What a difference a day makes – why timing is everything


If the media is to be believed, today is the day when women all over the world will go down on one knee to propose to their partners, writes Simon Burch.

At the same time, people who were born on February 29 are, for the first time since 2020, enjoying the luxury of celebrating their birthdays on their actual birthday, rather than having to make do with the day before, or after.

These are topics which, for the past 1,460 days, have been of no interest to anybody whatsoever, but today, for one day only, people are being asked to share their feelings about what it’s like to have a “proper” birthday and what it’s like to have overturned convention by popping the question themselves rather than waiting for their partner to do likewise.

And their feelings are making the local and national news.

Am I being cynical? Not at all. This is how the news media – and the best PR, in my opinion, works – in that it takes an event or occasion that everyone knows about and can relate to and finds someone or something to create a story that brings it to life.

Like we’ve said in these blogs many times, media coverage is all about stories. It’s not enough to present a load of random facts or post a picture without context – to make it hit home you need to find a way to give the message a narrative that makes sense, that is believable and that is meaningful.

It also needs to be relevant, which is why a story about someone whose birthday is on February 29 wouldn’t be of interest if published on January 3, but send it out on February 29 itself and it becomes interesting. Even though it’s exactly the same story.

One of the classic mistakes many clients make when engaging a PR firm is assuming that their company or brand or product is so interesting that the media won’t be able to resist talking about it.

This is forgivable, in the same way that parents think their children are most interesting, pet owners think their dog or cat is cute and, indeed, we all think that we are more interesting or clever or moral law-abiding or better at stuff than other people.

Or, as the former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said, “everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home”.

You might call it love, you might call it an illusion that our brains weave in order to present us with a self-serving individual vision of the outside world that casts us as the heroes of our own stories, but whatever it is, we’re biased towards our own stuff.

As someone who (co) owns their own business I know how easy it is to fall into this trap: I’ve lived and breathed it for many years, it’s a huge part of my life and of course I enjoy singing its praises.

But potential customers don’t have that bias. Forget having a positive view of your company, often they don’t even know who you are. But they do know about their own world and so, if you want to win them over, you need to find a way that makes your brand relevant to them.

In PR terms, as with all marketing, this comes from getting into their heads and understanding what your potential customers are thinking about. Specifically with PR, this means knowing what topics are being covered in the news agenda and are trending on social media so that they are dominating the thoughts of both media producers (who you need to publish your story) and media consumers alike.

Anyone who has read anything by Daniel Kahneman will recognise this as the availability heuristic – the “thing” that is foremost in people’s minds will influence what they take an interest in, their behaviour and their decision-making.

And so, if you want to get press attention, these are the news topics you’ll have to shoehorn your brand into somehow.

This is why working in PR (and news) is challenging. Yes, there are often stories that are so good that they set the news agenda, but any local journalist will tell you that they earn their money on a slow news day, not on a day when a big story breaks, when they have to dig deep into their resources to find a story that’s good enough to present to their customers.

To do this, they often have to look at what’s making the news nationally and then find a local angle, and do it quickly, because the news cycle is unforgiving and it stops for no-one. Take too long and the news will have moved on.

PR plays by the same rules, which means the best PR clients are those who are able to drop everything to talk to a journalist working to a tight deadline, are able to tell a good story and are mentally flexible enough to promote their brand while still saying something that’s relevant to the conversation.

It’s a big ask, but the results speak for themselves, because people actively engage with news in a way they don’t engage with adverts or marketing emails and good PR gets coverage firms often can’t afford or even buy.

This is why it’s important to keep abreast of the news and be aware of events that are coming up that the media are likely to be talking about – so if you’ve got a good February 29 story, you’ve got another 1,460 days to get everything ready for your big PR push.

This blog was written and shared by Simon Burch. 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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