Anthony Hornsby discusses how effective communication and the right incentives can lead to good attendance figures at media events
As someone with a background in journalism myself, let me tell you, the profession can be hard. Not too long ago, local newspapers had teams of press, photographers, sub-editors and other office-based staff. These days one person is employed at publications to do the role of three. However, this isn’t always the case, as some journalists at larger print houses might have the benefit of larger teams, but they too face the same ongoing problem as the rest of the media… TIME! And the lack of it.
The ever-demanding role of a journalist is one you can imagine (or may know) is full of high-stress environments and mini ‘battles’ against time usually in the form of deadlines. In my PR role, I always consider how I can help the media I speak with in any way – but certainly from a time-saving perspective. This is no-more important than when inviting journalists to events, exhibitions or media briefings. The Guild of Motoring Writers stated in its latest survey that its members preferred UK-based car launches and events, (meaning less travel time) and more than 50% of ‘The Guild’ want to spend no longer than one day and night attending an event or launch. A clear testament from those who it affects the most that time is a currency nobody has the pleasure of spending freely.
With this information in mind, let’s consider how it is best to approach media when inviting them to an event, where do you start when attempting this and most importantly, what can you offer the journalists attending? (And I don’t just mean free pens and mugs)
Like most successful, excellent, amazing and well-prepared people out there, my planning starts with a (colour coded) spreadsheet. This consists of the who, what and where in terms of journalists, titles, publications, and any other information I might need. This is used as a base-camp document to keep track of conversations and follow-ups I may need to make. The simple use of a colour code, (I.e, red, yellow and green) helps me manage confirmations and expected attendances alongside any immediate actions or responses required.
With this work of art to hand, you can now comprise a brief of what you’re going to discuss when contacting the media, being sure to personalise as many invitations as possible to show authenticity, including what the benefits for each person potentially attending are. However, it is best not to dictate every little detail you have on the event, instead highlighting just key points, such as dates, times the itinerary.
Where possible, I always try to call journalists to have a conversation regarding an invitation. I find this approach shows a touch of sincerity an e-mail perhaps doesn’t produce. The conversation also acts as a chance to catch-up or make acquaintance, or if like me you’re nosey, learn what football team they support!
When inviting media, it is key to not just mention product news and general company updates as these can be covered in press material that are easily distributed to inboxes. Instead, focus on something that is more rewarding to their attendance, in most cases this can be the chance to interview several high-profile company representatives, discussing a selection of topics that provide enough content for multiple articles. This is just as appealing to freelance journalists who write a number of articles for many titles at any one time.
If the invitation is to an event that requires travel, be sure to think of the most appropriate way for the media to get around. A recent event I helped organise was in several different locations over the course of two days. To keep things simple, we had media arrive at the first location on day one, spend time there gaining stories and content, before they attended the second location themselves. (An overnight hotel) Day two however, saw them journey to further locations, all on a single coach that dropped them back off at their vehicles come the end of the day.
Further to this, a handful of those attending were non-UK based media. If this is the case, you still must consider how to save the journalist time by booking them on reasonably timed flights and arranging for suitable transport upon arrival. In this case, all attendees met at a centrally located airport coffee shop, complimentary latte in-hand, ready for the journey to location number one.
To summarise, journalists REALLY are pressed for time and any time out of the office has to add extremely good value to their publications. This is something that can usually be achieved through multiple, good, exclusive interviews and content opportunities. With this in mind, when focusing your attention on inviting media to an event, it is important to highlight just how the journalist, publication and its audience will all benefit from someone attending. It helps to give insightful detail regarding the content opportunities they will receive and how the logistics benefit them. However, if all else fails, offering a free dinner, bar, and overnight stay at a luxury hotel also tends to work!