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Can I have copy approval? 5 ways to prevent this (coverage) killer question from cropping up

approvalIt’s simple: don’t. Asking for copy approval is the easiest and most sure-fire way to kill an interview stone-dead and blow any rapport you’ve established with the journalist out of the water.

Asking for copy approval at the end of an interview creates a problem for a number of reasons. These have all been well covered in some great posts by the likes of Jessica Twentyman, Michael Dempsey and Guy Clapperton, who have summed it up much better than I can, so here I’ll just state the obvious (sorry).

Asking for copy approval is a clear indication for the journalist that the person they’re interviewing has misinterpreted the nature of journalism and the role of PR in it. It’s impossible for a journalist to offer an unbiased, independent take on a subject if their article has been mucked about with by PR teams.

As a result, the answer to the question of copy approval is always (except maybe under exceptional circumstances, which will always be down to the journalist’s discretion) going to be a resounding ‘no’, so it’s better for everyone involved if the question is never asked.

Thankfully, I’ve only ended up in the situation where a client asked for copy approval twice; both of which were during the early, rookie days of my career, and both were with first time interviewees. Mercifully, on both occasions, aside from the initial awkward silence and my own urge to slide under the desk and have a bit of a cry, the issue was quickly brushed over and didn’t cause any real friction between either party. A firm, but polite ‘no’ and a brief explanation of why was enough to settle the matter.

The mistake was of course mine for not explaining the process fully during the pre-briefing stage. It’s all too easy for PRs to forget that to the majority of the population, our role is a total mystery. Company spokespeople are very rarely from within the marketing function, and so are often unaware of the difference between paid for advertorial and independent editorial. As such, it is understandable why unseasoned interviewees would ask for copy approval if the PR person has assumed they are familiar with how the interview process works.

Having now been sitting in on media interviews for the best part of five years, I’m thankfully much better prepared and experience has taught me a few helpful tricks (aside from vetoing copy approval as a topic for discussion) for making sure I don’t end up in this situation again.  Here’s my top five:

  • Get to know the interviewee – whenever putting someone new in front of the press for the first time, it’s best to ask them if they’ve done much media work in the past. It’s easy to be disarmed into assuming that spokespeople know what they’re doing if they come across as a seasoned veteran who knows their stuff; but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have done interviews, so it’s best to ask. If they haven’t, outline the basics (i.e. how the process works), or better yet; get them to do some media training
  • Drop subtle reminders – even when working with more seasoned interviewees that you know well, it can help them to avoid dropping any clangers with a gentle reminder that they won’t be able to review the journalist’s copy before it gets published. If there are any potentially risky areas that could come up, then discussing these with the spokesperson before the interview and asking what they would and wouldn’t be happy to see in print can be a great way of getting the point across without being condescending
  • Clarify the benefits – rather than just being dismissive of copy approval, it helps to offer a bit of explanation around why it’s better not to have it. Highlighting the credibility that comes with having an unadulterated third-party endorsement can often help to get the point across more cohesively. Asking the spokesperson to draw a parallel between the last time they read a piece of paid-for advertorial and how engaging they found it in comparison to the editorial features appearing alongside it can bring the point home
  • Know the risks – ultimately, PRs should never be putting their clients in unnecessary danger. Arranging a briefing on a particularly sticky subject could just be setting the spokesperson up for a fall. If it goes too far south; their job could even be on the line, so it’s understandable they might want to review the journalist’s copy before it goes to print. These types of situation are incredibly rare in technology PR, but it’s as much a part of our job to keep in mind the potential risks as it is to create the opportunities. Rather than putting a spokesperson in a position where they feel inclined to ask for copy approval; it’s better to think about whether they should be doing the interview in the first place
  • Think like a journalist – Being able to get into the journalist mind-set and think about the questions they’re likely to ask helps PRs to provide a much better pre-briefing for the spokesperson. This can help them to frame their responses better and avoid being caught in a situation where they want to backpedal on a clumsily delivered response after the event by editing the journalist’s write-up
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Coverage Cup late February round up

Coverage cupFebruary has almost come to an end, but there has been plenty of Spark client coverage over the last couple of weeks. First up, the JDA team secured not one, but two hits in The Times with some excellent insight into how technology is altering how supply chains operate and how to remove the increasing risks. Next up, the Verizon team successfully news hijacked the RBS/Natwest fingerprint ID story by providing wider context for the adoption of biometrics and what still needs to happen. This resulted in coverage in CBR and ProSecurityZone. Finally, the ElasticHosts team placed a byline in Risk UK from the company’s CEO Richard Davies about how businesses can procure cost-effective disaster recovery at a time when it is more necessary than ever before.

These and the other Coverage Cup nominations are listed below:

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Crouch, touch, pause, engage: Why PR agencies should follow the rules of rugby

How many meaningless emails have you received today?  We have 1,728 of them to wade through each year, according to a recent Sennheiser Communications study.

Unless you’re Apple, relying too heavily on emails as a PR tactic is a sure-fire recipe for wasted time and effort. I’ve always found it’s better to approach media relations like a rugby team.

That may sound aggressive: on the face of it, rugby is a physical battle featuring ritual acts of controlled aggression. But it is also a gentlemanly sport: players call the referee ‘Sir’, tend not to fake injuries as much as footballers and share a drink with opponents after the match.

When players come together for a scrum during a game, the referee instructs: ‘crouch, touch, pause, engage’. Here’s a run-down of how a good PR agency will apply each of these four stages when speaking to the media:

  • Crouch: They will not make the mistake of going too hard on preaching the company line to a journalist. Assuming the preparation and planning work has been done correctly, there should be some interesting insight to share, but that will usually plug into the current news agenda, rather than being something standalone. The PR agency may well hold a client in high regard, but it is dangerous to preach from that pedestal. Most of the time, the PR will be on a par with them, and sometimes will be almost crouching down at their feet.
  • Touch: Putting in the effort to get personal with journalists is definitely worth the effort, and something every good PR should be doing on a daily basis. That should include speaking on the phone (and occasionally catching up face-to-face where possible), and getting to know journalists in person. Rather than keeping things strictly business, chatting about hobbies and social lives can play a big part in a successful PR-journalist relationship.
  • Pause: There might be a clear client brief and targets on the table, but it can be impossible to anticipate the exact topics a publication will be looking to cover in the next few months. Forward feature plans can be chopped and changed at will, with issues often bumped off the radar by something more prominent on the news agenda. This means rigidly broadcasting a message is not a good idea. PRs must be able to think on their feet and when the content and message they have doesn’t quite fit with a journalist’s plans the way they thought it would, pause for a moment to think and try to find another way to work with them. The journalist can often appreciate both the thought and the insight.
  • Engage: At Spark, we are proud to have been rated a top-three PR Week agency by UK tech journalists because it shows they enjoy our working relationship. Hell, some of them have even been known to share a drink with us. Going that extra mile and making an effort to engage with journalists is the hallmark of good PR work.
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Coverage Cup round up w/c 2 February 2015

Coverage cupAnother good week of client coverage here at Spark. First of all, Fruition Partners and Guavus both featured in The Times ‘Future of Outsourcing’ supplement after some successful pitching by their resepctive teams. Next up, the Trustmarque team secured two great pieces in Computing and E-Health Insider, looking at how the company is implementing new software for Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh (WWL) NHS Trust. Finally, the Dynatrace team placed a fascinating opinion piece with Global Banking & Finance Review on the future of customer-centric banking and the implications for IT departments.

Below is a selection of the best of the rest of last week’s coverage: 


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