Where do you need to be seen?

Written by Guy Clapperton, media mentor and journalist

28 June 2022


In this guest blog, Guy Clapperton, media mentor and journalist, explains why publicity isn’t necessarily good in and of itself, and how you must always know your targets.

Interview tips: where are you going?

I led a great media training session a while back. It was great not because of me particularly, but because of the delegate. He ran a small chain of phone shops and it looked as though they might grow dramatically. This is all good stuff. He was doing sufficiently well to have been approached by the Financial Times. They wanted to write a profile piece on him.

He had turned them down.

I was aghast. I’m there to help him make the most of any press opportunities, and there he was, refusing to speak to one of the leading outlets in the country and probably Europe. Why, I asked him, did he not want to speak to the FT?

The reason was that he wanted to sell more phones. His mother would have loved the clipping, but she wasn’t in his target market (she tended to buy one phone at a time and always went for the cheapies). And in his view the number of people going to the FT for advice on which phone to buy was negligible. If he spoke to a very small but focused local paper he might be able to persuade them to carry a discount code for his business, he said. That would actually increase footfall, whereas a profile in the FT would be all about vanity.

Have a purpose for every interview

I learned a lot that day because he was absolutely right. I’d interviewed another company years before, for a BBC World Service radio show called Digital Planet. It was a bit like Tomorrow’s World but audio, and my interviewee had put together a platform for mobile phones – it would be elementary now, but it was very clever at the time.

The details don’t matter, but the company was pleased with the radio segment; it reflected well on them and I can be a very gentle interviewer. They had every reason to be delighted… and they fired their PR company within weeks. The reason was really straightforward. They wanted developers for their platform and the programme I was on attracted only a mainstream audience. The listeners’ reaction, typically, would have been “how about that?” rather than “I must track this company down and make something of its software.” Nobody clicked on the website. Although nobody blamed me, the company felt its PR people should have anticipated this. Frankly you won’t get far if you get caught up in the BBC’s personal glamour – or my own personal glamour, but that’s more of a SpecSavers thing. You need an objective before setting out to get coverage.

There is a real issue about companies thinking publicity is good in and of itself. It can be, but if you’re successful at attracting attention it needs managing. Sustaining good coverage is going to require time and energy, and in the business world that tends to end up meaning money. This is why the wiser organisations get expert help in – such as a PR company. Not everyone has that option, however, due to budget and other reasons.

Whether you’re going to outsource your PR or not, it’s worth bearing one final image in mind. I compare it to a sat-nav. My bloke with the phone shop knew where he needed to be, so he put “selling more phones” as his destination into his PR sat-nav (I didn’t say the image wouldn’t get a bit shaky at times) and the FT just wasn’t a useful part of the route.

In general terms it’s worth thinking through just where you want your coverage to get you and keeping that end point in mind at all times; if you find yourself diverting into (and spending energy and time on) areas that just aren’t helpful, no matter how much they might appeal to you as an individual, it’s probably worth stopping and thinking again.

Guy Clapperton is director and founder of Clapperton Media Associates.