In a little under a year, we have said goodbye to three prominent print magazines. Each publication covered a range of topics from the much loved men’s interest magazine, ShortList, to the controversial gossip mag, Now, and then just last month, after three decades, the UK said au revoir to Marie Claire in print.
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*4pm on a Friday afternoon – press office phone rings*
Journalist: “Hello, is this the press office? I’m writing a story about XX and would love to hear from YY about this – do you think I could get a comment from them or speak to someone about it?”
Me: “Possibly! I can see if there’s someone around. What’s your deadline?”
Journalist: “5pm this afternoon”
The news never stops, which means there’s always a journalist, out there somewhere, frantically typing away trying to get their copy submitted in time. Journalists have urgent deadlines they must meet, and while this has always been the case, it’s no secret that social media and its need for instant reaction has put a further strain on their timescales. The same information is still needed to write a good story, but there’s less time to gather it.
A QUICK RESPONSE
If a journalist is in the middle of writing a story and gets in touch looking for a comment to include in their article, you need to be clear what they want from you, while also getting your point across.
No one likes to be left hanging, so we need to be quick to respond. The more responsive you are, the more likely journalists are to get in touch. Our journalists friends have told us first hand they like reliability, and they want trusted sources who will say something engaging and get a reaction from their audience – because that’s what helps make a good story. So, take the time to consider:
What worked well in the past, and what didn’t. Keep track of comments or statements made, feedback received and what was actually used in the final copy.
What you want to get out of an interview, as well as what they will want to get out of it. What are the three key things you want them to understand? What are the most likely questions - both naughty and nice - that they will ask?
What's your overall positioning in this story? Who else are they speaking to? Everyone thinks they are the hero of their own story but, in the battle between good and evil, sometimes you might be painted as the pantomime villain!
The above is true too, if you’re trying to jump on a story by wading in with a reactive comment - something we like to call "news-jacking". If this is the case you'll need to be doubly clear on your role and why the journalist should be listening to what you have to say.
EYE CATCHING CONTENT
First and foremost, journos need a good hook – and preferably one that no one else has. I’ve lost count of the number of times a journalist has said “great, can you hold that story and give it to me as an exclusive?”
How solid is the information to support what you’re saying? Is it a survey with just 500 respondents, or one with 3,000 – because you’ll need credible evidence to be taken seriously. Journalists have to convince their editor that a story deserves space in the paper over the work of their colleagues; it’s a tough industry to work in and can be highly competitive - not just between the different news outlets, but within the individual news and editorial teams as well.
When you’re limited to just 30 pages or so in print, or a 30 minute news broadcast, you need to be able to fight your corner. This is why the pitch is so important. Before picking up the phone or writing that pitch email, you need to be sure why your story is the winner, why your story is worth their time. That means doing your research on their audience and their editorial agenda so make sure its a good fit.
DO MORE, WITH LESS (#YESEXACTLYYES)
Print news is limited to physical space, and broadcast journalists are also competing for time. Interviews on radio and TV can last from anything from two minutes to 10 minutes, but a lot can happen in that time.
Spokespeople are key to making a good story. Journalists want someone that’s punchy, controversial, personal or emotive. If possible, take the opportunity to call for change or illustrate your argument with empathy. This might not always be possible, but there are a couple of things you can do to help make the most of the exposure:
Giving a real-life example, or personal reference that might resonate with the audience.
Reiterate to the listeners, or audience directly why this issue might affect them.
Make a connection to something else that’s happening in the news that day, reaffirming that the debate is relevant and newsworthy.
Interesting copy, or punchy remarks, will undoubtedly be gratefully received and will be more likely to ask you to comment again on other stories.
Remember that journalists aren’t the enemy. They’re not all out to get you and destroy your reputation in a heartbeat. They see themselves as tellers of truth in the public interest. Their number one priority is their audience. They want content that will appeal to their readers, viewers or listeners and keep them engaged. You need to be confident that you are the person that can help them do that. And (*plug alert*) if you're struggling - with five front pages and counting in the last year - we reckon we might be able to help.
It’s now been almost two years since the Government made it a legal requirement that large firms (i.e. those with more than 250 employees) would need to report on their gender pay gaps in April 2018. Despite this, people are continuing to make mistakes and failing to understand what it's about, what people want to hear, and most critically, what you shouldn’t be caught saying. Here we highlight some of these very public mistakes people have made.
HUMPHRYS HAS A HUFF
This month, Radio 4s John Humphrys was recorded off air with Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America Editor, saying: “She’s actually suggested that you should lose money; you know that don’t you?”. He was of course referring to Carrie Gracie’s move to step down as BBC China Editor and published an open letter explaining her decision. This was a blatant misrepresentation of Grace’s reasonable request that the BBC “set in place an equal, fair and transparent pay structure”, not that she would ride in like a feminist Robin Hood and redistribute Jon Sopel’s salary.
Humphrys made the mistake of failing to listen to what women in the BBC had to say about the pay gap, and the backlash against his comments shows how careful individuals must be to think before saying something that doesn’t reflect the true facts; especially people as high profile as John Humphrys. Continued calls for him to lose his job should give ample warning that organisations need to understand the issue properly and be prepared to provide answers on what they are doing to address the pay gap.
TOM TALKS RUBBISH
Tom Chambers, Casualty actor and novice on the gender pay gap, came out with a few choice quotes last summer on the topic. He managed to explain away the pay gap with commentary right out of the 1950’s, saying “Many men's salaries aren't just for them, it's for their wife and children, too”.
Clearly he was unaware that in modern Britain women are often the breadwinners and his explanation proved to be unpopular with the countless women whose salaries aren't “just for them” yet still suffer from a significant pay gap of 9.1%.
If companies want to avoid having to backtrack on comments like Tom’s, it is important that concerns aren’t addressed with outdated myths. Organisations need to be able to do better than our actors and presenters, and provide a good reason when explaining any gender pay gap.
SOCIAL MEDIA MISSES THE POINT
Search the phrases ‘gender pay gap’ or ‘equal pay’ on Twitter and it doesn’t take long to find a handful of tweets full of incorrect information, missing the point by a mile. Sweeping statements describing the pay gap as a “discredited nonsense theory” or a “made up lie” aren’t a compelling argument against what is a clear worldwide trend.
Another frequently made point is that the pay gap isn’t significant because “Men earn more on average, but this is because they chose higher paying professions”, ignores that even within specific careers, such as medicine, pay gaps as high as 30% exist. The mistakes these tweets highlight is that it’s not just about equal pay for equal work (which is already illegal), but that there are concerns that senior leadership positions are still overwhelmingly male and this raises questions around the limitations of career progression for women.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
With less than 10 weeks to go until the report deadline on the 5th April 2018, communications professionals need to be asking HR and legal colleagues for their company’s gender pay gap figures. There may be a need for external support to create a suitable internal and external communications campaign and avoid the aforementioned pitfalls.
As you might expect from a company who were there when the regulations were passed, we hope the obligation to release pay gap figures will be treated not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. Whilst we’ve highlighted what people have done wrong, there are plenty who have got it right – and we’d love to help you get it right too. It's important you say the right thing and show what you’ve been doing to address the pay gap. By doing this you can present your brand as forward thinking and compassionate, and you could reap positive headlines from staff and consumers alike.