The Public Relations Consultants’ Association (PRCA) provides a series of training days for upcoming PR professionals to develop the necessary skills required for a successful career in the industry.
When I joined Barques PR, I was given a fantastic opportunity to take part in two PRCA training days covering media sell-ins and press release writing – arguably the most important tasks that PRs do on a day to day basis – to better prepare me for life as a junior account executive.
My first training session, Selling Into The Media, was taught by Steve Dunne, a senior PRCA trainer with over 30 years experience in the industry. The first piece of advice he gave us was to get inside the head of the journalist we’re pitching to. All PRs should see themselves as ‘dealers’ at a poker table, as each element of the story we’re selling acts as a bargaining chip.
After delving into the theory and psychology behind a successful media sell-in, Steve informed us that we would take part in ‘back to back’ role-play. He would play the role of a journalist, and we would be pitching to him with his back against ours (Steve is known to use this technique in interviews). The thought of taking part in a mock sell-in frightened me because the last time I did a sell-in, the journalist hung up on me mid-sentence!
Before we started pitching, Steve told us to imagine we’re selling to two journalists: the reporter and the sub-editor. We need to convince them that we are of ‘really good value’ because at the end of the day, the journalist could become a contact to add to our little black books.
The sell-in itself was a daunting experience. We were assigned a scenario and then given half an hour to prepare a script consisting of three key points. Those key points formed the main body of the conversation. We were told to build a rapport with the journalist (Steve), ask him questions about his thoughts on the topic and whether the story would be of interest to him. If we secured his personal email address, we passed the task. Luckily, all three of us succeeded and then received constructive feedback.
I then had to prepare three potential stories for my second training session, Writing Effective Press Releases, taught by ex-BBC journalist Ann Wright. The first tip she gave us was, in my opinion, the most important: each release we write must have a relevant news angle.
Ann then went on to explain how all press releases should be structured, the type of stories that PRs should write on behalf of clients, as well as the ‘inverted pyramid’. This method consists of the most newsworthy facts included in the beginning of a release, with more general information featured later on.
However, the one tip that stood out for me was to imagine explaining the story aloud to a friend whilst writing a release – if it doesn’t make sense aloud, it won’t make sense to the journalist.
It was clear from the start that Ann would be critiquing us on everything from simple grammatical errors, the structure of the release, as well as the jargon used. She was very quick to point out that things should be kept simple in case the journalist is not familiar with the story topic. After receiving feedback on our writing throughout the day, I left the training session knowing I still have a lot to improve on.
All in all, both PRCA sessions had provided me with useful insight on how established PR professionals have approached, and ultimately overcome, these sometimes dreaded tasks. Learning from experienced professionals in the industry is an opportunity that I highly recommend all entry-level PRs to take part in.