UnNoticed Entrepreneur - public relations for business

Understanding media relations better, and how it can help you get Exposure and #getnoticed, with Felicity Cowie

June 21, 2022 Jim James
UnNoticed Entrepreneur - public relations for business
Understanding media relations better, and how it can help you get Exposure and #getnoticed, with Felicity Cowie
Show Notes Transcript

Media relations is often confused to be the same as public relations. And yes, it does have overlapping aspects to it, but media relations is a completely different thing, according to this episode's guest. Felicity Cowie, a former BBC and Panorama journalist, now a media relations expert, explains the difference between media relations and public relations, and how it can help you #getnoticed.

Felicity also shares how to come up with a great pitch, factors to consider before you decide which media or journalists to pitch, and some common dynamics within the media relations stage that makes it risky and complicated but worth it. She also shares a couple of tips if you're looking at doing media relations and if you're considering of hiring an agency to help you with it.

She also shares about her book called Exposure: Insider Secrets to Make Your Business a Go-To Authority for Journalists which you can order from Amazon or her website, www.mediarelationscoach.com.

Post-production, transcript and show notes by XCD Virtual Assistants


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Jim James:

Hello, and welcome to this episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur. Today, we're going to talk about Media Relations with a former Panorama and BBC journalist, Felicity Cowie, who's got a new book called "Exposure." Felicity, welcome to the show.

Felicity Cowie:

Hi, Jim. Thanks very much for having me on the show.

Jim James:

It's my pleasure. And Felicity, tell us what's the difference between media relations and public relations? And how can that really work to help entrepreneurs get noticed?

Felicity Cowie:

It's a really good question to, to ask. Because I know I stopped being a journalist around about 10 years ago, and I went to then work with clients to help them get media coverage, to help entrepreneurs and other big businesses get work with journalists. And I know from that side of things, there's an awful lot of confusion around what's media relations? What's public relations? What's marketing? What's communications? Of course, all these things do overlap, but the really fundamental difference between media relations and all of these other activities is that when you do media relations, which is really a process for working with journalists to get on-page news coverage, your key audience is the journalists themselves. And what I mean by that is obviously, when people go into working with journalists, it's because they want exposure. They want media coverage. They want great headlines about their business because they want those headlines to interest and attract the public that they want to reach, whether that's more customers, talent, investors, the general public, whatever, however, public is defined. But unlike when you put content on your own social media channels or your own events or whatever, when you're doing media relations, your audience, you're not speaking directly to the public, you're speaking to journalists and you're hoping that they are going to relay what you say to the public that you want them to talk to. Journalists are under absolutely no obligation to do what you ask. You don't have any rights to look at their material before they publish it. They don't really have any obligations to correct any mistakes that they make and even if they have intentions to do it, it can often get lost in the mix of them now working on the next story. So it's really important to understand the whole benefit of media relations, which is really this independent third party endorsement, this sort of turbocharged testimonial that your business, out of all of these other businesses in your space, is the one that the Financial Times has chosen to feature or whatever, and everything that, kudos, you get from that. But the risk against it is you have no control over what they do. Or at least you have bits of control at the beginning of the process about what you put out there, but how the journalist uses it, how they feel the public will want to know about it, that can be very different from your business.

Jim James:

So Felicity, that's really good definition. See the difference. So just tell us though, how can a company get the journalist to be interested? Because from what I understand, you have so many pitches coming in every day that it's quite a competition. What makes a good pitch and how does a journalist decide?

Felicity Cowie:

Yeah, it is difficult to get things placed. And just because you want something and you've got a great story and it's of interest to your immediate world, none of that's not valid, but that's just not the same for journalists. So the first thing that you really need to do is, well, I suppose, to be honest, is have a bit of a reality check with yourself. There are no agencies out there who can deliver things that are undeliverable. So putting that pressure on them and asking them to do stuff that they can't get for you is not, you know, it's just not, it's not going to work. So you need to do the legwork yourself at first before you get involved with, you know, getting other people to help you and get really realistic about which media outlets are likely to be interested in you in the first place, and what you have to say. There's no harm in taking a punt and trying it. I mean, I myself am promoting my own book at the moment. And I've sort of tried various sort of things to see well, I, you know, I don't know. I've never been the subject of my own PR or media relations before. So it's interesting the journalist saying not for us, or somebody saying, "Oh yeah, we like this." You know, that's going to happen a bit. And you have to respect the fact that they know their own audiences, they know their own public and who that they are writing for. So you can prepare yourself so far in, in that way. But the other thing to do is to make yourself a very, to be very clear about who you are as a business. So when I worked for the BBC, I worked on their planning desk, and it was my job to find stories. And I also then worked at Panorama. It was my job to find an investigation. So I was actively looking for material but I would tend to kind of scroll down the press release or the email, and I would look at the sort of information that the person had sent about what their business was, who they were, and how they described themselves as a source of information. These things are sometimes called "boilerplates," in journalist land or marketing land. And they're usually a sort of a description. They sort of be 'about us', the description of your business. It's really important to get that right. And it's very overlooked. And in large organisations, because the sort of politics of deciding what you are in a few words is quite complicated, you can end up having these things being sort of hundreds of words long. But for journalists, you have to think about, they want to see a source that knows itself, and knows exactly what it does, that knows how to talk about it. Those 50, I advised you in about 50 ways, they really communicate a lot about your business. So you want to put some effort into that and thinking about the outlets you want to approach before you think about what the story is that you want to tell. To be really honest, although stories get a lot of publicity, as being the kind of the tool, they are really important, but it isn't difficult to think of great stories and to get quite carried away with them. It is hard to do legwork, to get agreement from key people in your business about this is who we want to be portrayed as in the media. If we get massive coverage, if they describe us in these 50 words, is that okay? Because it's terrible to get media coverage for something that you don't do. Especially if you're an entrepreneur and you're starting out, and you want to get your differentiator out there. So that, and having a good thinking about what outlets will media outlets. So what I mean by that is it could be print, or online, or broadcast, or whatever. What will impress the people that you are trying to communicate with via this medium, if you see what I mean. So if you know that you want to get some top talent, think about what kind of press or, you know, outlets that top talent will be really impressed by and try and aim for them because it's likely that they will be relevant to what you're trying to do as well.

Jim James:

So Felicity, let's say you understand who the audience is you want to go for, so you've chosen the media outlet. What should be included you in the pitch? You've talked about the boilerplate, agreed. But how do you get the journalist to buy into your story for you to be the trusted source versus other people that are approaching them?

Felicity Cowie:

I think it's having that sort of 50 words very clear about yourself. So the first thing that they think is it sort of calms them down a bit and they think, "Yeah, okay, I can trust this source." Also, journalists don't work on their own, they have to re-pitch all the time. So you want to think about when you pitch to a journalist. It's almost like handing them a baton, you need to make it as easy for them as possible to sort of pass this baton around. So when I worked at the BBC, of course, it's a massive organisation, but I would have to go to at least two news meetings in a shift. I would need to justify why I thought a story was a good story and why I thought the source of the story should be included in this story, and it's a shame that people pitch a great story and the journalists go, "Yeah, we know exactly who is a great commentator on that." And use somebody that they've already, you know, they've already knows works well for them. So you need to think about that a lot, that pitching it's not about wowing one person with a sort of an amazing headline and a story, it's about what's going to travel well. And this is why people focus on, you know, what's the key thing you want to get across. If it's helpful, I have in this book that I've just written, I have this analogy, which I use with clients, which is, if you are from the UK or if you've visited London, you might be familiar with something called Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park. And it's a place that goes back to, oh God, I don't know, olden times.

Jim James:

Before, before you and me. Before you and me, Felicity. Yeah.

Felicity Cowie:

Yeah, it's really, a really long time. But it's been around for ages. It's basically a sort of a piece of land in Hyde Park. And on a Sunday you can take a soap box, is where let's say it came from, I think, or a box stand on it and just shout out your kind of version of things. And in the middle of it, there'd be lots of people doing this and there's a crowd in the middle gravitating towards the speakers that they're most interested in. And I use this analogy quite a lot when I like to help people understand about pitching to journalists, because you need to think that the journalist is almost the person on the box who's got to kind of stand in a news meeting and you know, get attention for your story. So if I was about to get up on a box in Hyde Park Corner and speak about your business, what would you say to me before I got on that box? You're not going to give me some really convoluted and complicated thing because I won't remember it, you're going to be quite snappy about what you want me to say. And also, if you think about that kind of melee of people and noise and voices and everything, you know, like what's going to cut it? What do you want to actually say more than anything else? It's that noisy even inside news organisations. And unless things have radically changed, which I very much doubt in the last 10 to 12 years, news meetings are quite, they're not like meetings in the corporate world are very different. News meetings are extremely short, they're extremely to the point. You're very challenged on a story idea, you've got to really bring it to that meeting, you've got to be quite succinct to yourself. So you have to think about arming up the journalist as you're sort of champion to go and make this happen for you.

Jim James:

So very interesting. Love that analogy. So the journalist is the person on the soapbox, as opposed to the entrepreneur on the soapbox with all the people in the melee being the journalist looking for stories. The dynamic is that there are fewer journalists than there are entrepreneurs or people pitching.

Felicity Cowie:

I suppose it, sort of, follows on from what I was saying about the difference between media relations and public relations. In public relations, the entrepreneur would be standing on the box and just shouting about their stuff to the crowd, and we'd be doing it all themselves, and probably absolutely amazingly, because it's their business and they know what they want to say about it. And that's fine, you can do that. You can not bother with media relations at all and just do everything on your own box, on your own channels, if you really want to. And I absolutely give people, when they ask me, I say, "Just take my permission. Just do that. Just stop worrying about this. You've got masses of followers, go for it yourself." But there obviously are, as we've talked about a bit, there are huge benefits to getting media coverage, because no matter how brilliant your content, how passionate you are, it's all self promotional. It's all viewed as self-promotional. Whereas if you get a journalist and get them to stand up on the soapbox and speak on your behalf, and in this loud, noisy crowd of drawing public around, it's a different they've chosen you to go and talk about on this box. They've chosen to put your messages up there. So I think that's a kind of a useful way of seeing the difference between the two things. And I think hopefully people grasp, you know, journalists are not conduit, so they will not just take something stand up. They're not a member of your staff. They won't just stand up on a box and say what you want. They will look at the crowd, they'll listen to everybody else speaking, and they'll start to do their own thing with the information you give them. So that is a way of thinking about there's these differences and what you're getting into.

Jim James:

A really nice way of think about it also that the journalist has got its own community, it's got its own audiences. And that's the other thing that you tap into when you work through a publication, you get access to their audience as well, that you may not have already. Felicity, what about using an agency? Because, many entrepreneurs may not have the time or the skill set, or even the patients to work directly with the journalists, and certainly not to be consistent. Do agencies work? Are they a waste of money? What's your view on the inside of all those agencies that are calling?

Felicity Cowie:

So I've worked, obviously, as a journalist, then I've also worked within PR agencies, and I've worked within in-house communications teams. So I've kind of done the whole mixture of things you can do in with space. And I think that there is a real value in using people who are experts and who are focused in that part of your business, which is, well, let's say it's media relations, or it can be some of the other activities to do with communications. But, the huge warning to all of that, and again, I would say is why I wrote this book, is that there is no point in going to an agency if you don't grasp the fundamentals yourself about what you want to do. Because what tends to happen, and what I've witnessed quite a lot is the agencies are very keen to get and keep the contract. And so when the client, whenever the client says, the agency will say, "Yeah, great. We can work with this. Let's work through a strategic level." They'll come up over or we'll get you some quick wins, or whatever. They'll do whatever they can to offer value. Now that's absolutely completely fair enough because, you know, they want to serve you. But the difficulty is with a lot of businesses is that they don't create really a brief for the PR agency. So, you know, if you think about something a bit more familiar to a lot of companies, and that's to do with the money, say - you're not going to go and, like, hand over like the reigns of your business to an accountant without really understanding some of the basics about what an accountant's going to do for you. What times of the year they're going to deliver stuff for you? And, you know, who's the right accountant for you or the, you know, the finance team? And that somehow this logic doesn't often, or doesn't always get applied to support with media relations. And I find that astonishing when you are handing over your reputation in a way. Okay, it's not your budget, but it's reputation and asking, you know, an outsider to kind of figure out your business for you, and then tell the world's media about it. So you need to get very clear about what you want to say in the first place. With the book that I've created, it is a low cost option for entrepreneurs who just want to explore this without committing themselves to anything. But also, you can use the book to learn how to create that brief, how to find the right skills, how to just be aware of what you want so that when you get somebody involved to help you as you would with, you know, other people that you get into your business, you have some idea of what you want to get from them. And if you can do that it's a delight as a media relations, I mean, I work with clients I absolutely love because their briefs are so clear. I know exactly who they are and what they want, and why they want it. And it means I can bring my own creativity and thinking to what I do, and then we get the results that, that they want. But it is media relations is it is a very specific skill. And it, it does require an understanding of how journalists work, and that is not always inside PR companies or in-house communications teams.

Jim James:

Yeah, I think you've raised a number of great issues there, and something that one journalist said to me is that, "Journalists actually compete with each other internally to get the space," right? There are more journalists and more content than there is space to be published. Is that right, Felicity? The journalists are actually competing with each other as well. That's another dynamic that people don't think about.

Felicity Cowie:

Oh, definitely. And it can be really, I mean, like a really extreme example that I give to people to kind of reassure them that it's not just you, is that, when I worked at the BBC, for example, I would set up guests all the time to come in and talk about specific things. And some of these guests would be a really big deal and quite complicated to kind of even just manage their diaries so they could come out to the studio. I mean, any entrepreneur or CEO, you know, is very busy and, like, clearing their diary for a media interview and there's always delays and stuff like that. It's quite a tall order. I remember once getting Tony Ben, a sort of former like labour statesman, to come and comment on a story, actually, I can't remember now. And we sort did all this stuff and he came in and he was waiting in the green room and all this stuff. And I was really pleased with myself. It was a real sort of coup to get him and everything. And then, some other news story broke, I can't remember what it was. This is when I was working for the BBC news channel. So it's a rolling news channel, but all news poses this risk. Some other story broke, and I actually had to turn around to Tony Ben and send him home. Like I couldn't even get him to comment. The story was so at odds with what he knew about, I couldn't even get him on. We couldn't even crowbar him into comment on that. I mean, he was so nice about it. Obviously, he was very seasoned and he was very used to this rollercoaster that is trying, you know, to get media coverage. But clients find this quite reassuring sometimes, even though it does show the time-wasting aspect of this for, you know, a CEO who sort of clear their diary to do immediate interview, and then if it doesn't happen, I was just like, "Incredibly frustrating." But you kind of have to be in it to win it, I'm afraid. And news is it's not even the journalist being, it's the nature of news and other stories and other things happening. As a journalist, you're really not in control of a lot of things and a decision about what it is.

Jim James:

Yeah, that's a really good message for all those clients that the agency is doing their best. And on the agency side, we've all been to places where the media says that's no longer topical. So Felicity, what would be the number one tip that you would give to an entrepreneur? You've got this new book, "Exposure." Is there a tip in that book that, above all else, you'd say to entrepreneurs, if there's one takeaway from a talk with Felicity Cowie about PR and media relations?

Felicity Cowie:

Yeah. I suppose if there's, if I'm allowed two, I think one is the kind of the bigger picture thing, which is like only goal for media coverage. If you can't get what you want any other way, would be like, it's really hard work. Hopefully, as lot of conveyed in this interview, it's bumpy, it's risky, it's unpredictable, but the benefits are huge. You know, just one piece of coverage from like a decent outlet that, you know, the people you're trying to reach really value, like, you know, one hit by the Economist or the Financial Times or Forbes, or I don't know, whatever, you can recycle that for years, and certainly for our year. And there's no cost financially to getting that because it's not advertising. But there is a time cost, there is a risk cost, and everything I've said. And the book does actually give kind of at least eight reasons why it's worth putting yourself through this. But if you can't justify what you're doing with any of those eight reasons, don't bother, put your effort into other things that you know, what you're going to get from. But if you do decide it's worth it, then my other tip is really is a quick one, is like, absolutely do not go near a journalist until you've created a press release about your story. Now that might sound really obvious, but all this stuff about chats, and pictures, and emails, and phone calls, and messenger things, and all this, what you want is to have an actual press release, which really clearly sets out your story. Has this about us, this boilerplate about who you are as a source really embedded at the bottom, because as we've explained in this conversation, there's a lot of pitching and re-pitching goes on. I mean, I know it used to be infuriating. I find both sides of the fence, like your pitching a story, and then there's shift changes and everything. And it's almost like you have to pitch about seven times, like just to get the story to move as a, as an outsider. You want to have this press release, you want to have this map of what your story, is the only part of the process where you really have any control at all, which is what you've decided to put out to the journalists. Very, very busy journalists and very small publications - if you write this thing well enough, they will quite often cut and paste it, or at least cut and paste this section where you describe your own business, and effectively, you've now got exactly your own words, but out in this, you know, bigger sort of amplified and with this endorsement from journalists. So the investment, if you're going to do this, think about whether it's worth it. And if you do, then make sure you write a press release simply being a document, maybe one side of A4, the length isn't strict, which sets out what your story is with a headline, has this boiler plate thing. And yeah, in the book, it does have a template of how to do all of that. Journalists are taught what to look for in press releases, so it sort of incorporates what journalists are actually looking for, and it gives you a kind of way of putting this together. But yes, don't attempt to do media relations without a press release, because I suppose the last is it helps you test the whole story itself.

Jim James:

Felicity Cowie, if people want to find out about you and your new book, where can they go?

Felicity Cowie:

Well, the book is available everywhere, thrillingly.

It's called, "Exposure:

Insider Secrets to Make Your Business a Go-To Authority for Journalists." That's it isn't behind me, but it's there on the, for those who can the sort of screen. I know some of you're listening, instead. So yeah, it's available through Amazon, any book shops globally. But I also have a website, which is www.themediarelationscoach.com, and that has stuff about the book on it. It also has a blog and some free information. And if you want to hear me talk or come to, you know, workshops and things like that, I try to put everything on there, so it's a sort of site for resources as well. So it's yeah, www.themediarelationscoach.com.

Jim James:

Felicity Cowie joining me as she's from just down the road in Bristol. Thank you so much for joining me. And it's a huge subject to manage to cram it longer than the normal show, but I know it's going to be worth it. Thank you for joining me on The UnNoticed Entrepreneur show today.

Felicity Cowie:

Yeah, thank you so much.

Jim James:

It's been my pleasure. You've been listening to Felicity Cowie. This is Jim James with The UnNoticed Entrepreneur show. Thank you again for listening to this episode of The UnNoticed Entrepreneur.