A packed auditorium at the British Library sat enraptured recently as four senior industry figures discussed how the correct handling of the media can pay dividends to emerging and medium-sized businesses.

EVENT: Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Media Maestros

LOCATION: The British Library, London

DATE: October 12, 2011

SPEAKERS:

  • Matthew Rock - Real Business
  • Shazia Awan - Peachy Pink
  • Louise Third - Integra Communications
  • Jonathan Moules - FT
  • Rob Pittam - Robin Hood Media (former BBC)

A packed auditorium at the British Library in London was enraptured recently as four senior industry figures discussed how the correct handling of the media can pay dividends to emerging and medium-sized businesses.

Facilitated by the British Library's Business & IP Centre, the Innovating Entrepreneurs programme is a series of BSL signed seminars aimed at the SME market.

Chaired by business journalist Matthew Rock, the evening comprised a talk from a panel of four experts who explained to the audience the importance of constructing a cohesive PR and marketing strategy, particularly when approaching the print, digital and broadcast media.

After a brief introduction from Rock, there followed an interview with Shazia Awan. Awan formerly worked in PR but took the decision to start her own lingerie business. She told Matthew Rock that effective PR is absolutely fundamental to a retail operation. "Advertising for small businesses is very, very expensive," she said. "And it's not always the best option. Journalists often appreciate a brand going to them directly."

To exemplify this philosophy, in December 2010, Awan's company, Peachy Pink, staged a "flash mob" event, where 50 scantily-clad models paraded down London's Bond Street to raise brand awareness. Awan was unrepentant of the idea: "You have to do eye-catching things that capture as much media attention as possible and costing as little as possible. In our case, our models were wearing as little as possible too." The result of the stunt was phenomenal; it made every UK tabloid newspaper and bought Peachy Pink a slot on national television, all for the cost of hiring 50 models and 50 sets of underwear.

Next, business advisor and PR expert Louise Third of Integra Communications began by explaining that small companies needed to apply a "reality check" to their expectations but that it was in all of them to manage their own PR. Press releases, she explained "have to be informative and accurate. Journalists won't listen to you if that's not the case". Third went on to say that it's the business' job to help journalists to do their job and that it was getting harder to do so. She cited the fact that media across the UK had recently lost a great many senior editorial staff and that those who were left were swamped with communications from outside of their respective businesses.


Louise Third's top tips

  • Planning - Don't go into any work with media until you've got a marketing and PR plan
  • Research - Give your press release a 'reality check'
  • Be realistic - Manage your own expectations
Jonathan Moules,  Enterprise Correspondent of the FT was next to take to the floor. Moules told the seminar that, as a business journalist, the stories he was looking for had relevance to his readers. He also advocated a realistic approach to the media. Readers will see through so-called "puff-pieces" and will engage far more with intelligent debate.

Jonathan Moules' top tips

  • Target - Know the market you're attempting to pitch to
  • Find a hook - Think about what the key elements of your story are going to be
  • Build relationships - Don't nag or harass; get journalists on your side,
Rob Pittam is a former BBC broadcast journalist who now runs his own PR company, Robin Hood Media, in Nottingham. Pittam started with an immediate piece of advice for entrepreneurs: Don't be afraid of ringing newsrooms. He suggested that journalists prefer to have receive an email in the first instance, followed up by a telephone call to discuss the pitch.

Pittam told of an incident that had happened recently where a fast-growing company tried to pitch a story of its 200th van being painted. Pittam dismissed the story as being boring. However, the company's marketing manager than happened to mention that he was due at a company induction where 80 new employees were being greeted. "That's where the real story was," relates Rob Pittam. Often times, he suggested, the hook for journalists is in plain sight.

Rob Pittam's top tips

  • Future not past - don't tell journalists about things that have happened, tell them about what's going to happen
  • People not things - Journalism is about something happening to people, not to equipment
  • It's not an advert - PR is about a dialogue with end-users. The media isn't there to advertise your business, they're interested in what interests their audience. The promotion comes from that.

The event concluded with questions being fired at the panel. Many of these comprised fairly fundamental requests for advice on "how to stage publicity stunts", for example; however, the panel were in agreement that strategies of this nature had to be handled carefully in case they backfire and damage the reputation of the brand. Avoid tacky stunts, think about your audience was the general consensus.

After the Q&A session, Media Maestros ended with a short networking session in which the panel mingled with the audience.

The next Innovating Entrepreneurs event will be held on November 14, 2011, again at the British Library. However, this time the panel will consist of Emma Bridgewater,  chairman and founder of Emma Bridgewater Ltd; Lara Morgan, founder of Pacific Direct Group Ltd and Company Shortcuts Ltd; Tim Campbell, founder of the Bright Ideas Trust; and Vernon W. Hill II, co-founder and vice chairman of Metro Bank.