John Grainger who joins us later on in the week, he used to do Yorkshire Vision Magazine but he’s increasing, because we’re not doing that at the moment, he’s doing other stuff as well.
So, as you can see, there’s lots of different moving parts, but sometimes if you don’t keep track of your own coverage, or you don’t copy the entire team, it can cause confusion. It can lead to, once again, a mistrust. Some people actually deliberately try it on. They know full well that it’s been published because the ton of the replies are, “I know it was published but maybe we can look at a different angle now,” but you’ve just sent me… Forwarded me the same press release and I’m not interested in regurgitating the same thing. Our audience will pick up on it. They will literally…
Sometimes they’ll write letters in, and it’s hurtful to us well saying… Calling us unprofessional or whatever, and they’re right. No one wants to buy a newspaper that’s got a story that’s already been… That they’ve already kind of read three days, in the same paper or even online, these days. They don’t want to see the same thing popping up on their news stream. Worse still, if we publish it as premium content, which we sometimes we do, do, if somebody offers us an exclusive. Then our subscribers will be like, “Well, you’re just regurgitating the same stuff, why are we paying a subscription for?” So, that trust is lost.
Should you put the copy of your press release in the email or attach a word doc?
RM: — I want to get on to a little bit of, almost like a technical question really. It might sound a bit geeky and technical but is there a best way to send it yet? Because obviously press releases, the traditional way is… In the old days when you would post a press release, you put it on a letterhead. It’s got a logo on the top and it’s got kind of an end bit in, and it would be printed and posted to you. Obviously now it gets written up in a word file or whatever, and then we’ve got images and all those other things, is there a best way to send these things to you? So, is it better off not sending an attachment but just pasting the press release, if that’s what it is, into an email and attaching an image? Or should we link to an image? Or there’s no rules, you’re not really bothered?
IM: — What I would do is I would copy the actual text into the body of the email. The funny thing is quite a lot of the times [inaudible 00:24:18] sort of, some companies perhaps may be spending a bit too much time policing the PR companies, rather than actually trusting them to do the job, because the PR person will actually sum up the story perfectly in the email that they’ve written saying, “XYZ company is growing. It’s doing XYZ, and these are the consequences of it.”
But then the actual press release will be just drenched in all this flowery language, state of the art this, that and the other, that you’ll completely be lost. Literally, I’ll be like, “Thank God for the actual email that you sent because that makes more sense than probably the [crosstalk 00:24:59] your press release.” But yeah, that way kind of just think of yourself as eyeballs. What catches the eyeballs more? If you haven’t written the press release in the actual body of the email, I then have to go through another click. You know how websites have to be clickable, it’s a similar sort of thing.
So just copy the actual story into the body of the email. Some people actually do that and send a word file as well, I don’t mind that. Now, I’ll open the word file separately if I have to, but having it in the body of the email just sort of allows me to have a look at it. Attach the picture as a jpeg separately. If you’ve got a whole range of images that you want to share, fair enough, do a Dropbox but still attach a couple of the pictures, because sometimes we may not have the time to go through a whole sort of… You can’t download a whole Dropbox of images and go through them all. So, just pick a couple of the best ones.
Size wise, you don’t want to crush somebody’s email inbox, about 1.5 Megs is a good quality image. Look, if you want to know what a good quality image is just pick up a copy of The Yorkshire Post, pretty much all the images have to go through our designer’s eyes, and usually the main images are all sort of picture perfect, or near enough. Obviously, not everyone is going to be able to do a similar job to what our photographers do, but there are very competent photographers out there and there’s no reason why, especially now with kit available. People can take their own and send them across to us.
Does a photo help get PR coverage in local press?
RM: — We’ve got some coverage as Marketing Optimist, where we’ve got potentially a better photograph than we had a story, which is quite a simple story, the one we did, but we had a really good photograph and you guys featured… The photograph featured a lot on the page. So, sometimes does the photograph help, if you send a photograph?
IM: — The way we plan pages usually, there’s always a main image. This is why people who read our… Consume our coverage will understand better. That’s why I always say when somebody rings me up saying, “I’m new to doing PR for this company and I would like to have a discussion with you.” I just say to them, “Read every single edition of The Yorkshire Post this week, start from Monday. Tuesday, you have the business supplement with [inaudible 00:27:20]. Wednesday, you have style and fashion, and all that. Thursday, business has another crack again with another supplement.”
But every single page in the main book, and in our supplements, will have a main image, and a really strong main image. Sometimes the story will be just like really quirky and kind of small and filler, and we’ll even kind of design around it. We’ll just put a little caption there because there’s not much meat to the bone, so it’ll be a little caption saying, “Somebody raised money for, I don’t know, a high-school fun day through a bake sale or something.” I’m giving you a stupid example here but the picture will be really nice, and then it will hold a page.
I think I know which one you were referring to. Was it the drawing competition or something like that?
RM: — Yeah, we did the drawing competition and then we did Yorkshire Day actually. It was me and Chris, who works for me, and we had a thing outside the town hall where you could kind of see me through it and he was holding it. That got quite a bit of coverage as a photograph.
IM: — Once again, it’s unique. It’s a bit quirky, that kind of style. We’ll say, “Okay, we’ll use that image.” If you’re honest with yourself you’ll probably say it wasn’t a groundbreaking story.”
IM: — But that kind of image kind of helped it. I remember once there was a protein bar company, you know one of those protein breakfast bar companies, and they could’ve just sent product images. It don’t work for us, and their story could’ve probably gone down page somewhere, or even as a sort of small nip, but they had this pic of this woman sort of covered in mud, coming out of this thing. It was an event that they were sponsoring. You know one of those Tough mud, and it was just really a striking sort of like, I don’t know if anyone has seen Platoon, [inaudible 00:29:14]. It was kind of like that.
It was really striking cinematic picture. It was like wow, and we put that on the front page even though we normally… We probably would have tried to kind of bump it down because this is a protein shake company, you’re a protein bar company that’s launched a new product. But the picture was just so striking that we kind of went, “That’s going to catch people’s eye.”
But we weren’t trying to sell the product or misrepresent this sort of thing to the readers. We just kind of, “This is the story, here’s a caption,” and the reader can move on to the next bit. We weren’t trying to mislead anybody.
Is it a good idea to send videos with your Digital PR?
RM: — know we’ve done some video with… or you’ve done some video of me asking certain things. So, obviously the more digital angle of that… How does that work now, because obviously there’s press and then there’s online, and social? Is that becoming more social so people think of, not just the photographs but video as well?
IM: — Yeah, we think digital first now and then print. So literally, we’ll have… To be honest, they both sit side by side. So, you’ll have… You’ll be filling the pages and you’ll be also… Do webbing stuff online. If it’s a breaking story, literally, for example, I keep picking on Morrisons, bless them they’re actually doing quite well, but let’s just say Morrisons gets rid of its… Or, “Morrisons gets taken over.” That was actually a rumor last weekend. “Morrisons gets taken over,” two o’clock, that story, I’m not waiting until 4:45 to publish that. That’s going online straight away, and I’m working on the print version simultaneously.
So, it kind of runs side by side, but our focus is on digital and whenever we can add value to digital, especially to our subscribers, we try to. So, I’ve played around with stuff. I’ve tried doing audio versions of stories. I had that little quirky kind of series, I did the 10 questions where, I think that’s the one you were referring to, quick fire questions. I’ve stopped doing that now just because I don’t have the time and the bandwidth to do that. I spoke to Mark, and Mark said, “Look, just focus on your quality rather than quantity, so let’s just… If you do go out to do video, pick a job that you really want to be… You want to be smart on what jobs you pick.” So, visually interesting stories.
Sometimes, actually, that’s not always the case. Remember last summer we did the offices feature you and I?
IM: — But there’s ways around it. I interviewed a lawyer a couple of years ago and it was, how can you make a law office look interesting? Literally, I was just having him walk around. I was climbing on balconies trying to get aerial shots and things like that. Then just packaging it together, because I want our audiences… I care about our audiences having a good experience online. I don’t have to do it. That’s not something that they’re constantly forcing on us but me and a few other people in the newsroom, genuinely, really want to push the envelope. That’s why we kind of do it.
So, yeah, if you are going to send in a video just be mindful of… There’s a difference between marketing and trying to sell a product, and PR. Once again, and I don’t think… There’s a couple of PRs who’ve actually kind of cracked it. There’s a guy called Mark Dexter, who does a really good job.
IM: — Because he’s a broadcast journalist. What he does is, he does news video packages. So, he’ll narrate them, he’ll shoot videos, he’ll do interviews. He’ll have people stood on one side looking spaced, rule of thirds and all that sort of jazz. Then he’ll package them together. He will have… He will drench them with logos and things like that. He’ll just keep it all sort of simple, and that’s the way it kind of… I think that’s the way forward if you do want to get video coverage in there.
RM: — Okay, so I’m going to open up the floor a little bit. I know Callum is messaging a question. Callum, do you want to ask your question direct to Ismail?
Should Press Releases mention the region their story is based in?
Callum: — Thank you very much. Good afternoon. It was just in relation to… I run a podcasting agency in Leeds and I want to do my PR for it, basically. I want to do my PR for the podcasts we make because we make them in this region, and sometimes we’ve got contributors outside that region. In terms of angles, if I was… When writing, say a PR article, would you try and target more the Yorkshire side of things because it is The Yorkshire Post, would be my first question? In the sense, because I’m based here in Leeds, make that a more prominent angle and say, for example, I’ve got contributors who present from Surrey and Essex, for example.
And the second question would be, which was the question I sent, in terms of… We do some more arts podcasts as well. Would you recommend sending them to those, say, the art reporter for The Yorkshire Post, or that like the culture side of The Yorkshire Post as well as the business side?
IM: — You have to, I’ll deal with the latter question first. You have to think to yourself, what’s stronger here? Is it the cultural element or is it the business element? If you were… I’d probably focus more on the culture side of it if that was the case. I will ask, how does this impact the business? If you are going to target the business side of things then always constantly check yourself as you’re writing your press release. How does this impact the business? How does this impact the business? How am I answering those questions? Am I constantly keeping the biggest press release on the business?
If you were focusing on the cultural stuff then, yeah, you can… I don’t know, but you might have like an interview with a former [inaudible 00:35:39] actor or something. So, you can just focus on that and send that across to culture. I’m sure they’ll more than happy to receive that.
Callum: — Yeah. Would you primarily say, in that press release, it’s produced in Yorkshire but we might say the contributors that come in sometimes might be from Essex and Surrey, for example.
IM: — One thing that kind of really bugs me sometimes about companies, is that they’ll write a press release and they won’t mention where they’re from. So, you’ll get to the bottom of it, and then you’ll read the entire press release. It sounds like an interesting story but they’re based in like, Surrey, not for The Yorkshire Post. Not unless you’re a major, major sort of blue-chip firm that’s got… That would have effects, [crosstalk 00:36:40] I don’t know, they’ve done a food chain or something, for the businesses.
If you have a look at the way that I write stories, I’ll always, in the second or third paragraph, I’ll always mention where that business is based. I’ll quickly bring up a page. Actually, I won’t because I’m taking too long, but, for example, if I was writing about ASDA, I would say, ASDA issued a profits… “ASDA saw its profits rise this morning, and it registered revenues of 28 million,” or whatever, ” in the three months to July.”
Second paragraph, “Leeds based, ASDA, also said that sales in its homewares division was boosting profits.” So, literally, I’m kind of using… I’m making sure the picture builds in the audiences’ head that this is relevant to them. So I would kind of look at trying to make sure that you get that Yorkshire link in there early, in the first two, three paragraphs just because… Always ask yourself, with the audience of The Yorkshire Post, why should the audience of The Yorkshire Post be interested in this? And if after reading your first four, five paragraphs, there’s no reason for them to be continuing to read, chances are they won’t continue to read and you would have failed, and I would have failed as well, depending on whether we ran the story or not.
What topics are journalists interested in?
Russel: — Hello. Thanks again to Richard and Ismail for actually having an article written by Ismail. So, I appreciate that. So yeah, it was a case of, just in general, what topics or stories get you energized? I know you’re going to be looking through loads of different lists, but as a natural human being, your head or your heart is going to sort of go towards one. So, what topics and stories get you energized, or get you curious?
IM: — I kind of… When I came to the business desk, it was very much… It was under a previous business editor’s tutelage, and he did a fantastic job. We were very much kind of on a… The coverage, I wouldn’t say it was kind of just similar, but he did, even he said that, “I want it to be more broader.” So, I kind of… That’s my benchmark. I’m struggling to articulate that to you. I looked at that and I thought, “What can I bring that’s additional?” And there’s certain things that really kind of interest me. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff around an employee ownership, how business can be used as a vehicle for good.
So, talking about podcasts, I’m currently kind of in the tentative stages of putting together a plan for our own podcast to try… See, more work being piled on me again. But yeah, I’m trying to tentatively put together a plan for a podcast series called, Business For Change, where businesses look beyond profits, and look to try and drive… Use their vehicles as a… Use their businesses as a vehicle for positive change in society. So, I’m interested in that sort of stuff. Greentech, we’ve done stuff on that front as well.
A lot of the times, because I’m the youngest member of the team, technology stories kind of get dropped on me, but I kind of… I found my feet with that now and I’m at peace with doing technology stories and covering tech companies, especially really complex ones. Thank you, [inaudible 00:40:27], based in Sheffield. But yeah, I do have a general… The beauty of this job is no two days are the same. So, I don’t have anything where I kind of… It’s a double-edged sword actually, because that’s why I disappeared for five minutes, I do apologize to all of you. But yeah, I kind of enjoy this sort of variety of things.
But I do have kind of… I do like businesses that go above and beyond just profits or, “Look what we’ve done here,” kind of thing. So yeah, those are the ones that really interest me.
RM: — Does anyone else have anything they want to ask Ismail? Oh, Jeremy’s got his hand up. Go ahead.
How should you structure a press release?
Jeremy: — We lend money. So, essentially, we’re always trying to run the story about the client’s success, i.e., we’ve facilitated a loan to them that’s enabled them to create 10 new jobs or grow their business. On Monday I drove over to Hull, where a cake manufacturer who you wouldn’t know their name, but they supply more of the retailers, and that loan will facilitate growth, huge potential. So there’s definite wider implications of the benefits of that.
So, we’ll write up a piece and do a photograph and send it to you. I’m always thinking, “Put loads of little paragraphs in because then he can adapt it to the size and space, and audience he’s got.” But sometimes I’m thinking, “If I send it and it almost looks too good, it’s like just copy and print.” Is that too simplistic for you to do? Or is that like, “Dream client, because all I’ve got to do is copy and paste it in.”
So, sometimes I’m thinking, “Have I overwritten this or have I under-written it?”
IM: — I’m kind of slightly confused when you’re sending stories to newspapers, they’re using them just as you’ve sent them?
Jeremy: — Well, I don’t mind it because I’ve written it, because we’re putting it out on social media like that, but you’re going to adapt the story to your linage, to your space, to your size, your column width or whatever. So, I try write in lots of different paragraphs on the basis you can cut and paste those and edit it accordingly. Have the freedom to do though as opposed to writing, as you said, “Splurge, throw up,” your hair is all… Then you’re thinking, “Well, that’s too short. Too long.” So, how do I get that right to make your job a lot easier, so that you’re more like to run it, as opposed to, This is a bag of spanners?
IM: — I think your approach is right. Keep it simple. If you look at a newspaper, the paragraph… Everyone assumes that when you write a story you need big chunky paragraphs. Copy and paste one of the stories on our website and you’ll see they’re like one line paragraphs, because newspapers, historically, have really short sharp paragraphs. It doesn’t matter if you are The Times, it doesn’t matter if you are The Sun; The Sun will probably take the mick, they’ll have like a three word paragraph and then move on. But shorter paragraphs, that’s fine.
We have something called inverted pyramid when it comes to news writing. So think of it as a pyramid, all the important information goes at the top. The rest of it is just sort of additional information. So, the least important information goes right at the bottom. The theory is even when a journalist files a copy using that principle, a sub article editor can come and cut from the bottom up, without losing any of the story. So, always have the important at the top, build it downwards and then all the other sort of, fluff, for lack of a better expression, can chop.
RM: — Does anyone else have anything they want to ask Ismail before we let him go? Anybody?
Is it ok to tag journalists in social media posts?
Alex — Once you’ve run a story, should we tag you in it or should we tag you prior to a story?
IM: — I’d be careful about prior to a story in case there’s some sort of… They’re working towards an embargo, or trying to keep it under wraps. Sometimes there’ll be people who I interview and then they’ll… Some people who do PR are quite weird with this as well, but they record where I’m asking the questions and stuff. I assumed it’s just for their own note taking purposes but then they kind of write a story themselves, before I’ve even written it. I’m just thinking, “You kind of transcribed everything that I asked and just blown the whole thing.”
But obviously, I’ll have my own vision for the story, and I’ll write it the way that I think. So, be careful about that, but there’s no real reason you can’t say, “Oh well, I’ve been interviewed by XYZ. We were talking about a certain issue,” keeping it vague. Then you can build some anticipation for it that way.
As for people tagging me, I’m really bad on social media, depending on the platform. If you go on Twitter, literally I’m just… I’m bad. Lots of stuff. Half my colleagues, some say to me, “You don’t even follow me on Twitter.” Like, “Sorry, I don’t even know how this thing even works anymore.” But yeah, I usually just use Twitter for talking garbage about the cricket, but… On LinkedIn, that works sometimes, like tagging people in. It can’t hurt. It’s probably the best way to explain it, especially is someone’s interviewed you. But do share it. No journalist wants their work to be just sat there in a quiet, sort of dark, spot on the web. Feel free to share it.
But probably not wise to continually spam them, like on the hour every hour. Like with a tag, because they might have notifications and then they just turn them off. But yeah, just be sensible.
When is the best time to send your PR?
RM: — I’ve got a question, just a really quick one, just about timing. So, a lot of companies will want to write a press release and then almost like convert it into a blog or something similar on their own side, and then try and go, “Can we send this to journalists?” Would you kind of go, “Well, you’ve used that already. It’s already out in the public. They are no longer interested”?
IM: — It depends. Press releases are slightly different just because we… I personally don’t feel comfortable kind of like, demanding, unless someone said, “Oh, I’ll offer it to you as an exclusive,” saying, “Here’s a press release. All information is there. It’s an exclusive.” Then they’ve gone and blabbed on their website anyway, then I kind of feel slightly cheated that you offered this as an exclusive. But generally, if you send a press release and you put it on your website, that’s fair game as far as I’m concerned. I’m not that fussed.
Unless you’ve sent a press release and then I kind of run up saying, “Look, I really want to splash this story. Can you hold it off? It could go in elsewhere,” and you say, “Yeah, sure,” but you put it on your website anyway. It doesn’t work.
RM: — Ismail, I just want to… I really thank you for your time and tips on how to get PR coverage in local press. We had a chat before and I know you’ve got a ridiculously busy day, so I really, really do appreciate you taking the time to sit and answer everyone’s questions. I think it’s been really useful and I’ve learned some things that are really going to be useful to me and our clients. So yeah, thank you very, very much. I really, really appreciate your time.