The news gathering function of local free or paid for newspapers, TV and radio stations is generally a least-cost affair with the number of journalists staffing the newsroom pared down to a minimum. So when a caller rings in to say “I’ve got a story for you”, the editorial team will be more than pleased – it has saved them from more grafting under pressure.
This may be overstating the case a little, but the scene described is by and large very true. So the shop owner who cultivates a link with the local media as an unpaid reporter can obtain good publicity in return.
As a cub reporter trawling grim northern towns for news, my experience was one of joy when I found “contacts” on whom I could rely living in one area or another. They became the “eyes and ears” of that community for my paper. Often they were shopkeepers or publicans. My editors were only too willing to mention their names in hard news stories – and give them “puffs” for their own small store activities.
Sitting in the back office of a small shop, sipping strong hot tea, notebook ready, the rain spattering the window… these havens earned more than a few retailers – always independents in those days – a few lines of regular publicity.
This opportunity has not disappeared. But few retailers appear to appreciate it. There are brilliant exceptions to this generalisation, of course, but there should be many more.
On National Independents’ Day (June lst) over the past three years there have been excellent examples of retailers – and wholesalers – using media opportunities to advantage.
The astute independent c-store and newsagent (the latter especially as they are crucial selling points for local newspapers) will have the telephone numbers and/or email addresses of the main local media always to hand. These contact details are only slightly less important than wholesalers’ numbers or those for the local emergency services.
Local PR is an important element in the marketing mix which is a requirement today for the retailer who is a professional community marketing sole trader or family business.
The marketing function embracing the art of communication with the local community was identified as a major focusing point by the FWD PR Action Group (PRAG) which drives the MSYS campaign.
The result was the first ever generic media training day for independent retailers. It was organised by Nexus, the London PR consultancy, executives of which sit on PRAG.
Retailers nominated by their wholesalers travelled to the Hilton Metropole Hotel, Birmingham, for a day which involved the theory and practice of making the most of opportunities which arise when the media come calling.
Leading the coaching team was Justine Greene, the BBC Radio 5 Live presenter who handles the early morning news programmes on that station. Justine explained what the media wanted and how retailers could respond in a positive manner.
The importance of positive responses was emphasised. Rather than spending precious moments on air complaining about Tesco’s prices, which resulted in even more profile for Tesco and its prices, retailers were coached into talking about how they provided value across the board and how they were involved in their neighbourhood activities.
Video playback showed in a practical manner how retailers “on camera” could improve their impact on the viewer. Nexus directors Alan Twigg and Jon Meakin gave tips on how to handle tricky questions.
Without exception, the retailers involved expressed their appreciation of the training day, saying that it had given them more confidence to take up any future media opportunities which might arise.
Media training will become an integral part of the MSYS programme which sets out to remind the consumer of the value of the independent retailer in the community. Use of media opportunities is a must for this type of public relations and marketing support activity.
=== ten golden rules ===
There are more golden rules in the art of handling the media than there are in most activities and the MSYS media training manual has more than 10. But these are the key pointers to getting the most out of any media opportunity.
1. If you are nervous before an interview – tell the interviewer or producer. They will act accordingly.
2. Do not make your answers too long – and do not answer simply “yes” or “no”.
3. Do not use jargon or abbreviations.
4. On camera try to remember to smile.
5. If you get stuck with an answer just stop. It’s the interviewer’s job to fill in the silences.
6. Do not allow inaccuracies to go uncorrected.
7. Be calm.
8. Always be positive.
9. Don’t interrupt.
10. Do not whinge.