- Identify a story or trend which is getting a lot of media coverage and see how you can turn it into an opportunity to get your company in the paper.
- Don’t be too pushy, journalists are busy people and the more you push the less likely they are to do you any favors.
- Make some notes with the kinds of messages you want to get across to the journalist, but be aware that the journalist will ask you all sorts of questions, so be prepared to go off track.
- Trust the journalist - he/she won’t bite...I think!
In our last newsletter we introduced you to In Good Company Workplaces in New York, a company who gained fantastic media attention by sheer perseverance and good fortune. This time, we want to show you how one company got great press attention after they spotted an opportunity to piggyback the hottest story of the year – the credit crunch.
John Pye & Sons Auction House, based in Nottingham, England had a good relationship with local media throughout its forty years of business, but they didn’t hit the big time until an opportune moment and a dose of good luck propelled them onto the front pages of a national newspaper supplement earlier this year.
The Guardian is arguably one of the top selling newspapers in the country with a readership of more than one million a day. Its online coverage has trailed a blaze for other UK newspapers with around 17.5 million users per month.
John Pye & Sons are auctioneers and valuers specializing in surplus electrical stock from retailers, as well as holding auctions for asset-sourced liquidation.
The company has a secret weapon in the shape of Sheldon Miller, their business development director, who has almost eight years experience as a journalist, and knows exactly what it takes to turn an ordinary story into a great one.
John Pye & Sons got their big break after Miller identified a “hot issue” and saw an opportunity for them to make the headlines.
Miller explains: “After Christmas we started to hear a lot of the retailers reporting that they were struggling. The High Street (shops, franchises and local businesses) was issuing profit warnings and we were getting a lot of the surplus stock in the auction house, so we were never busier.
“Business analysts always say that if you want to check out the barometer of recession go down to the auction house and see how busy it is.”
Researching the journalist
Miller set about finding a journalist at a major newspaper who had already written about auctions, and found Patrick Collinson from the Guardian. He had written about police auctions in the past so Miller sent him an email outlining his proposal, and inviting Collinson to Nottingham to see how well the company was doing in the credit crunch. He chose not to send a press release because he “didn’t want to tell the guy how to suck eggs. This was the Guardian newspaper and I didn‘t want to come across as patronizing.”
Miller also didn’t do what most people do, which is follow the email up with a phone call, because he thought this might seem pushy.
This attitude goes back to his time spent in the newsroom where he says PRs would be “passed round the office like a hot potato” because of their aggressive tactics. There may just have been method in Miller’s madness. Less than 48 hours after he sent the email the journalist was on a train heading to Nottingham.
The prospect of meeting and being interviewed by a top journalist unnerved Miller so he decided to make notes before the interview.
“Sit down before you meet the journalist and bullet point the messages you want to get across,” Miller advises.
“You might be taken off message because the journalist will ask questions that you might not want to concentrate on, but the journalist wants a frank and broad account of what they’re covering, so you have to pay due attention to that.
“It’s a disaster to pick up the phone and talk off the cuff - think about what you are going to say.”
The mistake most PRs make is to then send the same story out to every newspaper in the country. If a journalist doesn’t have exclusivity on a story it’s the difference between two full pages of coverage and a tiny column on the left-hand page. Miller chose not to contact any other journalists out of respect for Collinson. He had after all taken the time to travel 160 miles from London to Nottingham.
The end result
The finished article was published in the money supplement of the Guardian’s Saturday paper, where John Pye & Sons made the front page.
The article ‘Can You Clean Up At Auction?’ was for Miller, “quite a good account of our business.”
“I think it manages people’s expectations quite well,” he said, although he admits when he first read the article that he “recoiled a bit”.
He went on to say: “Vacuum cleaners going for £1.50 - is that very good for the client? No, but is it good for getting people to come to the auction house? Yes. “It pushed the prices up even more because the more people there the higher the prices and the better for our clients.”
Miller said the article also provided the company with “marketing gold” when it was published online, complete with a link to their site. The impact of the coverage was felt by the auction house almost immediately. They recorded their highest ever web traffic, which rose by more than 50%, and footfall increased by 30%, leading to a record level of registered bidders in the auction house.
Miller said the Guardian was the second highest referral domain with Google coming top. “So we know that people are coming to our site directly because of the article.
“For a morning’s work writing an email and then helping the journalist when he was here, that’s pretty good going,” says Miller.
This online success has triggered a new direction for John Pye & Sons’ PR. Miller has started off on his journey into SEO to help optimize the website, which will in turn help when he pushes his online PR projects.
“We are going to be looking at hot topics and buzz keywords within our industry to try and hook into those, and also find some strong PR opportunities and develop an online presence.”
The Guardian article was a welcome confidence boost for the company and with Miller at the helm of their PR strategy you may just be reading about John Pye & Sons in a newspaper near you.
About Rachelle Money
Rachelle is a contributor to The Web Content Recipe book
Nowadays, Rachelle is Communications Manager at Scottish Renewables.
She graduated from the Scottish School of Journalism in 2005 where she was awarded an internship with two national publications - The Sunday Herald newspaper and The Big Issue magazine.