ROUND TABLE: PR – Have I got news for you?

How does a business know when it has news – and what should it do about it getting it published? Our latest round table, sponsored by Press for Attention PR searched beyond the headlines.

How does a business know when it has news?
Greg Simpson: They don’t always know. Most of the time, when I go and meet with a company, they think the reason they need PR is because they’ve seen their competitors in the press – not because they think they have some news. Often, they haven’t thought about it strategically.

Cann, Dawson

Carol Dawson: I still struggle with this, as often even if people within our organisation have news, they don’t seem to tell me. They’re too busy getting on with their day-to-day working lives.

Gemma Cann: Our tenants at BioCity are our greatest asset, and we push them to tell us their news all the time, but first and foremost they’re entrepreneurs and often simply don’t have the time – they don’t see it as their priority.

Gerry McPake: There are some firms that are good at it. The way we do it is not to tell a single story as such, but more a continuous narrative. There’s a theme to what we’re saying. In years gone by the story had to be big – I don’t think that’s the case any more.

Paul Norbury: What is actually news is a really interesting subject. Sometimes a gem gets lost among the reall boring stuff. I think it’s all about educating the entrepreneurs.

Simpson: A lot of business owners get caught up in the features of their product, without properly explaining the benefits.


Norbury: I agree, and the recipient of the news is very rarely thought of.

Simpson: There are a lot of people who BCC their news to 30 different journalists just so they can spread it out. A sales person wouldn’t do that. You have to consider where you want to be. It might be nice to be in The Times – but do your customers or potential customers read it?

Carol Dawson: You also have to cultivate relationships with journalists. Never underestimate the power of the local press.

McPake: It’s also interesting to note that these days with online news everything has a much shorter shelflife. Things move much quicker.

Simpson: A lot of the time a business might not have news, but the business owners will have a view on what is going in the wider world or their industry. It’s always worth making this known to journalists as you’ll become their go-to person when they’re putting a feature together.

Ian Naylor: It’s about building a rapport with local journalists – Greg’s right, it’s you they’ll come to for a quote if you can do this. It can be hard work, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.


Michelle Newman: We sometimes have problems, because often the businesses we work with don’t want their story in the press. We have to respect that confidentiality.

Simpson: The first question I’d ask is “how many new jobs will this news create?” The press doesn’t really care about a business’s brand.

McPake: I think it’s about creating a narrative throughout the year, rather than one big hit. If you like it’s the difference between a greatest hits compilation and a concept album.

Norbury: That’s being strategic – thinking “how do I build this up?”. We have regular meetings with our in-house marketing team that are centred exactly around this.

Would you ever recommend a ‘no comment’ stance?


Simpson: Not if you can possibly help it, as it leads to speculation and reeks of guilt or a “don’t care” attitude. There are of course legal situations where you have to make that comment, but on the whole no-one wins with a “no comment” statement.

Naylor, Simpson

Norbury: We rehearse crisis communications scenarios with our clients. It’s fascinating to see, because often in a crisis they have no idea where to start.

Simpson: Most businesses have an insurance policy, so why not have a crisis PR policy. They’re very similar.

Jane Biggs: A lot of what we do has to be very discreet. I’m a PR newbie, but most of the work do is behind the scenes, and clients and candidates don’t want that publicised, which is completely understandable.

Simpson: Jane knows why people are moving jobs, though, as journalists want to know that. The point of PR is not just vanity – although that’s nice now and again – but also to increase sales.

Norbury: It’s also about well-being for your team. I share the mentions we get in the press with the team. They feel proud to be talked about.


Is there a golden rule for achieving coverage?
Simpson: Yes – think in pictures. Use the photo shoot to bring out the best in your story.

Dawson: Again, I think it all goes back to relationships with journalists. They’re key.

Simpson: True. Journalists these days are incredibly busy. Don’t chase your story too much – the last thing you want to do is annoy a journalist.

Greg Simpson, Press for Attention PR
Gemma Cann, BioCity
Paul Norbury, PwC
Ian Naylor, AppInstitute
Jane Biggs, Bygott Biggs
Gerry McPake, Allied Irish Bank
Michelle Newman, Spearing Waite
Carol Dawson, Qdos