Richard Stone of Stone Junction PR produces probably my favourite blog from a UK technical PR agency, although that may not be quite the praise it sounds. If you look at the dreadful websites of most technical PR agencies, any information which is newer than about, ooh, 2007 would be noteworthy, never mind something as adventurous as a regularly updated blog. Anyway, I like how Richard manages to shoehorn in what we Twitter users know as “trending topics”, and when he mentioned Fifty Shades Of Grey last week (see what I’ve done here?), I didn’t spill a drop of my coffee. But the reference was used to make a good point: when you’ve done something which might impress future customers, let everyone know about it. People are comfortable with things other people like. If you get agreement from a customer to use them as a case study, don’t just do the normal writeup, send it out and leave it at that. Put it on your website, and link to it from relevant places. Make it an aim for every product page on your website to have a link to “see how XXX is using this product here”. People are used to Amazon, TripAdvisor and the like: they expect to see reviews and testimonials nowadays, and there’s no reason why you can’t give them that in a business environment.
I was reading a contributed article on the Stone Junction Blog the other day where a magazine publisher was attempting to defend the downright misleading concept of “colour separation charges” as a way to “endorse magazines and platforms which can offer you what you need”. As somebody who has been deriding the “colour separations” scam in public for nearly twenty years, I decided to have a (mild) rant in the comments section, but I thought it was worth repeating here.
Even if “colour separation charges” were ever legitimate, they quickly turned into a way for publishers to sell “editorial” without actually saying so. And I have no problem with “advertorial”, I just hate the way that it’s been hidden, by selling it with a description which has lost all meaning over the years (“colour separation charges”) and using that as an excuse not to label it as advertising on the page.
Let’s have a little history. I worked in the editorial department of several trade magazines in the late eighties, when most titles had substantial black-and-white sections. However, it wasn’t uncommon to be approached by companies who said: “if you’re running our new product story with a photo in a black-and-white section, we’d be happy to make a contribution to the cost of moving it to a colour section”. The only additional cost for the magazine to do this would be that in the colour section, the photo would have to be scanned and “separated” into four component colours for the four printing plates. Actually, it wasn’t an additional cost, because the article would only be swapped with one which had previously been earmarked for the colour section, but never mind. A publisher, somewhere, must have said: “Sure, we can do that, for …er… £60” (a 300% markup on the cost of the scan) and when met with a positive response, thought: “Bingo, new revenue stream”.
This incursion of money changing hands on the editorial pages was hardly something which editors welcomed, but if it eventually allowed more colour in editorial sections, there was at least a silver lining.
Fast forward a few years, and printing costs meant that black-and-white sections in trade magazines were a thing of the past. The idea of charging for colour separations didn’t make sense, because four films were being made for every page anyway. However, with all the usual bravado which has made advertising sales the home of the late 20th/early 21st century barrow-boy, many publishers continued to request “colour separation charges” from companies being featured in editorial, even though the idea made no sense any more. They’d turned their product news sections into advertorial, without labelling them as such, and they’d got away with it.
By the late nineties, things were even more ridiculous. With the advent of digital printing, films weren’t even being made any more, and it certainly cost no more to use a colour photo than a black and white one. By this time, the term “colour separation charges” no longer even made sense. It was just a meaningless phrase which was used as a substitute for “paid-for editorial”, something publishers still didn’t seem to be able to bring themselves to say out loud …or include as a label at the top of a page. The idea that “we were going to run your news story in our magazine anyway, but we’ll need some financial assistance to use the colour image” had also gone out of the window. “Colour separation charges” was by now code for “we’ve received your press release, and will shove it on a news page which few people will ever read, with a tiny picture, if you’re daft enough to give us £100”. It’s been allowed to stagger on into 2012, and trust me, publishers think you’re as daft to pay it now as they did in 1989.
To those people who argue: “But it’s the only way to get included in a magazine where we need to be seen”, I’d say: “Are you sure you want to be seen there? Do you have any evidence that anyone will see your story other than you and the publisher?” And if the publication is so good that you have evidence that its readers actually respond to the paid-for editorial, wouldn’t you be better off advertising properly?
A bit more of a “news” post than “tips” one today, but I thought it was worth pointing you towards a good article by PR Consultant Richard Stone on his Stone Junction blog which discusses what’s been happening to the Pro-Talk websites and newsletters recently. As many of you will know, I was one of the founders of these sites, which included Engineeringtalk, Manufacturingtalk and Electronicstalk, back in 2000. They were taken over by Centaur Media in 2006, and there have been some significant changes from the original model in the past five years, to take account of the changing media landscape. In Richard’s article – Whats the impact of Source the Engineer? – he looks at how the four Pro-Talk engineering sites have been amalgamated recently into a more centralised resource, closely linked to The Engineer, Centaur’s flagship engineering publication. If you use the Pro-Talk sites to disseminate information, it’s worth a read, and feel free to make any comments on our website here.
In another of our occasional series of contributed articles, Richard Stone, managing director of technical PR agency Stone Junction answers what he considers to be the ten most common questions concerning PR consultancy …in ten no-nonsense, easily digestible paragraphs!
Certain questions come up time and time again in PR consultancy. Should I pay for colour separations? What should I put in a press pack? Should I embed links in my press releases? Read on, and I’ll give you the answers.
1. Can you guarantee me press coverage?
No! No professional PR agency should ever guarantee press coverage. There are no ifs and buts.
2. Should I pay for colour separations?
My view is that colour separations dont produce a great response and if you want to spend money to support a magazine, advertising might be more appreciated by the publisher.
3. Will advertising get me more coverage?
Sometimes; most editors meet with the publishers and ad reps of a magazine to discuss who is advertising. However, not advertising doesnt mean you are precluded from getting editorial coverage.
4. How often should I issue press releases?
Once a month, or once every couple of months is fine for a small or SME engineering business. Larger businesses might muster trade press releases two to three times a month. Try not to compete with your own stories though. If you are issuing more than one release a month, focus on a mixture of product, HR and business stories.
5. Should I follow up my press releases with a phone call?
No, never. If its a really, really groundbreaking piece of news you can sell it in over the phone before sending it. Equally, you might need to phone journalists to place opinion pieces, case studies and technical articles or arrange journalist meetings, press conferences and interviews. But dont ring to ask if they got your press release. It annoys journalists!
6. What should you put in your press pack at a trade show?
You should include a press release and image about the show and perhaps a digital copy of both. No brochures, no data sheets, no mountain of old press releases from the past year they will end up discarded on the train on the way back from the NEC!
7. Should I embed links in my press releases?
Yes, it will benefit your SEO campaign. The key to getting them published is to make them useful. Heres a good example of a published press release effectively using embedded links.
8. Which is more important: online press coverage or print press coverage?
It depends; they tend to serve different purposes with online focussed on sales and print on opinion forming. But these purposes are also converging.
9. Is there more to PR than just press releases?
Emphatically yes, the more different tones of voice you can use in your technical PR campaign the more varied and influential your coverage will be.
10. Should I have a Blog?
Yes indeedy. PR is now about reaching the end user as well as influencing them through the media. I believe that a well run Blog is the best way of achieving this.
An excellent article on the Stone Junction blog from one of the UK’s most internet-aware technical PR people, Richard Stone, is well worth a read. How to write a good landing page explains how to write web pages which appeal to prospects from different industries. After all, if you were in, say, the pharmaceutical industry, which page would appeal to you more? “Why our Blue Widgets will help you”? Or “Why our Blue Widgets will help you in the pharmaceutical industry”?