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From (Johnny) Vegas to Melbourne – our Lucy is PR expert by day and reporter by night

31/01/2024

So far in 2024 I’ve managed to clock up one new experience – a starring role on TV.
Well, not really, writes Lucy Stephens.

I fleetingly appeared in the Channel 4 show: Carry on Glamping, with Johnny Vegas.

I’m briefly seen looking mildly myopic in the final 15 minutes of one episode and then the really observant viewer may note the back of my head a few minutes later.

Johnny Vegas chatting to members of Melbourne Town Band while being filmed for Channel 4’s Carry on Glamping

Being a Melbourne resident, and involved in the local newspaper, I’d been invited to attend the opening of Vegas’s glamping site: Field of Dreams, which for anyone who doesn’t know is situated in two local fields and sees punters pitching up to stay a night or two in a series of lovingly restored old vehicles.

The opening happened on a distinctly soggy day in April but there was a lot of very good cake from Melbourne Hall Tea Rooms to make up for it, plus excellent music from the town band which Vegas was persuaded to conduct – in a stroke of TV genius from band member Tina Baker.

My role as local newspaper co-owner and reporting hound has many advantages when it comes to helping advise clients on their PR.

It’s hardly surprising that there aren’t many days where I’m invited to attend an opening party hosted by a famous comedian. In fact, I’m saddened to report it has never happened before.

Anyone who puts together a news site or paper will tell you most of the work involves scouring local planning lists for stories; going through emails and checking what might work well editorially; chatting to people who get in touch with interesting tales to tell, and turning up at public meetings held by the local council, fire service, and planning authority, to tell readers how their taxes are spent.

Wearing my newspaper hat, through years of experience I like to think I’ve become pretty adept at knowing what I want and need to create the content each month.

And when I’m writing stories on behalf of clients – along with every other member of Penguin PR who all have a newspaper background – we know what editors will want, and what is likely to be rejected.

So what are the dos and don’ts when it comes to working with your PR to put out stories to the media? Here are some of my toppest of tips:

Pictures

Newspapers need stories as well as pictures and your story has a much better chance of being used if it has a good picture to go with it. This means:

  • A nice shot with faces in it (no backs of heads please!)
  • Caption information telling editors who is pictured
  • No strange objects growing out of anyone’s heads (so always check the background of your pictures)

Story, story, story

There’s a reason why we bang on about stories in PR. All news is about stories. If your business has got something to sell, it will have a chance of being used if there is a good, relevant story to be told.

We newspaper editors are allergic to any press release which is just an advert thinly disguised as a news story.

Just telling us about a discount on offer in your business; or a new menu, or a new line of clothes, won’t wash. These are adverts. They don’t offer readers anything other than a sales message.

The good news is that your PR manager will be able to tell you how to turn your sales message into a story. For example, if your restaurant has created a brand new menu which is now only using ingredients within a five mile radius – that’s a great story, tying in all sorts of potentially interesting angles.

Cater to your audience

A story should always be tailored to the publication or news site to which it is sent. At my paper, the Village Voice, we are hyper local, covering around 20 villages in the South Derbyshire area. If a story I’m sent bears no relevance to the geographical area we operate in, I’m very unlikely to use it.

It’s also worth noting that the Village Voice is a monthly publication, which means that sometimes I can’t use an otherwise excellent press release because the news has been and gone by the time we next hit the streets.

However, other publications are different. A trade magazine, for example, is clearly interested in news specific to that trade. A regional newspaper needs stories in their area. That’s why in PR we can ‘re-nose’ a story so it is attuned to different types of publications, giving you more bang for your buck. Our job is to be aware of publications, news outlets, radio shows, podcasts and TV studios and know their specific requirements, so we can advise you best on the best fit for you and your story.

Timing

We’ve said it in these blogs before, but a news story also benefits from being timely to the national agenda. With some news this doesn’t really matter. A great human interest or business story will stand up well at any time.

But others work best if they tie in with national events or times of special awareness, like National Apprentice Week, or Christmas. So if you’ve got news relevant to those times, editors will only be interested if they get the story when the topic is still hot.

This is definitely worth bearing in mind in larger organisations where many people are involved in a press release sign-off process. The longer it takes for the story to be sent out, the worse the timing gets and the less likely it is to be used.

Relatability

Last but by no means least, the most important piece of advice I can pass on is something we all learn as fledgling reporters, but it can also be the hardest. That is, when considering putting a story out to the media, try to look at it from someone else’s point of view – someone who has no interest or involvement with your organisation. How does it look to them? How will they relate to it? What objections might they have?

Good news sites know what makes people click and read a story – and it’s usually if they can relate it to it in some way, either by making them laugh, or by being relevant to their life. That’s why in these hard economic times you often see pieces offering advice and life hacks addressing how to navigate the cost of living and energy hikes we are all living through.

The trick is, to think about how to make your organisation helpful to the public, as much as the public can help you. If you can do that, you’ve got a winning PR strategy on your hands.

This blog was written and shared by Lucy Stephens. Do you want to find out more about how a blog can help your business? Find out how we can help by getting in touch.

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