Co-founder and executive director for Citigate Dewe Rogerson in Paris, France, Daphné Claude has +11 years experience working with journalists on behalf of her clients, that no misleading and unverified information is published, and that crises are properly managed.
How does your job fit into the marketing process? My job is 90% relationships and understanding people. I work on the communicaton and image of my clients. I make sure journalists and newspapers talk about my clients. Companies usually have separate budgets for public relations (PR) and advertising.
Non-French companies typically have a Head of Europe. Usually the head of marketing and the head of public relations work together under the head of communications. I act as their head of communication, as an extension of their marketing team in charge of their press relations in the French market to get them appeared in newspapers such as Figaro, Les Echos, Challenges, and Le Point. When journalists write special articles on my client’s particular industry, or when my client launches a new product, or just to make sure my client’s economists and experts are quoted very often in the newspapers, I work to make sure the journalists talk positively about my client.
In times of crisis, my job is to protect my clients ensuring the situation has been well explained to journalists and that no misleading unverified information is published.
For the positive stories my job is to negotiate to have the biggest stories because I pitch the story to the journalist and explain why it’s interesting. This involves working hand-in-hand with journalists and pitching in such a way that they want to write about my clients. There’s a lot of psychology behind it: understanding how someone works and what their and their readers are interested in.
How can you make sure journalists write positively about your clients? Of course you cannot buy journalists. However PR agencies can provide journalists with access to clients they normally would not have and provide them with exclusives. There is win-win force ratio – the journalists and PR agencies try to work with each other. For example, a company may find themselves in a bad situation, but what the general public may not know are exact reasons as to why. So journlists listen to PR agencies because there is a sort of compensation. Not with all journalists, of course. There are some who work on investigation alone.
Are there software you use to prepare and send press releases? There are software such as PressIndex, but it’s quite expensive and depending on your needs and budget you may only need to gather the right list of journalist contacts, which you can research the newspapers and journalists yourself to build up your own network of people and mailing list.
What’s a misconception clients commonly have about the industry? In the PR industry people can think that they can write articles for journalists, or that companies think it’s easy for a PR agency to get the journalists to write what the client wants them to write about. As I said, you cannot buy journalists. It’s all about preparation, explanation, and relationship.
Also, it’s not just about advertising. The difference between advertising and PR is that PR gives more credit for the client to be quoted in and article because it’s not viewed as advertising.
How can PR agencies justify the client’s budget for their expenses? Press releases are only a very small part of what we do. My job is finding the right way to enter each key publication for the client. Sometimes it’s a press release, sometimes it’s a meeting, sometimes it’s a trip, sometimes it’s allowing the journalists to meet people. It can be a lot of things.
Our job is to create a web of relationships with the key journalists and the clients, and press releases are but one technique. Most of the time what we do is instead of sending the press release and then calling the journalists, I’ll organize a meeting with jorunalists letting them know that a press release will be released next week, and that they have a chance now to meet with several key client figures to ask questions beforehand. Even offering exclusives is but a small part of PR. When it’s big public information and everyone needs to have the information at same time that you cannot do exclusives.
Some companies charge a retainer for X amount of hours/month which can include media, public speaking, and presentation training. Some PR agencies may even offer help preparing website messages.
Sometimes, instead of a retainer, clients ask to pay for each article they appear in. That’s very difficult because whether the journlist publishes the article quoting the client or not depends on a lot of things beyond the PR agency’s control. Rather, PR should be viewed as a long term relationship we have with the journalists that most of the time leads to articles. It’s better to offer high level advice and not just commodities.
What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from your experience? Release bad news fast and good news slowly. Also try to understand the environment, context, and pressures around both the journalists as well as the client. Sometimes the client’s client is giving your client pressure to do things you think would be a bad idea.
PR should be more about advice than about a service. That is how you bring more added value to what you do at the end of the day. PR is a competitive industry. Some agencies just provide you with lists and push buttons to send press releases.
Where do you go for ideas and inspiration? It’s surprising how some companies can develop an obsession with being mentioned in a specific column on a specific page of a specific newspaper. It’s a lot about competitive monitoring: watching whats happening in your industry and with your demographic around the world. It’s a question of being alert of the environment. Therefore, I read anything and everything that has to do with my client’s industry.
Sometimes clients want to please journalists so much that they’re ready to talk bad about their competition and use ‘off the record’ when they shouldn’t. The idea of ‘off the record’ isn’t the same for the client as it is for the journalist.
For a journalist, ‘off the record’ means they can use the information you gave them, but they can’t quote you directly as the source. For the client, ‘off the record’ means the journalist won’t use the inforation at all, which is completely useless when you think about it. Why say something to the journalist if you don’t want him to use it? You either don’t say anything or you say it. It’s kind of a tricky game. You can usually identify ‘off the record’ statements in articles because they’re sourced by “according to a source familiar with the subject”
‘Off the record’ can also be one way of negotiating with a journalist. ”Look, my clients worked on a particular transaction you’re writing an article about. If you mention my client in the article, I’ll give you accurate information about the deal.”
For example ‘Company X did action Y and was adviced by MY CLIENT.’
How can you be sure ‘off the record’ stays ‘off the record?’ It’s all on trust. Somethimes you say ‘off the record’ stuff, but if two or more people confirm it, then the journlist can use it on the record.
If ‘off the record’ information finds it’s way on the record, it might be a month or two of not talking with the journalist afterwards, but at the end of the day, depending on the status and the power of the publication we work for, companies need the journalist.
Are bloggers and websites becoming more powerful? Yes, but trying to find the economic model isn’t easy. If a website wants to have kickass information published it takes a lot of time and work to run it, so they need subscribers and/or people willing to pay for the service, but if you want basic information you don’t need to pay for it anymore, it’s accessible everywhere.
So it’s not like an open blog. Not yet… We are in between I think where bloggers and websites haven’t yet found their economic model while paper is dying.
Advice for someone who wants to do your job: Be entrusted in the use. You can’t be in PR and not read the newspapers and magazines. You have to understand who writes about what.
Also, time is key. If a journalist calls you and says they’re on deadline and need certain information or someone who can comment on an issue within the next 30 minutes, you have to be able to obtain it or your opportunity is lost.
Also, being bilingual really helps. French clients, for example, want to be sure that they’re being talked about on a European level.
Finally, never take for granted the importance of proper grammer and spelling. It’s extremely important to write without spelling and grammar mistakes.
I have a small advertising budget, any advice? Firstly, a lot of companies pay PR agencies because they don’t have the time to do it themselves. If you have the time, publish interesting content on your website and contact journalists that work for papers in your industry and open to outsiders writing bylines and stuff.
If you have time, you can really get journalists interested in talking about you or quoting you by contacting them directly. Journalists get interested in new initiatives. Think about what you know that could be of interest to them and then prepare your pitch.
Secondly, remember that you’re not trying to sell a product. You’re telling the journalist “What I have to tell you is interesting because you’ll be able to explain to your readers this and that” instead of “I want free advertising.”
Thirdly, when you want to talk about something in the newspaper, you need to know what has already been said about the subject and what still needs to be said, because its all about thought leadership. Talk about things the journalist’s readers would be interested in. You need to be new and different and bring a comparision, for example.
When faced with this situation my best advice is to say “You have an interesting idea, but it’s been already talked about this way. But I think it would be interesting for you is to talk about it that way, which is different and unique from the other articles.”
Sometimes the best way to be good is to see how others are doing, and do it differently. That’s a good way to get into the press – by being different and saying something others haven’t said yet.
Fourthly, there are a lot of companies and PR agencies who freelance people to help write stories to be published. It’s quite difficult to get to major newspapers to listen to you if you don’t have a PR agency, but websites and blogs are open and more easily accessible, and it’s a good way to do PR because they will appear on Google. This is becoming a new way of working with journalists where you can attract them.
Fifthly, for maximum effectiveness, your PR should work hand-in-hand with the client’s marketing calendar, so that press releases are published exactly as marketing is being done.
Is it acceptable to thank a journalist for quoting you? Yes. In fact, why not try to start a relationship with the journalist by saying “Thank you for quoting or mentioning me, it really helped my traffic. Maybe we can have coffee sometime.”
Additional comments and advice? Don’t think about what you want the journalist to write, but what the journalist needs to write for the readers, and pitch that way.
When you do your own job there is so much you know that others would be interested in knowing, so find the figures and statistics that you know the journalists would be interested in to help him write an article. Don’t try to pitch a journalist like you would pitch a client.
Do original market research and analysis, understand what you produce that could be of interest to journalists, then publish it and make it available for journalists to use.
How can I make my website journalist friendly? Have a press page complete with:
- Links to all of your press releases
- Press contact with your name, photo, email, and a brief bio
- Main artucles published about you. Be sure to ask for rights. You cannot scan articles or upload a pdf without asking for rights, but you can link to it.
- A Twitter feed widget. Journalists like twitter.
And once you launch a press page, it MUST be kept up-to-date!