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Making news

17 June 2005
Making news

First and foremost, you need to get into the mindset of a journalist. As a rule, a newsworthy piece contains one or more of the following features - which neatly form the acronym TRUTH.

Bear these in mind when developing your stories.

Topicality

Does the story link in with a topical industry trend or broader news story?

For a hospitality trade publication, a release about use of labour or custom from the new EU states would have been topical shortly after May 2004.

For consumer magazines and newspapers, links with other newsworthy events can work a treat - for example, football-themed promotions around the World Cup or FA Cup Final.

Equally, linking a story to celebrities, recent movies or TV show can help to bring it to life, as well as giving publications the chance to use some glossy photography - a customer service survey could invoke Fawlty Towers as a symbol of bad practice.

Don't forget about calendar hooks - Mother's Day, Easter, Father's Day, Christmas all present opportunities. However, all your competitors will doubtless have the same idea - so you may have to be extra creative to get noticed.

Relevance

Journalists are interested in stories that will have a broad relevance to their readership.

Make sure yours is tailored in a way that will excite and engage their audience. Bear in mind that this may involve writing two or versions of a story for trade and consumer media channels.

For instance, a report on cost efficiencies within the hospitality industry is unlikely to interest the consumer media, but it may have some success in the hospitality trade press.

Look carefully at the format of your target publications too - what sections do they have that you might be able to contribute to?

Target your stories to fit the structure of the publication - eg general news, reviews, appointments, features etc. A magazine is never going to fundamentally change its make-up to fit your story, so you have to mould your activity to suit its editorial agenda.

Unique features

Anything that is unique, different or quirky is likely to capture the journalist's eye. A story that bucks stereotypes will also create interest. For example, in the restaurant sector, stories like 'the most expensive …' (eg £15 beans and toast) work particularly well, as do any offers that involve unusual ingredients or culinary styles.

For hotels, think about quirky or exceptional aspects of your offer: unusual spa treatments, extravagant in-room facilities or services, a really outstanding or strange location - anything that genuinely sets you apart from the crowd.

Trouble

This is one to use with caution, but the media thrives on conflict and controversy. There is a place for this in your PR planning, but you have to be extremely careful that you invoke controversy in a good-humoured and inoffensive way to avoid causing offence to potential guests.

Banning something can be a useful news hook - for example, a hotel could present itself as a football free zone during the World Cup, perhaps by offering "Football Widow" spa treatments.

Edgier organisations may be more aggressive in courting controversy - recent moves to ban smoking in pubs and restaurants is a case in point.

The key thing is to ensure that you fully understand your core market and are absolutely sure the activity will not alienate them or other key stakeholders (eg suppliers, investors etc).

Human interest

People are almost always at the centre of news stories, so it's useful to bring a human dimension to your story wherever possible.

This is particularly important if you are doing some sort of community relations activity. A newspaper is far more likely to pursue the story if you explain a personal story that underpins the action.

For example, you've offered your facilities to a local charity event. A newspaper may mention your involvement in passing, but you will get more profile is you explain any personal circumstances that underpin the decision.

Maybe a relative or a former member of staff received help from that charity when they were ill? Or perhaps one of your regular guests is a long-standing member of the organisation?

Find the personal story at all costs, because evoking human drama and struggle is a very compelling way of getting media attention.

Press release writing

How do you present a story to journalists? Most of the time, you'll need to put together a press release. Here are some hints and tips:

1. Get your story straight - before you even start writing, assess whether you've got a viable story, using the TRUTH criteria above. Make sure you know exactly what makes it newsworthy, and see if there are any ways you could make it even stronger.
2. Make sure your title and first paragraph are good - in most cases, the first person who sees your release is a News Editor. They are likely to receive hundreds of press releases a day and most will only read the title and first paragraph. If they're interested, they read on; if they're not, they bin it. Make sure your first paragraph tells the story in a nutshell.
3. Answer the key questions - every press release needs to address the following questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How / How much? Use these questions a checklist to make sure you've provided all the facts. For a hotel late offer, make sure you include booking information, the cost of a double room and whether this includes any meals. Also include contact details for further information.
4. Check your facts and spelling - double check any figures, phone numbers and web addresses. Run a spell check and also get somebody to proof read the release. Nothing dents your credibility with a journalist more than if they spot a blatant error in the press release.
5. Write tightly - be concise and avoid big words or jargon. Don't repeat yourself or be too chatty in style. Avoid extensive quotes and definitely don't over promote your organisation. Be objective and don't use adjectives like "great", "fantastic" or "wonderful" in the text. Quotes can be more subjective, but don't go over the top. Avoid contraction like "don't" and "isn't", and avoid describing something as "unique", "exceptional" or "pioneering" unless it genuinely and obviously is.

When you speak to a journalist, clarify what the news angle is to your announcement. Explain the story concisely - normally you'll want to ask for the newsdesk unless you have a specific contact. Ask them if they would like to see the press release and send it through.

Other forms of media relations

Not all coverage comes from press releases. Bear in mind these other tactics:

•Media visits - organising journalists to stay at your hotel on a complimentary basis can allow them to experience your offer first-hand. But do make sure you do yourself justice: brief all staff when a media visit is taking place and who is staying. Ensure somebody is in place to offer journalists a guided tour of your facility. Have press packs available to give them.
•Case studies - writing a case study of a member of staff or an event you've hosted can be useful as a way of providing examples for journalists who are writing features on a given topic (eg staff incentivisation, trends in corporate events etc)
•Media briefings - particularly if you are launching something very distinctive or are publicising a complex piece of research, journalists may prefer to have a one-to-one briefing. Choose a quiet, secluded place to meet, and ensure you bring along supporting media collateral, such as a press pack and launch release.
•Media events - a rarity these days as many journalists are increasingly office-bound, but on occasions you may want to host a media event and invite a number of journalists. You will, however, need a really compelling story to get a decent turnout.

Neil Coffey is a consultant with travel PR experts BANC Communications. He can be contacted on neil.coffey@banc.co.uk.

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