missrachelsmith

Archive for February 2013

STOP PRESS: My top media tips

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Since 2010, one of the areas I feel I’ve really progressed in is writing. When I started working towards CILIP Chartership, this journey was already beginning – I’d written a few webpages from scratch and I’d pulled together the odd report. But I hadn’t really had any involvement with media and PR (although in a previous life I did quite fancy being a broadcast journalist, so I had a bit of background knowledge about this area). However, in terms of the Library’s reputation, this was becoming an increasingly important area for us…

In 2010 and 2011, the Library was regularly getting slammed in the student newspaper, for one reason or another (fines, damning comment articles, etc). In some ways, I can understand this – we’re one of the biggest University departments relevant to all students, and bad news is often deemed more interesting than positive. But the newspaper was also getting a lot of its ‘facts’ wrong, which was not ok, and the editors’ weren’t asking us for the Library’s take on anything they were reporting on. So a couple of articles published in 2011 were unbalanced and full of errors. Although the newspaper published retractions in subsequent issues, the damage was already done.

So when I was promoted in late 2011, I decided this was something that needed to change. We needed to be more proactive about getting Library news out there and build up a relationship with the editorial team, so that when they were planning an article about the Library, we could put our point of view across. I attended a training session from the University’s Media Office and then I got started.

Be proactive: write a press release

Now, we regularly release news about Library news, events and activities to the student press. I identify stories I think the student media will find interesting – so, new developments, interesting statistics – something that has a coherent narrative and will make a great headline.

Next, I draft a press release. Here are my top tips!

  • Follow your organisation’s guidelines. The University have a number of press release templates, so I usually start by choosing one of these to ensure my formatting is correct and I write the release in line with the Media Office’s guidance. If you work for an independent library: start by googling ‘press release template’. The University of Reading and the University of Leicester have some good starting points to show you how a good press release is structured.
  • Think about your audience. Write with them in mind.
  • Start with a hook. Ensure your headline and first paragraph hook the journalist and make them want to read on.
  • Be succinct. You need to make sure the writing itself is tight and interesting, rather than waffling (like I often do on this blog!). I aim for one A4 page maximum for the main body of the release.
  • Don’t be vague. Don’t leave your release open to creative interpretation, or assume that the journalist reading it will understand Library jargon. Make the writing as straightforward as possible.
  • Stick to the facts. The main body of the release should present the facts, rather than offer an opinion on them. Obviously you can focus on the more positive facts where possible, but …
  • … don’t leave out the negative. Bad news is fine, as long as you explain the situation and what you’re doing to minimise the impact on your customers. In fact, I usually find it’s better to be up-front about bad news, as at least you’re being transparent.
  • Include statistics. Both librarians and journalists love a nice statistic.
  • Always provide a quote. This is where you can offer an opinion! The rest of the release tells the reader the facts, but journalists usually want a nice quote from someone central to the story. Our quotes usually come from either the Librarian, or the Deputy Librarian.
  • Write the quote yourself. I used to ask the actual person who was being quoted to provide the quotes, so that it would be as genuine as possible. The problem is that often, senior management just don’t have time – so now, I always draft the quotes and then check it through with the person being quoted. It saves time and it means the quote fits in nicely with the rest of the release.
  • Try and make your quote sound as if it’s spoken. Journalists like to give the impression that they’ve spoken to the person involved directly, so try and make the quote sound quite natural. This part can be a bit more informal.
  • Pre-empt questions. I also try to pre-empt any questions that student journalists might have and include that information in the release, to make their job as easy as possible. When you’ve finished your first draft, read it through with your ‘journalist’ hat on, and try and think whether there’s any questions you’ve left unanswered.
  • If there’s a lot of information, provide additional details. I usually do this at the end of the press release. Then you can provide schedules, full details of statistics, etc, so that the journalist has all the information they require to write their story.
  • Say you can provide a photo. And give details of what the photo is of. The newspaper may or may not take you up on it – often they use their own photographers – but it’s nice to offer…
  • ... Or let the media know of potential photo opportunities. You could invite photographers from the newspaper to an event you’re running, or organise a media call for photographers to attend.
  • Finally, get someone else to check it over. You may need to get sign off from senior management, or you may need to run it by the central media team (I do both). But even if you don’t need to do that, get a colleague to check it over for you. A second pair of eyes is always good!

Then, send it out to relevant media contacts – if you have a central media team, they should be able to provide you with a list of contacts. If not, you may need to build up your own by getting in touch with the publications where you’d like the news to be featured to find out who is the best person to send it to.

Be reactive: writing responses to media enquiries

I thought I’d also mention reactive responses here. With press releases, you call the shots. With media enquiries, the newspaper does. If a newspaper picks up on a story which you haven’t released to the press, they may contact you to ask some questions or to get a quote from someone involved. A lot of the tips above still apply about writing style etc, but here’s my advice on dealing with media enquiries:

  • Know when the journalist’s deadline is and keep to it. These people have tight deadlines for when the article needs to be ready and there is no wiggle room. If the enquiry arrives in your inbox on Monday and they need the information by Friday, make sure they have it by Friday. In fact, try and send it to them by Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning if possible.
  • Answer their questions. It might seem a bit obvious, but they’ve asked you particular questions because they want to know the answers.
  • Let them know who they can quote. If they want to use any of the text you’ve provided as a quote from someone in the library, let them know who they can quote. Again, I usually pick the Librarian or Deputy Librarian.

So how does this work in practice?: Fines Friday

Last year, the Library decided to donate one day’s fines revenue to charity for the first time – a perfect media story. We also asked students to vote for which charities the money would go to. So I drafted a press release in association with the student charity committee, which along with the rest of the publicity, was released a week before Fines Friday:

Fines Friday press release

There was immediate interest from the student newspaper (here’s where we get into the reactive part!). An issue was going to be published just a couple of days after Fines Friday, and they wanted to know the total money raised so they could include it as part of the story, as well as the results of the student charity vote. I closed the charity vote late on Friday afternoon and sent the results over, and our Systems Manager checked the fines totals first thing on Saturday morning and sent that to the journalist too.

This was the resulting news story on Page 3 of that issue:

Library donates day of fines to charities

I was really pleased with how this turned out. We also had great media coverage over the course of 2012 about Library 24/7 and building developments. And best of all, the student newspaper has also started to contact us when they’re planning to publish other Library stories, which I’m really happy about. And at the moment, I’m hoping that the next issue of the student newspaper will include a story about our progress towards Customer Service Excellence, our performance in 2012, and the introduction of a number of Key Performance Indicators. So it’s onwards and upwards!

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Written by missrachelsmith

February 10, 2013 at 18:17

Posted in Librarianship, Marketing

Tagged with ,

Planning and organising projects

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In my last blog post, I thought about how I organised my time at work. But actually, as I mentioned, most of my work as Communications and Marketing Officer for the Library and Heritage Collections is project-based, and most of the projects I work on I’m usually also leading. For me, time management and project management are pretty much intertwined, so I couldn’t really tackle one subject without exploring the other…

Project management

Although I manage a range of marketing and communications projects, I don’t have a formal background in project management. Everything I know about project management comes from common sense, or from what I’ve picked up from other people.

So how have my project management skills developed? Well, back in 2010, when I started working towards CILIP Chartership, I wasn’t working in a management role. As a Library Assistant, I was required to support projects, but I wasn’t really supposed to manage them. But things don’t always quite work out like that…

First steps

The first marketing project I managed was back in December 2010. The Library’s previous Communications and Marketing Officer was absent, so I managed the production of all of the publicity materials to open our new special collections gallery. This was a challenging project – at this point I wasn’t working closely with archives and special collections and had little experience of publicising exhibitions. I had to liaise with the University’s central communications and procurement teams, as well as external design and printing companies for the first time. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention – the deadline for getting everything produced was early January 2011. Counting out the Christmas break, I had about 3 weeks to get a poster, leaflet and gallery opening booklet ready.

Treasures of Durham University exhibition banner

However, I knew that this was strategically important for our historic library and for the University, and the publicity materials were delivered on time, to budget and to specification. Due to the short timescales involved, there was no formal plan involved – I just made sure I prioritised this over all of my other tasks.

Induction 2011

In 2011, I got more involved in managing our induction communications and I project managed a complete format change from our Library induction tours for new students from the previous years: the Library Treasure Hunt.

Library Treasure Hunt

I developed the programme, came up with a range of questions and activities, and figured out how the Treasure Hunt would work operationally in the Library. The Treasure Hunt was part of the larger induction 2011 communications plan – I also led on other activities that year, including organising our stall for the International Students Fair and overseeing our stand on the first day of the Fresher’s Fair. The Communications and Marketing Officer and I discussed all of the activities that needed to be completed ahead of the induction period, and my colleague organised these into a Gannt chart (I’ll come back to this in a moment) so we could keep track of all of the different timescales involved in the project. I found that for a complex marketing project like this, having a visual idea of what needed to be completed when really worked for me.

The induction period that year went really smoothly as a consequence…

… and then the Communications and Marketing Officer left the Library and I was offered a promotion in November 2011. So after that, I wasn’t just picking up projects at the last minute when colleagues were absent, or leading on aspects of larger projects which someone else was managing. Now, it was up to me to plan and organise projects…

Getting started

The first thing I decided when I took up my new role is that I felt that even smaller projects needed to be planned more carefully. One of the things I’d learnt from covering for my colleague was that it’s difficult to know what has and hasn’t been done if you’re not working to a plan. I also felt that having a project plan would make it easier to convey to my line manager what I was doing. So as soon as I started managing Library communications and marketing, I started to plan.

Communications plans

Every campaign I run now has a communications plan. They’re usually pretty straightforward. Here’s one I put together for this year’s MORE BOOKS campaign:

More Books communications plan

Essentially, I think about the activities that need to be completed as part of the project, the timescales I want them to be completed in, and then the staff members that will be involved. This involves considering which activities depend on other tasks being completed (I can’t expect a colleague to design a screensaver, for example, if I haven’t finished the campaign graphics), and the staff resource available.

Communications timelines

Projects don’t always work out this way, of course. In the end, I put together the MORE BOOKS graphics and posters on the morning of Wednesday 14 November (5 days before the service relaunched, so not ideal) due to another project heating up. So when that happens and I’m not keeping to time, I sometimes do a backwards record of a marketing project. As well as planning forwards at the start of the project, I’ll record when things actually happened as the project progresses.

Here’s an example of the communications timeline I put together for the building development communications that dominated my work in 2012:

Library developments publicity timeline

Having a record like this can be really helpful for analysing how successful particular publicity methods have been. For example, if I see a sudden spike in hits to our website on 13 February, I can tell that this is due to the link being circulated in the Vice Chancellor’s regular email bulletin, as well as the social media posts we published that day.

Project plans

But these quick plans aren’t so good when you’re organising a complex project with a lot of discrete actions. An example of this would be communications activities leading up to the new academic year in October. Following my colleague’s lead, I used a variation on a Gannt chart when planning my work for Induction 2012, which helped me to work to a range of timescales and track my progress:

Induction Plan 2012

Down the left hand side, I’ve listed the main activities that need to be completed. At the top, I’ve plotted out the weeks between the beginning and end of the project. Then I work out when I think each activity should be completed by, but also (and here’s the big difference between that and the simpler communications plans) how long I think each activity might take.

This is a plan from very near the end of the project. How can I tell? Well, most of the bars are green, which in the traffic light system I use, mean they’ve been completed. Usually, I’ll adjust the bars if activities are completed earlier/later than planned, so the finished plan reflects the timescales I actually worked to. I felt that this worked really well for induction last year, and I’ll be using this same system in 2013. In fact, it’s a technique I’d like to use more, but I find that I often don’t feel like I can afford the time to set it up.

So what’s next?

I think the next big thing I have to tackle in this area is evaluating projects – I have very little time for reflecting on projects in any great depth at the moment, as I’m straight onto the next deadline. As and when more support is found for my role, this is something I’d like to do more of. I’d also like to undertake some training to further improve my skills in this area too!

Written by missrachelsmith

February 2, 2013 at 18:02