Fran Gorman, Head of Media & Communications at SEUK
A survey recently published by the Key Fund found that social enterprise was not on many people’s radars. There are reasons for this lack of awareness, of course. ‘Social enterprise’ as an umbrella term has not been kicking around for that long, only since the late 1990s. Plus, from talking to our members, lots of social enterprises don’t have communications/marketing/press people in their teams, promoting what they do, because they’re too small to justify the hire.
There’s also the fact that some social enterprises simply don’t call themselves a social enterprise. There are numerous descriptions kicking around so while a charity is a charity, a social enterprise could be a CIC, co-op, social business, trading charity or not-for-profit – and the list goes on. But without a collective term to cut through the white noise, reaching the mainstream and growing people’s understanding of social enterprise is going to be a something of a slow burn.
These problems aren’t going to disappear overnight so what can we do? Well, I don’t believe the media has yet had the very best of what the social enterprise sector has to offer. There are lots of good stories out there but only some are getting through. I took a call from a national newspaper journalist recently who was frustrated – I’d go so far as to say annoyed – that social enterprises weren’t approaching him with their stories, their motivations and their impact. A first for me I have to admit. Anyway, the point I want to make is that our sector has much to offer and isn’t, well, offering it as much as it could.
I thought to share some ideas that might be helpful if you’re thinking of approaching the media, but not quite sure how to go about it. They’re written bearing in mind that lots of social enterprises are small and without PR agencies or in-house communications teams.
Your time is precious
Don’t waste your time seeking coverage unless there’s a good business reason for it. What is it that you want – to announce your launch, sell a new product, promote a new service, invite your local community to get involved in a project?
If you’re sure it’s what you need, think about the media you need to approach. Who is the audience you’re trying to reach? What newspapers/magazines do they read; what programmes do they watch and listen to? Is it national or local profile you’re after?
Interesting means different things to different people
What you think is interesting about your social enterprise might not be to a journalist so road test your idea – this could be with your mates in the pub, or with a friend who works in PR or journalism.
Hooks for a story can include: your social enterprise opening its doors / starting to trade; being shortlisted for – or winning – an award; a Mayor or MP visiting your organisation; celebrity support; the winning of a new piece of business / contract – might be with another local business or a local authority (check they’re happy first); the reaching of a milestone or ‘record number’ – this could be the number of customers through your door and the number of people you’ve been able to employ / support as a result; an anniversary – use this to publicising the results you’ve achieved in that time.
One journalist > the conduit between you and thousands, if not millions
So do your research. Don’t pick up the phone or send an email to a journalist without checking out what they’ve written or covered recently – you risk annoying them.
Journalists like it when the story you’re giving them is only for them – commonly known as an ‘exclusive’. Choose your top 5 journalists and go from there. If the 1st says no, move onto the next. This might not be what you want of course, you might want to be in your local newspaper, on your local radio station and regional news programme – and there’s nothing to stop you from approaching multiple journalists with the same story.
Get to the point quickly – and play to your strengths
Don’t say in 10 words what you can say in five. And if you’re drafting an email or press release remember that your first paragraph needs to include the 5 w’s – who, what, why, when and where.
An email or press release will need to be followed up with a phone call. But if you’re not confident in your writing abilities start by picking up the phone (morning is preferable). You can put some bullet points into an email afterwards if a journalist wants more information. And always check that a journalist can spare a couple of minutes to talk. If they’re rude it’s probably because they’re on deadline and have less than an hour to file their copy with an editor breathing down their neck. Apologise and call them back.
Cut the jargon
Say the words ‘business model’ and a journalist might nod off. If you’re pitching to the mainstream media, the same goes for ‘sustainability’ and ‘innovative’. Who are you pitching you story to? Look at how they write and the tone of the publication – and match it. The Sun, love it or loathe it, has a team of some of the most skilled writers going – they break down stories so that a 10 year old can understand them. Your writing needs to be accessible. And stay away from words like ‘fabulous, amazing, wonderful’ in your media materials unless you want to sound like Edina or Pats from Ab Fab.
Be nice, and don’t necessarily approach editors
An editor is busier than busy. The rest of the team take their story ideas along to a daily morning meeting where the editor will say yes or no. So approach reporters and researchers. They’ll be higher up the ranks one day too, so be nice…
Timing really is everything
If you’re holding an event or opening your shop doors, don’t tell a journalist about it the day before. They need time – at least a week, ideally more. They’re churning out stories every day and won’t be able to cover your story if you leave it too late.
To give you an idea of how far ahead some journalists need to file their stories: women’s glossy magazines that are published monthly work as far ahead as six months. So they’ll be putting their Christmas editions to bed in June. As a general rule, the more frequent the newspaper / magazine / programme, the less lead-in time they need.
Numbers matter, but so do the stories
The figures are important: A rise in the number of customers buying from you or in the number of people needing your service? Are you expanding, hiring more people? Journalists will ask you difficult questions so be prepared. Unless you’re just starting out they’ll want proof of your success.
However, human beings are a nosy lot and other people’s stories and experiences bring news to life. So if a journalist asks for a ‘case study’ that’s what they mean. Who are the people benefitting from your social enterprise? In this article about Unseen Tours, two of the guides were interviewed.
If you’re a social enterprise, say you are
I still read pieces of coverage about social enterprises yet the articles don’t say it. Awareness will only grow if journalists start using the term, and they’ll only start using the term if it’s made clear in conversations and press materials by social enterprises. So put it in your opening gambit and first paragraph, please!
Don’t be offended
If a journalist says they’re not interested in your story don’t take it to heart. They get hundreds of calls and emails every day. But learn from it and don’t be afraid to ask what they might be interested in hearing from you about in the future. It can take time to build a relationship – and more than one go at it.
Until the time comes when you can hire a PR there’s no harm in starting slowly – lots of journalists would much rather talk to an entrepreneur occasionally than a press officer regularly.
This isn’t Mad Men
PR isn’t advertising so you won’t have control over the final edit. If you don’t want it written in print or aired or the radio, don’t say it. Some journalists may make an exception if the interviewee is a vulnerable service user or a young person, for example. And if you’re invited to say something ‘off-the-record’, think twice – this is normally saved for journalists you’ve worked with for years.
Media coverage is no longer yesterday’s fish & chip paper
Much of its online now and will be for quite some time so in an interview don’t say anything that could come back and bite you – even if a journalist is asking you leading questions. Try and steer clear from making generalisations, and stick to the facts. And make any interview you do count: be prepared and know the top three messages you want to get across.
Don’t forget the detail
If you secure yourself an interview or article, ask for your organisation’s website address/telephone number/twitter handle to be included. People need to be able to find you. And remember to go back to the journalist and say thank you – it goes a long way.
I hope this was this helpful. Let me know either way. And if you’re a social enterprise with a story to tell do get in touch: email@example.com