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If you’d asked me a year ago, I never would have predicted I’d be here. Just four months ago, I was a happy (if underpaid) journalist writing for one the most prominent English language publications in Hong Kong. My natural curiosity to look for new challenges got the better of me, however, and I found myself making the switch to PR. It was almost instinctive.

Real talk though. I probably never would have considered coming over to this side had it been with any other firm that I dealt with as a journalist. The Sinclair Comms crew always seemed to know the right way to deal with journalists. As a result, I was more than happy to attend events and provide coverage for friends who just happened to be in PR, and I built up a good rapport with much of the team along the way. Unfortunately, knowing how to deal with journalists are skills that not all PR practitioners seem to possess – yes, blacklists do exist.

Now though, I get it. The PR world is an exciting, non-stop beast. Acting as the middleman or woman between hungry clients and hungry, deadline-driven media can be a precarious balancing act at the best of times. Here are some things to keep in mind when building media relations:

Don’t ‘PR’ me
You know what I mean. While I get that as PR, we have certain agendas to push and KPIs to hit, there’s a fine line between a soft sell and acting like the proverbial used car salesman. If there’s an opening in a conversation for you to organically segue into client talk, go for it. Otherwise, the conversation comes across as disingenuous, and can show that you’re not interested in building a meaningful, long-term relationship, but more interested in a potential short-term win.

Another thing to remember is that journalists know what they want to cover, and, usually, how they want to cover it. While the storytelling aspect of PR is without doubt a fundamental part of the job, a journalist doesn’t necessarily want to be told what to write.

Don’t call me
Or if you’re going to, make it worth my time. A journalist’s job is stressful enough finding stories and filing them under the constantly hovering cloud of daily deadlines. The last thing any writer needs is time spent on a phone call listening to a rehearsed – and often awkwardly recited – script about the revolutionary new way that your restaurant client’s sous chef is now smashing avocado for their twice monthly brunch. Events are a different story. Call for an RSVP, but do leave a gap between the initial invitation and the follow-up. Nobody likes a desperate Daisy. Remember, yours is one of the many offers with which a journalist is presented with every single day.

And think long and hard about pitching after work hours, too. 11.30pm on a Tuesday is not really the best time to send a Facebook message to pitch your client’s brand new menu. Doing so will make it less likely that I’d want to sit down with you and try it.

Don’t be fake
Many is the conversation in which I have been awkwardly involved as a journalist where the PR laughs a little too hard at all my jokes, or seems a little too interested in my most recent travels. The most fruitful relationships I had with PR as a journalist began over an agenda-free get together, where nothing was brought to the table other than two personalities. You don’t always have to be ‘on’, and I can tell when you are. Being real is where it all starts.

Do your research
It should go without saying, but as PR you really need to know who to pitch your news to. Don’t tell the food editor about the sexiest new stiletto to hit the shelves. Think twice about emailing the property writer about new advancements in your sports client’s VR offer. Casting your net too far and too wide is another sign that you’re not necessarily interested in building long-term partnerships. You might be lucky enough for something to stick, but you’re also a lot less likely to be remembered.

While it might be true that journalists often need PR just as much as PR need journalists, the journalist can be a fickle customer – after all, yours is not the only PR firm they deal with. A lot of the time though, how you’re perceived by a journalist can be the difference between getting coverage and getting your email sent straight to the spam folder.

Think about how you use Facebook. When you’re online, do you spend most of your time scrolling? You probably do – but why? The answer is simple. You’re looking for something interesting. In our era of information overload, it’s difficult to get a person’s attention as everyone receives tremendous amounts of information every single day. That’s why honing your storytelling skills is crucial to deliver a message.

Before you start a story though, make sure that you ask yourself the following questions so you can plan for the next step – telling a story!

  • What are the key messages of the brand?
  • What are the outstanding features of the brand?
  • Who is the audience? How is your brand relevant to the audience?

Here are my failsafe tips to make sure your brand’s story is one that your audience would want to pay attention to:

Capture attention
Whether reading emails or news online, we often skim through content quickly. Creating direct and catchy headings, which can be useful, informational or emotional, are key to attracting your audience’s attention.

For example, when blasting out news about a new brunch, a conventional press release heading like ‘New brunch now available’ may be ineffective. Instead, get creative and try something like ‘Calling all foodies: Enjoy an exclusive new champagne brunch’, highlighting features of the offering to make the message more interesting, appealing and impactful.

Make it personal
After capturing the audience’s attention, you have to seize the opportunity to inform them of your key messages. Bear in mind that we are not doing an advertisement for the brand, but telling a story. Showing the personality of the brand by presenting brand is key to standing out from competitors and create brand awareness and connection.

Around the world, more and more brands are going down the personality path. Take Gordon Ramsay as an example. While we’re big fans of his work, there are better chefs out there. So what accounts for his huge popularity? It’s all in the brand – his strong and memorable personality shows that giving your brand a real personality can lead to huge success.

Get graphical
In our age of visual culture, images and videos can tell more memorable stories than even short text. Many studies have shown that content with images and videos receives more total views and even help calls-for-action in e-commerce environments, as consumers tend to consider or reach out to a business when images are shown.

A good video has the power to change a conversation, and turn a mundane topic into a viral one. Recently, four members of the HKSAR Legislative Council created a video with infographics about how to develop a sustainable and green transport strategy for the city. The video depicted the four members going to work using three different methods of transport, and inserted infographics with statistics like the monthly parking fee in Central being equal to the cost of one iPhone 7, 115 bowls of chicken rice or 336 cans of luncheon meat. This video was very successful, garnering over 387,000 views and 8,200 reactions on one of the member’s Facebook pages, while also driving conversation and awareness among a wide audience. Check out the video here.

Telling a story is about connection and retention. And in a time when we’re constantly bombarded with messages, doing it right can make all the difference.