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Then and now: Getting your message to the media

January, 2015

Philip Jones, Director of Kent PR agency Maxim, looks at how times have changed in the life of the humble press release – and how they haven’t.

In the 20 years since Maxim started trading, the world of PR and marketing has changed almost beyond recognition.

Today is a far quicker and much more diversified environment in which to operate.

Wind the clock back to 1995 and you’ll find a place in which print is the predominant marketing medium – well, alongside TV and radio advertising.

It’s also much slower. Press releases are printed out on paper and then posted to journalists. If there is a picture to go with the story, the photo needs to be chosen from a contact sheet, reproduced by the photographer, delivered to the agency and then, once captioned, attached to the press release.

Breaking news

For a really important story, you call on motorbike couriers to bring you the prints and then deliver the finished press releases to newspaper offices. Or, if there’s no pic, you might send the press release by fax to the relevant news desk. (Disconcertingly, I now work with people – well into their careers – who’ve never used a fax machine).

Another thing about press releases is they always had double-line spacing.

New clients would sometimes query this and ask why we were wasting their letterheaded paper. It was because in the days before computers were commonplace, journalists used to write their stories on typewriters before passing their copy to the sub-editors, for laying up in the newspaper or magazine.

If your press release found favour, the double-spacing enabled journalists or subs to handwrite any amends on the original press release, rather than retyping from scratch. So, having the right layout increased your chances of getting coverage.

From post to email

I remember this myself from my days as a trainee journalist on a local weekly newspaper. Sackloads of press releases would arrive every day – whereas nowadays it’s a flood of emailed press releases that have to be dealt with. Most of those we received went straight in the bin – as they were blatant puff, completely irrelevant or totally incomprehensible. Something, I am told, that is still true today.

But a few survived the initial sorting. Whether they then made it in some form or another into the newspaper depended on a host of random factors: a discrepancy in the story would make you question its overall accuracy; key information missing meant having to make phone calls, and if people didn’t answer, the story was passed over as deadline approached. Also, on a whim (or sometimes out of spite), a journalist (we were poorly paid) might spike a story in irritation at a PR person (they were overpaid) mixing up an its/it’s or compliment/complement.

And modern journalists are likely to be no different.

The reason for this little trip down memory lane is to flag up that no matter how much things change, there remains a key skill at the very heart of PR and broader marketing.

The means of communication may have changed and multiplied but no matter how modern the medium, it still needs a message.

Well-written

A respect for language and an ability to write well remain key disciplines. Whether it’s a blog, tweet, press release, newsletter (electronic or otherwise), website or brochure, marketing materials need to be written with care, attention and in a style to suit the target audience.

While I feel sad declining circulation makes it harder for newspapers to survive, I welcome all the new communication avenues that modern technology has brought.

But, more is not always better. Mass distribution of sloppily-written material is not really an effective marketing tactic. Far better to focus on the words, get the message right, and then distribute to a target audience.

Philip Jones - Director

Philip Jones

Maxim / Director

posted in: maxim/client news, media relations,

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