I attended a PR event in London last week organised by journalist and PR expert Janet Murray, which was pretty awesome. It was filled with about 80 very cool small business owners offering fascinating products or innovative services, each of whom came to hear from eight national journalists about how to get media coverage.
It was good. I mean really good. There was a broad spectrum of media represented; national newspapers, glossy magazines, online radio, national TV and national Radio. It’s pretty impossible to get that kind of expertise in a room unless you are attending a national ‘of courage’ type awards ceremony, so investing to attend this was a bit of a no-brainer.
The key takeaways were exactly what I went to find out; best ways to approach journalists, how to customise your pitch, the format they prefer, and really helpfully… the weekly schedule of how they work so you can time your approach like a pro.
I suppose the main takeaway was no real surprise – people are the story, not products (unless yours is a massively disruptive breakthrough – think Uber). This little factoid was not exactly news to me, but I need reminding often. And it is something that I find myself saying a lot to clients, so it was helpful to hear it from the source and feel validated. I am only human.
Saving the best til last
But it was right at the end of the day, almost the last speaker, when I heard the most insightful bit of wisdom of the day… and it wasn’t what I expected.
Amongst many other roles, Catherine Carr is a reporter for BBC Radio4’s Woman’s Hour. If you are UK-based, then I don’t need to introduce this show to you. If you are not, then it’s one of the most important and respected radio shows in Great Britain. It is, to use a well-worn phrase, an institution.
Catherine shared a little story with us. It was probably intended as a little funny to warm up the audience and to help us to see journalists as mere mortals. But I found this little confessional pretty damn inspiring.
When Catherine was starting out at Radio Cambridgeshire she was approached by a listener who had self-published a book. Catherine dismissed it and the listener. Self-publishing wasn’t really a thing then and was rather looked down upon. And Catherine had (in her own words) far more important matters to concern herself with than a wannabe author. Fair enough. It’s basically how I imagine most journalists feel when approached to be honest.
However, it turned out to be a rather grave faux pas and caused Catherine to miss out on a huge scoop early in her career. The author turned out to be (the late) Jennifer Worth, who penned the now best-selling Call the Midwife books, which have subsequently been made into a multi-series TV show. I think it’s what they refer to as ‘appointment TV’. It is in my house anyway. Ouch, Catherine. What a mistake to make.
“So,” said Catherine, bringing her story to an end, “never, ever give up. Just because one person turned you down, go and find someone less self important and try again.”
I found that pretty astounding. As a confession and a life lesson. It’s not news that nearly every British publisher turned down J.K.Rowling before the very small and relatively new Bloomsbury took on the wizarding world of Harry Potter, and we all know how that ended. Hearing it told from the other side was refreshing and gave it new meaning. What we offer isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is someone’s.
I’m not really one for sharing instagram-able quotes, but when you hear such a story it’s hard not to visualise ‘never, ever give up’ written in a scripted font over a picturesque sunset whilst someone gazes wistfully out to sea.
So, I guess what I took from that story that I can utilise for myself and my clients is this…
Keep looking for your people
Marketing isn’t about getting people to buy stuff that they don’t really want or need. It’s actually about finding the people that desperately want or need what you offer. If you believe what you have to offer is of value, so will others – but you have to find those that get it and you. It won’t be for everyone. It’s your job to find your people – that is marketing. And it’s not a straight line.
It’s not your customers’ role to be found and give you their money. You have to keep trying to reach them and share your message in way that they understand, which might take a lot of attempts. That could be by reaching out to a journalist in the national press to secure media coverage, or it might be by a targeted Facebook ad. I don’t know what will work, and neither do you. So you have to try it all, fail, adjust your sails and try a new approach. Persevere. Don’t give up. Ever.
That might mean trying a different journalist with the same message. Or the same journalist with a different message. Or a different ad headline. Or the same headline with a new image. The permutations are vast and it’s not easy. Actually it’s exhausting. But your people ARE out there and once you figure out how to get in front of them they are going to reward you for your tenacity. Honest.
Meanwhile, here are a few inspiring quotes to keep you going….
Self-Help for Small Business Owners
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