Meet the media… Cool FM and Downtown Radio

Last week I had the privilege of attending CIPR NI Meet the Media Event, hosted by Cool FM and Downtown Radio. For a lot of people getting to see where the likes of Pete Snodden, Rebecca McKinney and Gary Myles create the magic that goes into their nationwide breakfast shows is a onetime opportunity. Luckily for me, I have the pleasure of being a member of Cool FM and Downtown’s street team, so the station is not an unfamiliar sight. Getting to work for Northern Ireland’s leading radio station really is a dream come true, and ‘work’ doesn’t feel like ‘work’ when every event is even more exciting than the last.

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Although I know how successful Cool FM, Downtown and the stations newest recruit Downtown Country are, it never ceases to amaze me to see the colossal listening figures they bring in. The day began with Mark Mahaffy, Managing Director, taking us through ‘What’s New in Local Media’ and more importantly, ‘What’s New in Cool FM/Downtown’. As Northern Ireland have the strongest affinity for local radio in the UK, it is not surprising that Cool FM and Downtown are thriving, with the Cool Breakfast Show with Pete, Paolo and Rebecca alone bringing in 297,000 listeners. With listening figures at an all-time high of 697,000, PR practitioners should be utilising the power of radio to promote their clients.  But it’s not just through radio that Cool FM and Downtown reach the masses, their Facebook page has 668,000 followers. As programming director and presenter Stuart Robinson pointed out, ‘with Facebook it’s all about engagement’. With their quirky news stories and hilarious memes Cool FM’s engagement on Facebook is sky high. So being able to get a story or promotion for your client on Cool FM or Downtown’s social media accounts, could maximise exposure.

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As there were facts and figures flying about, a break was much needed. But not just any tea break, in true radio fashion, it was quiz time. Having to identify five songs from Cool FM, Downtown and Downtown Country, did not prove well for me, scoring a feeble five points (my music knowledge selective to Cool FM). Luckily for the rest of the room there were some budding music experts who won Digital Radios and Shania Twain tickets for their impressive scores. However, I did notice a few other embarrassed faces whose music taste must be similar to my own, anything top 40 from the last decade.

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Next, and most importantly for the PR professionals in the room, Caroline Beatty from the Creative Solutions department talked us through some of the creative media campaigns they have created for clients. A shining example being Metro, who wanted to promote their £2 night fare. The Creative Solutions department cleverly crafted the Metro Matchmaking campaign, where singletons took to a bus in Belfast City Centre for some speed double dating.  By tailoring to clients objectives and budget the Creative Solutions Department offer a full creative media service, to boost exposure as much as possible.

Finally, Head of News, Nigel Gould, explained the work of the news team and how best to approach getting a story coverage. With 17 daily news bulletins across the stations, news has become as big as the music. By covering consumer, lifestyle and business news alongside the hard hitting stuff, Cool FM and Downtown are appealing to all ages and backgrounds with their news coverage. His top tip to PR professionals who want to get a story covered was to ‘help yourself by recording your story, but make sure the person is being interviewed and not just reading from a sheet’.

Of course our day had to end with a tour around the studios to see where the real fun takes place. We were lucky enough to have sneak peak of the new video production suite which will be used to record local artists, Facebook videos and so much more, so keep a look out for what’s to come from Cool FM, Downtown and Downtown Country in 2018, Northern Ireland’s leading commercial broadcaster.

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Olivia x

Olivia McAleenan is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Advertising at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @OliviaMcAleenan / LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/olivia-mcaleenan-88774413b /Facebook – Olivia McAleenan / Instagram @oliviamcaleenan

 

A Priti Good Day to Bury Bad News

Wednesday, the 8th of November. The scene was set. 25,000 eyes were watching the skies for the plane carrying Priti Patel. Ms Patel was humiliatingly summoned back from Africa for a face-to-face showdown with the assertive and commanding Theresa May. Ms Patel stood accused of lying to Theresa May by having meetings with the Israeli’s behind her back. So, the dynamic May, faced with this embarrassment to her government, did what most leaders with the upper-hand would do and allowed Priti Patel to resign, and remain an MP. However, Ms Patel has now become the second Conservative cabinet minister to be forced out due to scandal this week.

Priti Patel

With the pitchforks being out for Priti Patel, PR practitioners up and down the country were scurrying out round the back with their shovels to find a good place to bury some bad news.

Step forward M&S – they today announced that they would be opening fewer ‘Simply Food’ stores than expected as their food sales have taken a hit. Patrick O’Brien, UK research director at GlobalData Retail, stated: “When you compare that to the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, whose recent like-for-likes have been around 2% plus, that’s a pretty bad performance.”

He had previously described food as ‘a banker’ for M&S and “For it to be losing ground at a time of inflation is really quite damaging,” he said. Let down by a banker, imagine that.

For the group, overall total sales rose by 2.6% to £5.1bn, but pre-tax profit fell by 5.3% to £219.1m.

Our good ol’ friends at the Student Loans Company (SLC) also used this week to bury a bit of bad news as they announced the sacking of chief executive Steve Lamey. They stated that they were terminating his contract after ‘investigations into allegations about aspects of his management and leadership’. This makes Mr Lamey the third boss of the SLC to leave in a row, confidence inspiring eh. Shadow Universities Minister was on standby to give us some words of encouragement however!

“Whilst the full details have yet to become clear, the Student Loans Company appears to be approaching a situation of meltdown.

There needs to be an urgent, substantial inquiry into all aspects of the way they operate with HMRC.

This worrying situation has been compounded by an ongoing stream of accounts over the past few months in the media, and based on numerous individual stories appearing, of the inadequacies of the Student Loans Company to properly administer student loans and specifically repayments.”

And last, but certainly not least. The Government took advantage to bury some bad news. With arguably the most consequential story of the week as it was announced that Britain’s police budgets are to lose £700m by 2020. You hear it all the time, you heard it a lot through the last election and you’ll hear it again in January’s general election, the police are under ‘significant stress’. The police asked for an extra £400m per year and were duly given the opposite and by 2021 the workforce will have reduced by 2%! This is coming from the government that has previously stated they’ve protected police budgets. This is coming along with a 11% rise recorded crime. This is news coming out at the perfect time for it to not be noticed.

Anthony Boyd is a final year student on Bsc in Public Relations at Ulster University. He can be found on Twitter: @anthonyboyd16 or LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anthony-boyd-4a5a63b4/

The Clare Balding & Saga magazine saga

If you have even the slightest bit of interest in sport, chances are that you are familiar with Clare Balding the sports presenter who works for both the BBC and Channel 4. Balding’s ubiquitous sports coverage was memorably lampooned by British comedian Tracey Ullman earlier this year in a sketch that seemed eerily accurate. 

 

Balding presents a wide range of events from the Olympic Games to Crufts (the world’s largest dog show) on Channel 4. She is one of these presenters who always seems to be on television. She appears to be someone who has a genuine love and passion for what she does. She comes across as unassuming and approachable on any broadcast that she makes. This is why I was absolutely mystified at an article that was published in The Guardian on Saturday, where a journalist claimed that Balding was a controlling diva who wanted the final say over an article that was to be published in Saga magazine. In the article “How BBC star Clare Balding nicked my byline” Ginny Dougary lamented the fact that Balding insisted that she have final say over what was included in the article. “Who is this insecure diva who does not know better about what should be an essential divide between journalism and public relations? It must be one of those Hollywood actors, you might think, represented by aggressively image-controlling agents. Well, it is disappointing to report that it is one of the nation’s darlings and a champion of other women, particularly right now in the battle for equal pay at the BBC. Yes, it’s all-round good egg Clare Balding.”

As all good PR students know, there is a divide between PR and journalism, or at least there should be. What interested me about this article is the fact that previously I would have thought nothing negative about Clare Balding, now I am not so sure. The seed of doubt has been planted. It seems crazy to me that what is essentially a fluff piece (my apologies to journalists but unless you are a sort of Lynn Barber type interviewer, that is how they come across, but if they help you stay afloat in your chosen career by all means carry on) merits such rigorous protection.

Apparently, one of the main problems that Balding had about the article was that it focused too much on her sexuality. “The next day, I receive an email from the editor, Katy Bravery, apologising but adding: “Clare and her agent have complained that there is way too much about her being gay in the interview, and I have to say I agree.”  Now here is the thing, it could be that Balding spoke at length about her sexuality to this journalist, however upon reading the article felt that it was not doing enough to promote what she really wanted to talk about, her new children’s book. Balding is very clear about her sexuality in her daily life but could it be that she just didn’t want it to be mentioned within this particular article? I don’t really understand why Dougary seems so fixated on Balding’s sexuality, could it be that Balding inadvertently said something that she wished to be kept “off the record” and realised that this might be included in the article. Maybe Balding herself thought that it was not information that the readers of Saga magazine would be interested in. Is Balding within her rights to retract some things that she has said over the course of the interview or not?

Here is the real issue though, the article goes on to mention that Balding has clearly added quotes to the interview, which the journalist was previously unaware of. Alarm bells should be going off by now, Balding’s job is to answer the questions she was asked, not to suddenly decide after a while that she now has something better to say.  A journalist should have the final say not the interviewee, a journalist’s job is to scrutinise power after all. Does an interview with a celebrity do that though? Are they a clear opportunity to scrutinise someone’s position or are they simply a PR exercise? There is far too much emphasis nowadays on what celebrities have to do and say.  Each article or pre-recorded chat show interview seems the same. If you want to gain a real insight into how a celebrity thinks or feels then you need to talk to them one on one. Average people such as you and me do not get this opportunity though, so instead we turn to our magazine articles and chat show interviews desperately wanting to relate to these celebrities. We want to believe that their interviews on Graham Norton et al are real, unrehearsed, spur of the moment events.

However, do journalists really believe that each interview that they have with a celebrity is not a carefully constructed PR exercise? Do we the readers really believe that? Think of Hollywood’s stars of the Golden Age, everything was controlled. There were no photos of actors falling out of nightclubs. These stars were “perfect” supposedly.  Has anyone ever seen a bad photo of Lauren Bacall or Grace Kelly in their heyday for example? Call me old-fashioned, but I fail to see how this could lead to accusations of “fake news”. The interview would have to be newsworthy in the first place, celebrity interviews are not the most important thing that someone will read over the course of a day.

I am going to end this long-winded post by saying that both Saga magazine and Clare Balding have come out strongly denying Dougary’s claims. However, the damage has been done for me. Now every year when I watch Crufts I will be thinking is Clare Balding actually nice or is she a controlling diva? It’s highly ironic that by trying to control this interview, Balding has damaged her brand for many people including myself. I am sorry if this comes across as a rant against objective journalism, it is not meant to be. Impartiality in journalism has never been more important, I just want all parties involved in celebrity interviews to acknowledge the unspoken truth, that these type of interviews are a type of PR exercise. Celebrity interviews are where public relations and journalism collide, like it or not. Maybe it’s time we started to have a look at how we view the journalistic merit of such interviews in the first place.

 

Catherine Leonard is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Political Lobbying at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @CLeonard1212

Photography in Public Relations

We all know the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and as an amateur photographer I firmly believe in this. So in Public Relations why should this be any different?

How often do you flick through a newspaper or magazine and a photograph catches your eye? Or how often does the photograph encourage you to read the article? So why submit a good story with a low quality photograph and limit the potential coverage your story could achieve?

Within an article or advert photos tend to stand out as they often consume more space; if this fails to capture the public’s attention they will often move on without reading the text, as articles with images gain 94% more views. Often the power of photographs is under estimated, so here are some guidelines on using photographs within your work:

  1. Preparation

Plan and prepare (1) what you intend to photograph; (2) why you intend to photograph it; and (3) how you will capture the photograph. Through preparation it will help you capture a range of photographs for different purposes that may be appropriate for future uses.

  1. Invest in a Photographer

A photographer will have the knowledge to know what type of photographs will be of an advantage to your company as well as being creative to capture unique photos that portray the company’s message. A professional will also have the correct equipment and skills to capture and edit photographs so that they best represent your message.

  1. Tell a Story

Quality photographs have the power to tell the client’s story and deliver a message to those who view it. Well-written stories accompanied by high quality photographs will grab both the editor’s and target public’s attention; therefore increasing the likeliness that the editor will publish your story as the photographs will increase the story’s appeal.

If people hear information they are likely to recall 10% of it three days later, whereas if that information is paired with a relevant image they will retain at least 65% of the information three days later. This highlights the importance of selecting a relevant photograph for your press release, as it will help increase brand recognition within your target publics as they will be able to recall the article when they see the product or service you offer.

  1. Social Media

Using quality photographs on social media is important as all platforms adapting to encourage users to upload photographs. The use of photographs on social media has been proven to increase the engagement rate, for example, on Twitter; tweets with images receive 150% more retweets than those without.

Photography in PR

Lauren Sharkey is a 4th year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @lsharkey_37 or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/lauren-sharkey-25776ab0

Public Relations Vs. Advertising

Public Relations and Advertising are regularly confused and it’s commonly thought they play the same roles within an organisation, despite having different end goals and effects.

PR is a strategic communication process to create a positive reputation for a company in order to gain support and understanding through influencing opinions and behaviours of their publics. Whereas on the other hand, Advertising is the use of paid messages on various media platforms to inform and influence the target audience to make a purchase.

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Free vs. Paid

  • PR: Primarily PR is focused on securing free media to gain exposure for the company and their products/services through use of strategies and tactics. Through using media you have no control of how they portray the company and present the information you provide and they are not required to publish any material you send. Due to this, you are in constant contact with the media and building relationships with them in order to have your press releases used.
  • Advertising: In advertising, companies pay for ad space for specific days and times so they are aware of when they will be ran. Due to this it allows you to have (1) creative control of what goes into the advert; and (2) media control of where the advert appears and when.

Duration

  • PR: You will only submit a press release of a new product launch or an event once so therefore this will only circulate once, as the editor will not re-run it but, you can send each press release to a number of journalists who will each write the story in their own styles.
  • Advertising: Due to paying for the advertising space, the advert will run for the duration which you have purchased.

Credibility

  • PR: The public often find third party sources such as newspapers more credible as it is perceived to be an informative source; this method does not encourage someone to make a purchase but it creates a positive reputation for the brand and manufacturer.
  • Advertising: Often the target audience will look and read an advert with scepticism, as they know the purpose of the advert is to influence them to buy a product or service.

Audience

  • PR: In order to have an editor run a press release or cover your event, you must create content that hooks both them and the target audience.
  • Advertising: Your advertisement is geared towards your target audience, making use of buzzwords in order to influence and motivate the target audience.

 

Lauren Sharkey is a 4th year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @lsharkey_37 or on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/lauren-sharkey-25776ab0/