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PR and controlling the media - the basics

I’m not going to try and unravel the boys / bands PR, we’ve been trying to do this for years and there’s no reason to think I have all the answers. I will try and explain the different tactics at a PR teams disposal and how much they can (or cannot) control the media. 

PR is not like maths, or science, or grammar, it’s not an exact science. It’s about people, and because of that no two situations will play out in exactly the same way. 

Another thing to remember is that it’s a balancing act. The media need PR people, and PR people need the media. So there is a lot of ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ / trading favours / and choosing battles so as not to ruin relationships you may need in the future. 

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The basics

At the beginning of a ‘campaign’ be it a rebrand, an album launch, a single launch etc the PR team will put together a PR plan (communications plan, whatever you want to call it). This will be lead by the Business Objectives - in a commercial business this is invariably linked to their bottom line (profit/making money). These Business Objectives will be supported by Communications/PR Objectives - what specifically you are trying to achieve through your PR/Communications - these must link directly back to the Business Objectives you are trying to achieve.

You would then look at your Audience (the people you need to connect/engage with to achieve you Communications Objectives), these can be: customers/stakeholders/staff/the media etc. After doing audience segmentation and analysis you would then start to put together a Tactical Plan to reach your Audience>meet you Communications Objectives>meet your Business Objectives.

You would then craft a set/s of Key Messages to use in all of your communications to get across all of the points you want to convey. These will run through all tactics, although they may flex depending on the specific audience you are targeting. 

It is at this point that what we are calling ‘PR’ starts to be seen by us, the rest of it goes on behind the scenes. 

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Tactics and control

Advertising / advertorials - This is the only tactic (other than your clients SM) you can have full control over (other than the specific placement in some case). The major downside of this tactic is that they lack credibility as you are paying for them to be included and therefor don’t come through the lens of a third party. 

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A proactive press release - These are drafted either in-house or by an agency and are signed off by the client (Harry/Harry’s team  / Louis/Louis’ team etc) They carry all of the key messages you want to get across and traditional each paragraph should be able to stand alone incase the journalist only uses a small section of it. The audience for this is the media, who then in turn reach another audience for you (the public/specific segments of the public if the journalist is from a nice title eg NME/Cosmo etc).

Sometimes journalists are lazy/busy and use the whole of the press release as the article and don’t remove / add anything. In that case, in terms of ‘control’ it’s a big win as they have published exactly what you want to say. 

Sometimes they include their own intro text / exit text / opinion alongside your copy. Depending on your relationship with them and their perception of your client this can be a good thing or a bad thing. 

If they include something that’s factually incorrect eg get the release date wrong, the PR team can get in contact with them and ask them to correct it. They do have to, but if it’s factually incorrect they normally do change it as it could effect their credibility with their readership. If they include something you don’t like but is an opinion / a quote from someone else etc, again you could ask them to remove it, BUT they are unlikely to as why should they? It’s not in their interest. The PR team may be able to persuade them by offering them something in return / threatening to take away from them - eg offer an interview, threaten to take away access to the artist in the future. This is dodgy ground and should only be done if the reach of the title and the damage the wording included warrants it. 

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Selling in a story - this is where the PR team specifically contacts a title to offer them a story (normally on an exclusive basis). Although not as ‘formal’ this is unfortunately what we have seen Rusty doing with the Sun. This tactic is normally employed when you want to have more control over how the story spreads than just issuing a press release gives you. It could be to reach a title you particularly want to target - eg one of the boys may want to expand their fanbase and their PR team may then offer the story to a publication they don’t normally work with - for example The Guardian art section / NME. In terms of control - again the journalist can add their own opinion spin, but in the process of selling the story in, you can build in checks and balances - for example the PR having access to it before it is published to approve it. Again this is not black and white, and will need to be negotiated on an individual basis. 

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Reactive media lines - This is traditionally when ‘something’ has happened and a journalist contacts the PR team and asks for their response on that ‘something’. This tends to be one more contentious / unplanned issues that you can’t get ahead of and do proactive media work on. This is where a team can really get it wrong with the deadly ‘not comment’. Even on a reactive basis your response to the journalist should still cover off as many of you Key Messages as possible. In terms of control, a reactive line is hardly ever published in isolation - it normally sits within a bigger piece where they may have got statements / quotes from other parties, and include a lot of the journalists own opinion. 

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A note on corrections

In print - Nine times out of ten it is not worth asking for a correction in a print piece. Invariably the original piece will have been large and read by many, many people. A correction will be tiny and barely read by any one. 

Online - This is more likely to be worth pursuing as the copy will stay on the website indefinitely and can be changed almost immediately. (Please see info above under ‘Proactive press releases’ re: requesting changes, the same caveats apply here.)

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Shady things

We see more than our fair share of shady goings ons, the best way to differentiate between a ‘above board’ press release and a story that has been ‘sold in’ is to look at which media outlet it is in / how many media outlets it is in simultaneously. 

If a story breaks in one or two outlets only it is likely to have been sold in. (The exception to this would be it a story breaks ONLY in a really obscure title, in which case they are most likely making it up for hits)

If a story breaks in multiple titles simultaneously with pretty much the same core wording, it’s pretty much a sure thing that it’s a press release. 

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I think that’s pretty much it. This got VERY long :/

  • Some things are shady, some things aren’t. 

  • You have to pick your battles. 

  • And don’t piss off people on your way up that you might need on your way back down. 
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