It has been common practice for many Northern Ireland based businesses seeking to launch a product, issue a press release, hold a photo call or even host an event to consider a ‘bomb story’ when preparing their strategy. Bomb Stories are literally what they sound like but they go by many different names around the world. Particularly within the capital, Belfast, the story of a bomb going off was fairly common place until the early millenium (2000 – 2005). These days they only happen a couple of times per year with shootings in the same ratio and even then they are generally of a smaller scale than the previous years. These are events which simply dominate the media. There are loads of opportunites for photographs, interviews, political statements, victim analysis and pundits views giving the media ‘an easy ride’ in the general scheme of things. These are of course a disaster for your aim of getting an editorial piece into print. Bombs of course only one example, extreme weather, celebrity announcements, financial crisis’ and other items of national interest are all on a par creating your own ‘bomb story’.
Worse than a major headliner is a medium-to-high headliner however, or as I call it, a Page 3 story. These are the events that dominate the papers with lots of readers views and comments which run to several pages. B-list celebrity gaffs on TV, outrageous YouTube videos or a minor government funding cut will all dominate the first five pages of a paper or the first two pages of a news website.
Why are they worse you’re asking?
With a major headliner your story is simply not considered. Your new faster service, high-end widget or staff appointment is not on a par with a big story so getting your story ignored is fantastic news. You can simply resubmit it a few days or even weeks later.
With a Page 3 story your news is shifted backwards, ever closer to the classifieds or in online terms, a lonely Twitter post between thousands of unrelated Tweets. It is however, out there and therefore considered ‘old news’ the following day by anyone who even caught a glimpse of your headline. The chances of resubmission, particularly to the printed press is almost nil.
When it comes to launching any story you need a bomb proof strategy, or rather a contingency plan.
When hosting an event, an unexpected major road closure will quickly throw plans into disarray, car accidents, flooding and emergency repairs can delay guests by several hours. For a two hour event or press call your opportunity is lost. Paying a professional photographer and videographer or at least bringing your own photo gear will allow you to salvage the use of a nice backdrop for some ‘candid’ images of you speaking or talking with the few guests who made it. Paying a photographer will also ensure you have some images to send out after the event despite the regular press not attending. Turning a speaking engagement into a Q&A or more informal workshop isn’t a big leap. The room might feel quite large but after a few nibbles around a couple of tables you’ll soon get an intimate atmosphere built up where you can engage your few remaining guests on a more one to one basis. A one page outline of your topics to be covered during your speech can be easily translated into ‘conversation topics’ around a table instead. Make no mistake, you will feel gutted (and out of pocket) facing three people in a concert hall. Use that embarassment and ‘pity me’ feeling to negotiate a discount on the room hire as quick as you can, then address your only remaining guests like they are the most important people in the world. Like it or not, they will be telling everyone about your event, how they portray you and your company during a crisis depends on how you deal with them as individuals and could do you some real favours. It’s not the result you wanted and certainly not the one you paid for, but if you think taking the time to address just one customer is a waste, you didn’t have much chance of winning over a whole room of customers.
If you have a beautifully crafted press release, model filled image and call staff standing by to take orders you will have to look to other media outlets for promotion. The major papers and big news websites are covering the major story or shifting your event to the back half of the paper or website. Look at the regionals, the local papers delivered free in different areas, the smaller news sites and the community pages. These are quite often owned and operated by larger group companies so you may not have to make as many phone calls or distribute as many e-mails as you think. Quite often the local touch can be a good route into a market over a general headline. Just be sure you tailor your press release to suit. Print the press release and a glossy version of the photo then hand deliver it to your target market or post it directly. “We thought you’d like to hear about us first hand before you read about us in the paper” isn’t the worst approach ever taken and might just get some added value out of your expensive copywriter and photo shoot. Don’t forget to issue all press releases and photos via your own social media channels as well of course. You can happily delay them by a day or two to let the bigger stories settle.
Reacting directly to a ‘Bomb Story’ can be an opportunity to get new business or cement customer relations too. Consider your list of clients or potential clients who may have been affected by the event. All manner of events can knock out the electricty, give your affected target market a ring and offer to help out in any way you can. You may not be able to but the offer is a reason to call and will impress them none the less. If their car park is flooded and the staff can’t get home you may not be in a position to give them all a lift but if you can tell them the next buses available it will be a weight off their mind while they continue to struggle with their own customer demands all the while worrying about making it home for dinner. It’s not a great solution by any means but the point is you offered and went out of your way (for a whole five minutes to look at timetables online) but they think you’re brilliant. More importantly they will think of you the next time they need your service or product.
‘Bomb Stories’ aren’t much fun to consider, especially when organising a large event but the relief felt by having a back up plan when things do go wrong is priceless.