Kickstart your PR in the New Year – Part 1

Written by Gemma Clay 2nd January 2018

Happy New Year! January is the perfect time to kickstart your PR and make sure that the next 12 months are going to be huge for your business. I sat down with Alistair, co-founder of Class:PR and host of The Famous Business Podcast and in part one of this blog we’ve got some great tips and advice about how comms, marketing and PR is central in getting that right.

So without further ado lets kick off.

Gemma: What’s your advice to kickstart your PR year if someone hasn’t had the Christmas sales they wanted for their business? They may not have had the sales that they wanted, they might not have featured in the Christmas gift lists, “What should you buy your loved one this Christmas?”. How can you start the New Year on a high? What is a good story you can start to share?

Alistair: Before you share any stories the thing to do is plan. At the beginning of the year, we’ve all got lots more energy to invest in our businesses, we’re raring to go, but I’d say the worst thing you can do is to launch straight into sharing the first story you think of. So my first piece of advice is to plan; because the victory in PR is in incremental steps. No one piece of PR on the six o’clock news, or if you are in the New York Times, is going to be the thing that makes your business overnight. Of course, sometimes a big piece of PR can have a huge effect, we had Caroline from CW Pencils on the show just before Christmas, and she spoke about how she had been in the New York Times and it had a massive impact on her business. But on the whole, the victory in PR comes from constant awareness, constant media coverage. Every month being in certain blogs which are right for your business and audience, being on good podcasts, the press, being on the radio, on TV – sharing really great content through your own website and your social media channels. So my first tip really is to plan the year ahead and rather than becoming overwhelmed by it all and having 1000 PR activities going on all at once be realistic.

You’re a small business and a startup or entrepreneur then maybe one PR activity a month so have 12 activities for the year. Maybe your activity for this month is to plan! And then in February get on some decent trade press coverage about something new that comes to your business and get a piece of consumer focus press, in April we’re going to.X, Y and Z. So do your PR around the development of your business don’t do it isolation. What’s your business plan for the year ahead? And then think about how you can support the development of your business with communication activities throughout the year.

So I’m starting strategically, I know it’s not sexy stuff, which is what you were hinting at  – you know how do I get in The Guardian next week? But people always try to run before you can walk – so let’s plan first of all.

Gemma:  That’s fantastic advice, but what if you’ve got the January blues, and we talked about this on our recent Facebook Live Q&A with someone who wanted to get into a particular magazine but they didn’t feel good enough – they had imposter syndrome. So if someone has not had a good Christmas and you have to sit down and do that planning where are you going to get their motivation from? The other side to that question is – is it about feelings and motivation? 

Alistair: I guess it is a two-way street, it is good to be logical and strategic and plan for the year ahead but also certainly getting a quick win as well is really useful. I’m a BIG fan of those, it can give you a confidence boost that actually you can get great media coverage and it does lead to a spike in web traffic for you and it does lead to a few sales. Is it going to create a sales avalanche overnight? No, but like I said because it needs to be part of an overall campaign, however, what it can do for you is what you’ve just hinted at is really lift your spirits, and show you that you have got what it takes to get great media coverage.

So with that in mind what you could do in January is to look at your business and think about where the stories lie in your business, think about your customers, where do they consume information? Build a story and then have a go at pitching it. There is a lot to be said for getting up and having a go. You see your competitors getting media coverage that can absolutely be you!

Gemma: Why can that be you though? This is a good one to unpack, because if people are having imposter syndrome and you don’t feel that their story is as good as their competitors – what is the sort of methodology you could use, a tick list – how does the media work?

Alistair: There is a very profound philosophy that one of my mentors once told me and it’s called JFDI. It basically means ‘Just F**king Do it’. Imposter syndrome, everyone feels like that and to a certain degree you’ve got to have a go and look at the media and see what your consumers consume, the blogs you read, the podcasts you listen to so go there first of all research this media and go there and think ‘how can I get into this space?’ ‘How do I have a story this journalist, this blogger, this podcaster would be interested in?’

And copy first of all as well. See what your competitors are doing and think – ‘well how can we do that?’  and then make it a little bit better or a little bit different. So like Nick Farnsworth from Little Sport Star he had a goal last year to get into INC. which is a MASSIVE online news platform, huge in the entrepreneur community. That was pretty ambitious and you know what, he DID it!

Another aspect of this is setting yourself these goals. And here’s a truth, if you have this imposter syndrome and think no one’s gonna write about me, no one is going to feature me … I hate to break it to you, from that perspective, nobody is going to feature you! So set yourself that ambition even if you feel the fear, just do it! So why not, maybe set yourself some crazy ambitious targets for this year and then try. It might not work, first of all, learn from that – do the Class:PR FAMOUS course which will teach you how to do it. Because there are rules to the game! You can have a go and keep guessing for a couple of years or you can speak to somebody who knows how to do it and get that information yourself that will definitely help. But in terms of if you didn’t get great PR last year, you didn’t hit those sales you wanted, it’s January now, stand up and get your chin up. Look at what your competitors are doing in getting coverage, look at what makes those types of media outlets interested in what that business is doing and think about how you can build one of those similar stories yourself. Then contact that reporter, blogger, podcaster with your story. And it is worth noting, in January journalists are scrambling around for content – you want stories!

Don’t look at this like you are doing anyone a massive favour – at the end of the day, it is a power balance. You are in the market for telling stories, you need great stories to communicate to their audiences, whether you are a reporter on The Guardian or a writer on INC. a presenter on The Today Programme or Radio4, or whatever, you are looking for great stories, so if you can provide them with a great story or even halfway to a great story then you will be grateful for that and you’ll take a look at it. You may not use this first one but you’ll use the second one. But if you have that attitude that no one will write about me, my business, I haven’t got any stories – guess what you are not going to get any media coverage.

So you have got to make that resolution which you probably didn’t make last year that “this is the year I am going to put my business on the map”. And even if I get 100 knock-backs, I’ll get one good piece and once I get that one result – the good thing about PR is it becomes a virtuous circle, so once you get that first piece in The Guardian or whatever, then the next time you go to the media you will see that you have already had some decent media coverage and you are more credible. So getting that momentum is what is key here. It’s like pushing a car without a handbrake on – at first, you’ve got to push it really hard to make it roll, once it is rolling you can kind of do it with your finger! And so that is how you have got to approach PR.

Gemma: That is some great advice and very positive to say that the past is in the past – 2017 is 2017, forget it. Look forward now to 2018. So the momentum – let’s imagine the momentum is building, the car is rolling! You get a request to give an interview, two scenarios here, the first is over the phone, and the second you actually have to go into the studio – maybe live on TV! What advice have you got for giving interviews?

Alistair: Prepare. Be clear what your story is. When you are being interviewed on TV or on radio, take an A4 sheet of paper, we call it a ‘line to take’ document if you want to get technical! What are the key messages you need to get across about your story?  If you’re selling soup, remember that your soup is now on sale, people can buy it and where you can buy it. So you want to join in the editorial story when you are being interviewed, but don’t forget to get your key message across as well.

Gemma: How do you do that without plugging and being like a sales robot?

Alistair: Well, don’t plug straight away just hook it in a bit further down the interview. Again, prepare for your interview. Try it out with a colleague or partner. Test questions – think of the sort of questions the journalist would ask you, get the other person to ask you those questions. That’s what I would do if I was media training you. I would sit there as the journalist and ask all the questions that you are going to ask. There are only a certain number of questions you’re going to ask you about the story. You’re not going to ask you about North Korea! So prepare as best you can with set answers, something may come up that you haven’t quite prepared for but that’s absolutely fine. Prepare. Know your key messages. Then just enjoy it! Forget the red light is on, that you are in a recording studio and just talk to the person in front of you and just have a conversation with that one person. Forget about all the people listening!

Gemma: What about body language? That is a really important part when you are actually on TV, as opposed to being interview for a podcast or radio. Any tips on body language and how to present yourself visually?

Alistair: Well, it is easy to say relax when you are on live TV but you just have to do your best to relax. If you are being interviewed remotely live down a camera line then always look directly into the camera – don’t look off. It looks very shifty if you do that sort of thing! And it is amazing how you say something on TV becomes more important than what you say. So BIG smiles when you are on TV, don’t look too serious, don’t hunch over if you are sat down, just sit back and relax, think about what you are wearing as well, what you wear will reflect your brand! If you are a pretty fun and funky food brand don’t go on in a three-piece suit. But if you are a professional service business equally dress appropriately for your audience. If you are from a law firm and your;e an expert going on the BBC breakfast sofa to talk about elder law don’t go on in your jeans. So try to dress appropriately for your audience and for the platform that you are being interviewed on. In terms of your body language, keep it relaxed but keep it strong.

Gemma: What about the language that people use when being interviewed? I find that “Do you know what I mean” or “erm” or “errrr” – any tips on how to finish your sentences without leaving pauses or tips for the structure of your verbal delivery?

Alistair: At the end of the day, don’t worry too much about errs or umms because that’s how the brain works and you don’t want to sound like a ‘messaged to death’…


Alistair: Exactly! You don’t want to sound like a robot, people who are too well media trained then it comes across as inauthentic, and untrustworthy. As a startup or entrepreneur that’s not what you are about you are about passion, so what I think is most important is that you talk about passion and what I hinted at earlier was how you say it – is as important as what you are saying.

So if you sit there and talk in a monotone voice and then talk about how you really love your new soup company or new textiles business – guess what doesn’t matter how brilliant and eloquent those messages are not coming across as passionate about your business and so NO ONE CARES! So put some music into your voice! Have some pitch and flow to it. Speak with passion.

Gemma: What about if you are on the telephone? Let’s say a radio interview – not live TV…because radio is often a way of picking up some quick wins. You might be able to do some newsjacking or comment on something as a thought leader for the New Year. But often if you can’t get into the studio you will do those interviews over the phone.

Alistair: Sure, so my tips don’t do what we do what we do on this podcast sometimes is talk to each other, let the interviewer ask their question and then respond. And that gives you time to formulate your answers as well. Again especially as a startup or entrepreneur you are all about authenticity and passion and so plug into that as your fuel when you do that interview so speak really openly and honestly. If you get asked a challenging question just bring it back to one of your key messages.

To give you an example if you are in a radio interview and you ask you about the fact you are a recipient of some government funding, and you ask you a question that is really critical of the government, you don’t want to be drawn on that too much. Especially if you feel like it conflicts with some of your stakeholders. So you can address that question and you can respond but to say “that’s a really interesting question” and then to divert it onto one of your key messages and say “what we’re really doing is…..” do be a bit careful as well when you are doing a phone interview because you can’t see the whites of their eyes don’t get caught out by a tricky question. On the whole as a startup or entrepreneur that is not going to happen to you. But it is just something to be mindful of. In terms of the tone of language you use – just speak to that person as conversationally as possible. That is what people buy into with, that is what builds trust. At the end of the day, you are using this media coverage to build trust with your audience and so you need to sound authentic and genuine and real.

So you have got to balance preparation with having your key message and having the ability to communicate openly and honestly. So speak to that person like you are speaking to a friend. And practice – that is the best preparation. If you are going to do a phone interview, practice with a friend, get them to interview you over the phone because it is a different experience from sitting across from somebody because you can’t see their body language, you can’t see what you’re implying with their questioning if you can’t see that person in front of you.

Gemma: Also, what I find is that you need to make sure there is a clear end to their sentence because the interviewer won’t know if you leave a lot of long pauses you’re not going to know if you’ve finished and you might interrupt you, you might not get your key messages across. So my tip has always been make sure there is a clear end to your answers so you are confident that you have finished and you can just go ahead and ask you the next question. So you are actually helping out the interviewer.

And that seems like a great way to end part 1 of this blog, check back next week for part 2 and more great advice.