PR & Media
The true power of PR lies behind the story
Posted by Darren Laws
Ever since we can remember as very young children, we have been impacted by the power of a good story. Stories form the basis of our development as individuals and help shape our moral compass. When working in public relations with clients it is essential never to lose focus of the importance of how a client’s story can help change its perception, not just at a local level but nationally and internationally.
Spreading the news
Recently, I was working with a client in the public sector on a town regeneration scheme which was a multi-layered project of developments with many associated clients and agencies involved. A town doesn’t regenerate on its own, it is the fruition of vision meeting practical development. The client, the borough council for the town, wanted to spread the good news about the £1.75 billion pound investment at a national and regional level; and for the council leader, one of their ultimate goals was national coverage in his favourite daily newspaper! We were given a clear brief and some goals for national media recognition which for a borough in Kent were as ambitious as the borough’s regeneration plans.
The client had looked at the plan and was excited to talk about each individual project with the media, because they were rightly, exceptionally proud of the plan unfolding. What they had done in essence was to take the whole story and divide it into chapters. On the face of it this appeared to be a good idea. Each ‘chapter’ was a multi-million-pound project, ranging from infrastructure improvements such as a new motorway junction, new leisure complex, a new commercial district to large housing developments containing around 5,700 new homes (in just one of the key new home builds located near the town).
Where was the story?
The initial enquiries with the media though began to make it clear that while these were excellent projects with fantastic merit…where was the story? It was time to review the strategy. Remember, the goal was to gain national coverage for the client. With no story, there would be no coverage.
Each of the developments in the regeneration plan, of which there were eight key projects, were individually tempting but not enough to gain that much needed coverage and vital journalist visits. What I was doing was taking a Dickensian approach, selling in chapters, bit by bit, hoping to get the traction required. Charles Dickens famously sold his novels in instalments. All but five of Dickens’ novels were originally published in twenty 32-page instalments. However, what was needed was a ‘novel’ approach. The strength lay in the overall story. Not the piecemeal, drip-fed tease. This worked for Dickens but it became clear that journalists wanted the bigger picture.
Change of strategy
The main concern here was persuading the client that this was not a one-shot approach, that if it did not produce the results required, we would have fired all of our shots for nought. The strategy was based on feedback and conversations with journalists who I knew liked the individual elements but just needed that one compelling hook to make the story a viable piece of news.
It was during a regular update meeting with the client that the hook became apparent. The council leader, a dynamic Churchillian character, who was not averse to a bit of table thumping, stated that the borough council was not run like an authority but like a business with a clear responsibility to its shareholders, its residents. With the client’s blessing, I began approaching journalists with the whole regeneration story and the hook…a council run like a business.
With a diverse portfolio of projects and this new line of approach, it wasn’t long before national journalists were agreeing to visit the town to see what all the fuss was about.
I arranged individual tours for journalists to see each part of the story in its own right on a single visit. One of the benefits of the project was being able to take journalists to the roof of a new commercial building which was centrally placed to see the majority of projects in 360 degrees. The newly built college, the commercial quarter, the international railway station, the shopping outlet, the leisure complex with adjoining new hotel, the new brewery with restaurant and the new residential apartments were all visible. I was able to liaise with varying project partners to have them accompany our client during the press visits to widen the story and sell in the benefits of their contributions to the project. Combining this with an interview with the council leader and economic development team, helped produce that vital and rounded, good news story.
We were telling the whole story and the power of it resulted in attracting journalists beyond our remit of not only providing national coverage in virtually all of the daily national newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Daily Mirror, Daily Express and respected periodicals such as the Economist, but also further afield, as news literally spread, resulting in TV coverage from Europe and the New York Times sending a journalist and photographer.
A borough in Kent was suddenly talk of the town. They always had a great story, but sometimes it is in the way you tell the story that the true power of it shines through.