Episode 323 – Exposure with Felicity Cowie

Felicity CowieEver wondered how a journalist picks which expert to provide a quote on a story in your industry, or why a national paper runs a story on your competitor and not you? 

Media relations might seem like a dark art, but when you understand what journalists are looking for, it’s easier to pitch a story that will grab their attention, so that YOUR business can benefit from that powerful exposure. 

In this week’s conversation, Felicity Cowie talks about life as both a journalist being pitched and a consultant helping businesses pitch effectively, and she shares the two essential questions every journalist asks themselves that decide whether a story will run or not. 

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Felicity’s site: https://www.themediarelationscoach.com/

Felicity on Twitter: https://twitter.com/felicitycowie

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

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Alison Jones: I’m here today with Felicity Cowie, who is a media relations coach who empowers early stage businesses to work with journalists to gain competitive advantage. Having been pitched at least a hundred thousand story ideas in 15 years as journalist, she knows what breaks through and why. And her mission is to help new businesses collaborate effectively with newsrooms to make an impact from the start.

As a journalist, she worked as a producer on the BBC’s main news planning desk and was an editor of its investigative documentary series Panorama. And she pioneered user-generated content across BBC news, and won two Royal Television Society awards for her team. As a media relations consultant and as a trainer for some of the world’s leading organizations, including the NHS, UCAS and Virgin, she has successfully pitched and coached others to pitch stories resulting in thousands of pieces of media coverage.

And she’s also the author of Exposure, which is one of the reasons that you’re here today, Felicity. So it’s great to have you, really, really good to have you here. And let’s talk first about, I talk about writing the book obvs, but let’s talk first about media relations because when you and I met, I didn’t quite understand how media relations was different from public relations or press relations, PR. So let’s start with that. The elephant in the room.

Felicity Cowie: Yeah, it’s a really good place to start because it is, it is confusing. And I would say it’s confusing even to people who work in things like communications and marketing. And I know that because I’ve worked within PR agencies, in-house teams and they do get very muddled up, as do their clients with what media relations is.

So, yes. So to clarify that really simply, it’s just a process of working with journalists to get their independent, unpaid-for coverage of your business. So it’s a process for working with journalists to get unpaid independent coverage of your business. It’s just that process, but you have to work with journalists in a way that is going to be of interest to them.

So whilst what you want, ultimately, out of the journalist in that collaboration is to get out to your public as you see them. And that may be the general public, but it might actually be your, your customers, potential investors, potential talent, however, your class that you are using the media to talk to that public, to impress that public.

And it’s such a critical thing to realize that your audience, when you do media relations, is journalists and it is not the public. So when you put something out on your own social media channels, or you hold an event, or you do some advertising, that really is public relations because you are totally in control of that, in terms of you can decide what you want to say and you can position it and you can, you can put that message out there. Well, when you’re doing media relations, although you want to reach the public, you are going through journalists and they are your first audience, and journalists are under absolutely no obligation to do what you asked.

They don’t have to cover you in the way that you’d like to be covered. You have no rights to ask, to see what they’re going to say about you before they publish or broadcast it. And in any case, even if they do offer you that, journalists tend to work as a team using the output of a lot of people normally.

So even though they might share your first sight of something, that could be changed on its journey between leaving the journalist’s computer, or device and ending up wherever it ends up. So asking for that sort of looking look ahead to. Pointless anyway. And they’re under no obligation to make any corrections or changes to what you do.

So it’s really, really important to understand that’s the process, and the bit where you do have control is at the beginning where you put the information out about yourself, how it gets used, you know, is sort of out of your control, but what you put out there in the first place, how you position yourself and your business, that’s, that’s what you have.

That’s the front part of the process and that’s where you have all the opportunities to do what you want. And that’s where that’s where I now work, is helping people get ready at that front part of the process.

Alison Jones: And you have made it sound a little bit terrifying. So I think we have to cover up the obvious question is: why the hell would you do this?

Felicity Cowie: Yeah. I have to say it’s, having worked as a journalist, so being that side of the pitch and then being the pitcher where I’m working for clients, I’m trying to get their media coverage. It’s so… seeing that process all the way around, I, you know, it’s a hard process and it can be very time-consuming as well. And journalists are often most interested in you, the business person or the subject of their story when you are at your busiest, because it’s when you are doing something of news interest. So yeah, I mean, both sides of the fence. I’ve worked with people who are under enormous pressure sometimes for good reasons from their own stakeholders and things like that to deliver a lot of other stuff whilst doing media work.

So yeah. A lot of what I do is try and give people the chance to sort of open their eyes to what is going to be happening if they take this step. So they can go into it with their eyes open. And it’s a very false idea to think you can just do it a little bit. If you have a good story, that story can amplify everywhere.

As I said about losing control, once your story’s out there you’re kind of considered a news story and therefore you can be reported on by other people. So yeah, you need to think really a lot about, do you actually want this? And the major consideration really is: is there any other way you can get what you want without going to the media?

I would say, because back in the day, the only way to get the word out about your business and what you did was really via media channels. There was no LinkedIn, you know, there was, there was I mean really, really far back in the day, of course there was only television or TV advertising. So you were really, really dependent on the media to, to share what you did to try and get extra customers or get reputation.

That’s not the case at all anymore. This is an amazing communications channels that we can use. And people who are very skilled at putting content on them for you. So you would honestly think about all of that. First of all, some people have bigger audiences on their say YouTube channel or their Twitter feed then certainly than regional newspapers, and certainly even very prestigious sector press. So it’s not really a question of reach anymore, I don’t think, but what it is is a question about profile and endorsement. If you get a media outlet championing you, by championing, I mean referring to you in a story, but you know, covering you, choosing you rather than other people to sort of feature in a story, even if it’s in a fairly neutral way, and that media outlet is really respected by the public that you were trying to reach, so the customers or the investors or the talent pool, it’s valuable because it’s like a supercharged testimonial, like, that the business too, you know who to go to you on this thing. And so really the second part of media relations, and again, you need to think, am I up for all of this? If not you don’t go after it.

If you’re not going to have the time to amplify it on all your own channels, you really don’t need a lot, you know, one decent piece of coverage by an outlet that you value and your target public values can keep you going for ages. You can put that on your social media channels for quite some time, and certainly on your website as a kind of ‘in the press’ thing.

So it’s, it’s a way of seeing it as a major reason for doing this really is for that I suppose halo effect of the, of the journalist picking you, the halo effect of the readers who respect that, that outlet. It’s, that’s a valid reason to put in all this effort, because you want to get that return on investment.

You want to get that kudos and that free advertising. I suppose, if you get the story out the way you want it, but it’s certainly not, not free in terms of your time. There is certainly a time investment to get.

Alison Jones: Yeah. So there’s huge risk. There’s huge investment there. It’s, it’s potentially dangerous. Because as you say it can go sideways and you have no control over that. If you look at it, it’s kind of an unholy partnership, isn’t it. Journalists need stories and businesses need oxygen, any publicity, they need sort of visibility.

So we’re trying to get something out of each other. If you are going into this game, and if you are wanting to get coverage by a journalist in that sort of way, I guess, you know, from your journalist perspective, you must have had so many press releases with complete non-news things on, you know. What makes a journalist heart sing and what makes it sink?

Felicity Cowie: Yes. Yes. That’s such a key question for people. From a journalist’s point of view, there’s two things that make a news story. And I think this has always been the waste since the beginning of journalism, wherever that was. And you know, will always be the way, no matter the communication channels and their specific needs and things like that.

There’s always these two things. And the two questions journalists ask when they look at a pitch, and when I looked at these pitches, when I was on planning desks was, is this new? And does this affect a lot of people? They’re really critical questions for a journalist. Now, when I went to the BBC planning desk, does this affect a lot of people?

We had a ginormous audience, because that planning desk covered all the BBC’s main news outlets. So we covered everything from Radio 3 news bulletins, Radio 2 news bulletins, just all like 1 extra or something. Yeah, there was, there was, there was really different audiences within that.

But if you were pitching to something like you know, a very specific magazines specific to your sector, their audiences of the publication is clearly going to be smaller. So you want to be, you want to matter to as much of the audience as possible, if that makes sense. So, this is what journalists are thinking about because getting stories in and ideas in all the time, and this is what I, I guess this is sort of Google has kind of moulded in their image.

Like, you know, is this new? Is this relevant to lots of people, do lots of people value this information? Are they going to want to pay attention to this information? You’re right Alison in that you actually have a bit more common with journalists sometimes than you think. And that there is a common currency, which is stories.

If you have a story to tell journalists needs stories, basically that’s their whole currency and the only currency they understand as well, they certainly don’t care about like you increasing your business sales, anything like that really puts them off. But you know, anything hugely, anything which is actually more, your marketing material is not appropriate for during this. They really don’t want to feel complicit in helping you make money. But they do want a good story. So that’s what you, you know, so when I would look at stuff and if they had, Yeah, a story that felt that felt like it had something new about it and I could feel it would apply to lots of people, that would certainly make me interested.

Oh, the other thing, which I think is. Is so critical and I think is overlooked, or I’ve seen this overlooked quite a lot, is a lot of people think that they need to write some really snappy amazingly sort of weird headlines or a subject headed to an email to kind of get a journalist to stop scrolling and look. I think the mentality behind that is that that’s often what happens when scrolling on Twitter and that’s a shock tactic thing, but journalists are, if they take a story from, if they’re interested in a story, they need to kind of go repitch the story to their colleagues, to their editors. They have to handle the story on sometimes two different new shifts and take it back again and hand it back on.

Again, it’s a constant process of pitching and re-pitching going on. And because of that, because they’re not the single decision maker, nor the final decision maker either, if a better story comes along, you can get dropped at the very last minute from a television running order, for example, or straight out of a newspaper.

So you, as a journalist, what’s really critical to help this pitch is to have it coming from a decent, reliable source. Because if you go… news meetings can be quite scary and very direct. And if you go in there and say, I’ve got this great story and the editor says who’s it from? And if you can go, oh… they’ll just shut you down and move on.

So the source thing’s really important. So you need to help a journalist pitch you as the source of that story as well as the whole story and the way of doing that on a press release is to, at the very bottom of it, to put about, I put something about your business in around 50 words. And so when I got press releases, it was my job on the planning desk to find stories.

I would be scrolling through the headlines or what kind of stuff, first of all, you just see what this business or this, you know, this source said about themselves so that I could sort of think, Yeah, if that makes sense to me, if they were the right person to tell the story, you could tell an awful lot about what an organization is going to be like to work with from how it describes itself, if it knows itself. Journalists don’t really have time to handhold and take you through that whole like winning the trust process is the building relationships thing is, we might come on to that, but it is a bit of a, it can be a bit of a strange concept. I think that the corporate world has about working with journalists, you, the way you build a relationship is just straight up. Show yourself as a really strong, reliable source. And that will help you get quite a long way through the…

Alison Jones: So you have to think in terms of credibility when you’re sending stuff out, rather than showing how successful you are, you actually have to, I guess all the, all the sort of third party validations, you can, the accreditation’s the qualifications, the affiliations, all those things are really, really matter because they, they build trust immediately.

Felicity Cowie: They really do. And I think in some ways, this sort of about the name of your business at the bottom of a press release, there’s 50 word thing. In a way you can look at that as a mini story. That’s almost like a bit, you want that switch to be the scene, every press release you ever pitch. Ideally you want this to be very consistent information that journalists can see. They see it on your press release, then maybe they go and click on your website and see the same kind of information equity on your website, they start to trust you. It’s the same story and Yeah, you’re right. It’s, it’s a story that’s anchored in reality in the real world, it’s ideally showing where other humans have sort of trust and use you.

So in the case of a business, it’s not sort of saying are, you know, rock stars who are changing the world that really, really, you know, said what makes the journalist’s heart sink, is that kind of stuff? You might actually be quite a good company, but it’s really hard to tell from all of that. And it, journalists are never going to say that about you.

So it’s like, you need to kind of unpack really quickly for them and this sort of 50 words about the sort of like what you actually do in very few words, a very clear description of what you actually do, the headline of it, not what you might do in the future statement, but what you actually do, you know, we make cars to describe…

And I, and I do appreciate, I have this a lot of, for it, for companies who are doing very new things. And of course this is really exciting for journalists, but if it’s so new, you can’t describe it. Whereas it’s, you know, you’re going to start to fail their sort of test of being a reliable source. So you’re kind of juggling these things around together.

But it’s, it’s, I mean, the one thing to do before you start any media work is to really nail that down, that description about your business, because otherwise you can waste so much time and budget on amazing story ideas and getting consultants, all this kind of stuff. But if you can’t describe who you are, journalists just haven’t got the patience to deal with it.

And the real kicker with that, the real problem with that is sometimes you can submit a story and it’s actually quite a good story and the journalist, and I’m, I’m fully ashamed to admit that I would see this and think that’s, there’s a good story. And then I look at the source again and I think, oh, but I still don’t really know what they actually do, and why are they even telling me this anyway, like they make, because, and this is all about cakes, you know, or something. So then I think it’s still, I like the story. I don’t think… I’ll just Google around to see who else does this stuff. Oh, look, here’s an award-winning cake making company. Oh. And there’s their, their CEO has done some other media work and I don’t know…

And then I think, okay, I’ll go and do the story with them, and the worst thing is if that happens, you’ve pitched a story, the story gets taken, but they use your competitor instead of you. That’s, that’s fun if that happens so you, and you’ve done all that work for nothing, you know, you’ve kind of like ticked off like a journalist about a great story that you don’t benefit from.

So the source, who you are, it’s really, really important to get that nailed down. It also makes it an awful lot easier, as I was describing, because journalists, aren’t the final decision makers, what can happen, especially if say something like the BBC gets interested in you because you can be folded up an awful lot of times by an awful lot of different people who have forgotten the story who haven’t read it. You have to say the same almost like seven times. You have to say who you are and what you do. And what your story is. You have to have the patience for that. If you’ve already got this in your… you’ve already worked this out very carefully for yourself, it’s an awful lot easier to just sticking to that and just keep that consistent message coming out.

Alison Jones: That’s gold. That’s just such good pro tips. Thank you. I’m really interested Felicity because you have done this so much from the journalist angle, you’ve done it as a consultant, working with other people: what’s it like doing it for yourself?

Felicity Cowie: Yeah. Oh, this is so interesting because I have been on such a learning curve of writing this book. So yeah, so I’ve worked as a journalist for… I kind of started, I was about 15. I think I finished it when I was right about 35. It was quite a long time now. maybe the age of 19. And then, yeah, the work I’ve done to help organizations get coverage, I’ve done that since about 2010. So that’s quite a long time to work in this kind of arena and I’ve never done anything else. I’ve always worked in this, around this kind of area. So but then this is the first time ever I’ve been the sort of subject of media interest and doing a media relations campaign for my book, obviously, because I want it to get out to people. I want people to read it and benefit from it. And it’s been quite frightening. And I think mean, it took me two days to muster up the courage to open the box of copies of the book. And it’s been, but I, I think this has probably been the piece of the puzzle I needed. I mean, I guess, I guess not having that fear has made me the kind of, I don’t know which animal to say, but the kind of the pushy kind of like person sort of pushing the companies on saying, you need to do this, you have to think about this, do this. Why are you doing this? You know, I guess that, that bluntness and that lack of fear and knowing how things work has made me useful.

But, but what I have gained from being, being an author and being an entrepreneur myself, is just realization of Oh, I see!. There’s this massive fear of, of two things which are really paradoxical. And I think for what you really care about whilst it’s still, you’re like evolving because you know, all, all businesses are always evolving.

You can’t just wait till it’s done. And then you do your media relations kind of thing. You’re always going at a point where you’re like, Hmm, well, you know, we’ve got, just got to go for it, I mean, obviously do you work, but you can’t just do, there was no perfect business to put out there ever. So I think the, I think this is kind of, I hadn’t realized how frightening that was, I suppose and, and I suppose, so there’s this fear, then there’s a sort of guilt of like, oh, I’m doing stuff about myself and oh, and, and it’s not paid, it’s not instantly going into the, kind of the pipeline or the bank account.

So should I be spending time on this? That’s the thing I s truggled to understand with clients, who’ve booked me to do media relations and then there’s kind of like push pull thing, but I can see now it’s this kind of discomfort with work, which is, can be intangible when it comes to the figures, you know?

Well, is this going to deliver me X units of sales? I don’t know. But then the part of the, the other side of it is, is, is sort of fear of being seen. But then the other side of it is the absolute need to be seen because otherwise you kind of grow the business, which is all in your head. You haven’t got product market fit, you’re not testing anything out.

You don’t really know if you’re kind of just floating off, away, away from the world. That you’re very much trying to engage with. Not the whole reason for the book in itself. So Yeah, I mean, it’s quite torturous, really. I think being a figurehead, a founder, a leader, you know, somebody who has all this good reasons for doing it, fear and guilt.

And then, yes, slap into that, the whole kind of the uncertainty of what happens if you put this effort in it’s it’s, it’s extremely daunting. When I wrote the first draft of the book, I wrote seven reasons why, seven mega benefits of media coverage, which I think you could only get from media coverage, but actually I then had some beta readers and one of them works with a lot of closely with a lot of founders who are at the point of scaling their businesses.

And she said, oh, but you haven’t got external validation in there as a key reason for getting media coverage. And I thought, how fascinating, like the penny really dropped for me because I have worked with quite a lot of clients. In the early days, got a little bit frustrated with them because when I’ve said to what you want to get out of this, what you want out of media coverage, they don’t really have a definite answer.

And I’ve thought, well, you’ve already committed budget to me coming here. So didn’t you kind of think what you wanted me to do, you know? What, what’s my kind of like goals and objectives? But then I realized like there is this intangible, but very powerful need in this, which is to get some sort of… it’s not validation just to boost your ego, I think, Poorly understood. It’s validation that what you’re doing with your business actually matters out there in the world. And it’s a kind of like live testing as well, even if you’re an existing and successful business: does this play, you know, do people care about this? Do people react to this? Is it needed?

Obviously that’s fairly terrifying for any person to do, especially you know, if you’ve got your large company and you’ve got like staff and you’ve got shareholders and, and all of this it’s, you know, you want to look like, you want to look like an authority. You are an authority, you are an expert in what you do, but you have to kind of almost be willing to take the authority and test it.

It’s not how I don’t think. I think it’s evolving it to some extent. Journalists do find that interesting. Of course, I mean, they want you to be a reliable source and to know your stuff, but somebody who can kind of open right out and take things into a kind of a trend or an even bigger, even newer, even thing that affects even more people that does excite them quite a lot.

Alison Jones: Yeah. Finding a new angle. There’s only 70 stories, I guess. Yeah. It’s really fun. I want to talk to you. I want to carry on to my media relations and I just want to touch about writing the book. So I’m going to

Felicity Cowie: Okay.

Alison Jones: it, but I am going to talk about. Well, actually, you know what I’m going to do, I’m going to, I’m going to package it up in a question.

I’m going to say what’s your best tip for somebody writing their first business book? And maybe you could just tell us a little bit about the, sort of the way you went about it as part of the answer to that.

Felicity Cowie: Yeah, I think I, I wrote this book very quickly. I did your proposal challenge. that was obviously the 10 day challenge. And I then wrote the book, well it’s, that was in September, I think October, perhaps. And the book is officially published on the 14th of June. So…

Alison Jones: I mean, it’s phenomenally fast. I mean, when you say you did the challenge, Felicity, let’s not beat around the bush here. You did the challenge and you won it to be fair.

Felicity Cowie: Yeah. So of course I was. Yeah. I mean, I think, somebody believing in you and somebody who’s. Who you trust as well? You know, who’s got an experience that you don’t have. I mean, in my case, I don’t really know a lot or anything about, but politics that what I’ve done is covered as a journalist or for clients.

I don’t know, it’s not my area of expertise. So somebody who’s an expert in that field who values what you’re bringing. And, and actually through the process of writing the book, it attracted some beta readers who’s very, they work in very different fields from me, but they’re really just know their stuff.

And the foreword is written by a really key venture capital investor and really sweet thing, I suppose. It just feels so kind of beautiful was that the man who actually taught me how to be a journalist about a million horrifying, nothing about 30 years ago now and getting on for that, he actually has done a Q and A in the book as well.

So once people at that soft to get involved in the project I think.

I sort of said, oh, okay. You know, like they’re not going to get in, but I kind of was then into more of a team thing and it all felt a bit more, I don’t know. I felt that felt more real, I guess, is what we’re saying about this external validation.

Somehow it’s like feeling like it matters to other people, it’s finding its place in the world, but I think but my tip related to that, I hope sort of has come out is, is write about something you care about, not just something that, you know, because I know that this advice, like write what you know, and that’s true, but write about what you care about. And I think the reason I wrote this so quickly, it was because I think it was like, as soon as I swapped the newsroom and then started to work in the corporate world, it’s the same as fire in me because I. And I think that’s why I wrote the book so quickly because I cared about it so much.

Although that sounds like, oh my God, how’d you write that fast? It was burning off for such a long period of time. It was just waiting for this outlet. I think the challenge was really good cause it had a framework which helps with contain and scrutinize that fire. But I, yeah.

I mean, I really enjoyed being a journalist, but I, I found the constant covering sort of failures of communication and the kind of misery that, that resulted in for.

Hospitals countries you know, it just felt like I was kind of sitting at the end of a sort of string of communication failures and that I was reporting on them and then sort of adding to the problem because organizations are so afraid of being blamed by journalists that they sort of hide stuff that would talk about it, and then it will snowballs.

I thought it crossed the floor, thinking I want to go into organizations and use the communication skills earlier on in the process to help them figure stuff out before they hit the headlines for bad reasons. But when I crossed the floor, I was like, keep calling. And I went to work for companies. I just, I was so astonished at how poorly businesses are set up to actually have communications with each other. Everything I’ll take you for granted. And usually it’s like really purposeful short meetings focused around real facts and things that were just, just sort of such absence of so many of these things. I know I as that’s my book in itself, but I think

Alison Jones: Right here.

Felicity Cowie: I have, I just felt so strongly.

Like, I, I really. I really wanted to open up like some of the really good practices about journalists, as well as teaching people how to work with journalists so that they could sort of let start to see their most has engagement mistresses, you know, they have this incredible way of, I mean, I worked on breaking news.

There’s incredible way of like something completely disruptive, just suddenly happening. And within second minutes, it’s kind of on air as a coherent story. When I moved to the kind of corporate world, it would be like, It would be all this chaos. And it would be the day of the strategy reveal, which had been worked on for the best part of a year and had been diarized for that day for that.

But, you know, I just didn’t understand this kind of so hopefully as I’m talking, you can kind of pick up this kind of tremendous, I suppose, passion to write about this. ’cause I suppose, like a lot of people who write or who start businesses, they, they see a problem. They want to try and fix perhaps. So I guess that’s where it came from.

But I had to think about it quite a bit because I know, this, this, I could have taken different directions. I have to think. I suppose that sort of came out through the process. What, what matters the most that I’m most fired up about? Because everybody in their own areas has loads of different loads, different angles that they can take on things.

And it’s… that is actually quite hard, I think, to figure out what you want and I think for me that got a lot clearer. I think for some other people, they started to realize, oh, I’ve got several options here.

And they were going off to think about which one they wanted. So I think that’s, I think that’s great because not only do you spend a lot of time writing it.

If you want it to be successful, as I’ve just said about the fear of being seen you, you have to want to be able to stand by it and be quite proud of it. I say exactly the same thing to clients, but news stories do not try and put a little tiny story out there and hope nobody sees it. That’s just no point, you know?

But so yes, I think that would be my top tip. You know, find out what that fire is and try to sort of contain it so you can, so you can do something with it, but you need the fire in there. Yeah.

Alison Jones: Yeah, that’s a great tip. And actually there was another one embedded in there about getting people around you and involved and engaged, which is hugely energizing and validating and all that good stuff. Yeah. Brilliant. I’m going to ask you for a book recommendation as well for us. So you can’t nominate exposure, sorry.

That’s not allowed, but if you, if you, if you were to recommend that the listeners that should read a book, it doesn’t have to be business book. What what’s really…

Felicity Cowie: No, I think I’m tempted to recommend this book because it has, it was written, it was written by somebody who is a close friend of mine, so that’s full disclosure, but she has recently this week won a business book award for this book is called The Listening Shift and it is by Janie Van Hool, and it is published by you.

So of course, you know it, but I, this is not in any way. No in any way I set up, I feel, I want to mention this book because well firstly, if it wasn’t for Janie and that book, I wouldn’t have taken your challenge and I wouldn’t be doing this interview with you now. So there’s a kind of, you know, seeing the process that she went through, how she wrote the book, what she put into it, why she was doing her motivations for everything really resonated with me.

So there’s that. But I think the thing is as well, is that so in my job, Because I’m about the writing and the talking to the journalist and the external communications is sometimes sort of broadly badged, bachelor pals or media relations, whatever it’s a lot of my job is about talking and it’s about, you know, what’s the message.

What do we want to say? How do we want to be heard? But that’s one side of the process. And Janie’s book, The Listing Shift, obviously in the title is, is much more focused on another part of communication, which is about listening. And the more I kind of read that book and the more I thought about it, that the two things obviously are so close together listening, and I don’t know what the word would be. It’s not even just talking it’s of projecting what that, that is, but I think, and I think we live in really. Interesting times actually, where in a positive way, where the days of kind of the sort of fifties type adverts of like’ ‘ladies, clean your kitchen this evening’, and there’s kind of very patriarchal orders, a voice booming down and telling people like what to do because somebody decided it somewhere.

I think the kind of feedback loop we get from things like Twitter and LinkedIn and yes, I, of course I know it has a negative side to it as well, but we have this opportunity to listen. Going back to what I was saying about being afraid to be seen, but you need to be seen, you need to get this validation and you need to test your product because, you know, if you don’t get product market fit, it’s the main reason that startups and scale-ups fail.

So this is sort of live testing, is live talking about what you’re doing. But if you are accompanying that light with listening and taking in how that’s landing, where it’s landing all of that, that’s, it feels to me so critical that the two things have to go together. So I want to recommend that book because I think you need both both skills to work with the media. You need also to listen to your organization. You need to, I mean, when I’ve, when I’ve worked as a, sort of say firefighter or so troubleshoot where an organization has gone into quite significant difficulties and has asked me to help them get out of them with journalists, so many of these difficulties without any blame, but it’s just so much of this boils down to things not being heard, not being listened to, being kind of lost in the kind of passion for the quick win, ot the, like the story that appears to be a great story to go after. And, and there’s lack of listening, which can seem start off so small with such a small miscommunication, can just snowball into such a disaster

Alison Jones: Yeah, it’s so true. Isn’t it? You see all those awful PR sort of disasters, and you just know that somebody has been saying this in the organization for years probably, and just nobody’s been listening to them and then suddenly…

Felicity Cowie: Yes. And in some organizations, what can happen is the voices that do say, oh, well maybe should we just think about this a second? They’re often not listened to, or at worst kind of like just pushed out of the organization. And so as a, you know, as a leader, this ability to listen, isn’t just., You know, to be a good person or to develop your own personal skills. It’s, you know, it’s critical for keeping your company safe. And, and I do see this quite a lot when sometimes people who do what I do are brought in very much at the end of it for good or bad at the end of a process. And…

Alison Jones: Yeah.

Felicity Cowie: …it’s already at that point, when you start to ask questions that that sort of comes to light that, oh, actually we did, we weren’t going to do that.

But then we decided not to, oh, that person left at the end. You kind of, you start to, I’ve seen it so many times. It kind of all just goes back a little bit to things that were glossed over, or meetings that went on too long and then people just quit, just want it to end. So the person who’s said the, who’s got the best way of speaking often, or is more senior.

That idea is kind of passed along. But you know, when a journalist gets your press release at the end of this whole process, they don’t know anything about that process. And they just see a story with massive holes in it, which you’ve become blind to or just and they will get exposed. So listening in Europe is, is such a critical part of successful media relations. Definitely.

Alison Jones: Brilliant. And of course I couldn’t recommend the book highly more highly. That’s wonderful. Thank you. And Felicity, if people want to find out more about you or about exposure, more about what you do, where should they go?

Felicity Cowie: I have a website, which is the mediarelationscoach.com. And that is the place where, it has, it’s the most updated with what I’m doing, has information about the book and workshops and how to work with me and things like that. But like everybody else. LinkedIn and Twitter and I have quite an unusual name, so I’m usually fairly easy, easy to find.

But yes and yeah, very happy to to hear from anybody who wants to know more about working with journalists.

Alison Jones: Fantastic. I’ll put those links up on the show notes at extrordinarybusinessbooks.com, along with the transcript of this conversation. So if you want a masterclass in media relations, you just have a read of that. And and thank you Felicity, and I have to say personally, it was an absolute joy working with you. You were a model author.

Felicity Cowie: I’ve really enjoyed it so much.

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