One of the best opportunities for journalists and PRs to work together is on quick reaction stories to breaking news. Whether it is a response on the latest housing policy announcement, Budget statement or Brexit twist, a good quote can help the journalist quickly get a good new angle or headline. It can also help housing providers achieve their strategic objectives.
Here is a good example of this from a recent BBC article ‘Climate campaigners win Heathrow expansion case’. Various key players are quoted: the government, Greenpeace, Heathrow Airport. But then we have the following:
‘But airline group IAG, which owns British Airways, said: “We have always said the environmental impact and cost of Heathrow expansion needs independent review. The airport cannot be trusted. Its original £14bn cost for expansion is now £32bn.”’
Why has IAG given this quote?
IAG’s position on Heathrow expansion is perhaps slightly unexpected. It is clearly throwing cold water on current plans for a third runway. Why might the parent company of several large airline brands – British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus – not want increased capacity at a key hub for many of its flights? The answer: this would mean increased competition and therefore impact on its margins. Also, it clearly fears the potential for ballooning costs of the expansion and for these to be passed on in landing charges for its airlines.
Why was it important to IAG to give this quote now?
If IAG’s strategy is to protect its market share in flights from Heathrow and minimise any cost increases if the project proceeds, then increasing the pressure for a change of heart makes good sense. The Court of Appeal ruling identifies a clear weakness in the current business case for runway expansion. Therefore, any additional pressure IAG can bring increases the chances of a rethink and potential delay in the project.
Why did the journalist include the quote?
For a number of reasons:
- Timely i.e. it met his deadline
- Interesting – for the reasons explained above, it was perhaps unexpected and also expresses strong and critical views on the matter at hand
- Relevant – IAG airlines are major UK brands – especially British Airways, so the general public audience for the story will be interested to hear what IAG has to say
What are the lessons for UK housing PRs?
Again, there are several key points here:
- Opportunity: a quick reactive story is one time when journalists will absolutely want to hear from your organisation or client
- Wow now: have something interesting to say – and say it in time for their deadline
- Plan ahead: know your strategic aims and messages to deliver them. If you know a news event is coming up – Social Housing White Paper, Budget, whatever – think how you could tailor your messages to express them in a way that will give the journalist (and their audience) cause to sit up and take notice
- Relevance: emphasise why the views of your organisation on this matter are important. What is it about you that gives you authority and sets you apart from other organisations?
- Reflect: before pressing ahead, consider whether what you are proposing will help position your organisation as you hope and advance your strategic aims. Also, what are the potential reputational risks to your proposed course of action? How might your quote or statement be used or potentially misconstrued?
- Sign-off: once you are happy to proceed, line up the key people you know will need to sign-off a statement in advance. If possible gain their approval for a draft statement, then adapt as necessary once the announcement has been made
- Think targets: as with all good campaigns, identify your target audience and then the media and other channels most likely to reach them effectively. Contact key journalists in advance to ask what they might need and by when to gauge interest in what your organisation might have to say
- Timing is everything: if you cannot hit the journalist’s deadline, someone else will. They will get the coverage and you will not
What does success look like?
So, you’ve gotten coverage in The Times or Inside Housing – well done! But what next? As ever, an output of coverage is no guarantee of impact on your target audience. In common with all PR, you will only truly know its impact over time when perceptions and engagement with your organisation alters in the way your strategy intends.
There are, however, some things you can do to help improve your chances of achieving an impact. For a start, get on social media; get sharing and engaging. Ensure your appropriate corporate leads do the same. Seize the opportunity of coverage and run with it as far as you can. Tie it back to your more local audiences – your tenants and residents – through follow-up blogs or other social media posts, where relevant.
For instance, if a real issue for your tenants is problems with Universal Credit, make sure they know you have been advocating on their behalf.
Finally, there are loads of opportunities for this type of engagement, but it is not easy. It requires a clear sense of your strategic aims, what makes good news copy and – crucially – where to draw the line so your organisation remains ‘interesting’ and a ‘thought-leader’, as opposed to someone shouting for the sake of it.
If you would like to discuss how your organisation can better work with journalists to convey your messages and achieve your strategic aims, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Stuart Macdonald is Managing Director of See Media