“We want to be in the FT…”

In over 20 years as a media relations professional, I think I must have heard this phrase hundreds of times from business schools wanting media coverage for a particular story.

But all too often, the FT is not actually the best outlet for what they want to achieve.

Don’t get me wrong. The Financial Times is a fantastic target for business schools.

It is, after all, the paper of business and one of the most trusted news outlets globally. It is also the go-to source of information for prospective business school students, who look to the FT and its peer, the Economist as the gold standard for information about business education and rankings.

The real issue I have with the above statement is that all too often, people start setting media coverage targets before they have even assessed:

  1. What they want to achieve from their PR activity;
  2. How newsworthy their story is.

Often in business schools, I suspect this has much to do with the internal views of where the school ‘ought’ to be seen, or simply a lack of understanding about how journalists judge stories.

Usually, these beliefs don’t exist with the PR department but can come from the wider organisation.

But this sort of thinking leads to disappointment, and missed opportunities.

If you pitch a story that’s not strong enough for a publication you may end up being ignored. And if you use up all your credit with journalists, you will reduce the chances of them reading your really big story later on.

A better way to start planning your media relations campaign is to sit down with the internal stakeholders and consider:

  • Why do you want to do this campaign? For instance, are you looking to raise awareness of a particular initiative, do you need to drive people to your website, or do you want them to download a piece of research?
  • Who do you want to reach with this campaign? What do you want them to think, feel or do as a result of reading this story? Be specific – just saying that you want to reach ‘businesses’ is not enough – are you talking about SMEs, FTSE 100s, or something in-between? Who, within those organisations, do you actually want to reach – the CEO, the CMO or even the CIO?
  • How topical is the story? It will come as no surprise that publications at the moment are still dominated by COVID-19 related stories. Newspapers are driven by topical news events – how does your story fit into that? Does it give a new angle on an existing topic? Is it something that people are talking about now?
  • How relevant is it for readers? How will it affect them personally? A recent survey of journalists by Cision found that 45% said that press releases could be more effective if they had information relevant to their target audience. Often this means researching demographic or geographic information of readers – all readily available. There is no point, for instance, pitching something to an international newspaper if it’s only applicable to a small number of students in one city, unless it’s particularly…
  • Unusual – is it something that people wouldn’t expect, or they would find surprising? Does it overturn a widely held assumption or bust a myth? Is it the first or the biggest? (and I mean the first-ever, not the first for you…)
  • Is it about an issue or problem? Show how you are solving a problem – is it big enough for people to care about? Can you quantify it? Is there a conflict here that the journalist might be interested in?
  • Does it have a human interest angle? Is it something that people can relate to emotionally? Can you back it up with case studies, photography or life stories?

The answers to these questions will help you to select the most appropriate media targets to meet your specific goals for a campaign. And you will stand a much better chance of crafting a compelling pitch or press release, and getting a journalist to bite.

It may be, for instance, that getting an exclusive interview within a management or business trade title would better serve your ultimate goals. And don’t discount local media – I’ve seen local stories get picked up by national news outlets and spread far and wide.

Whatever the story, ultimately media relations success comes down to balancing what you want to talk about, what is relevant for your target audiences, and what is of interest to the media. Too often, the focus is on the first one, sometimes the first two. For it to work, you need to tick all three boxes.

As for the FT, my advice would be to target it selectively and only with your best and strongest stories.

Toby Roe, Co-founder, Roe Communications