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Mum’s The Boss talk: How businesses can harness the power of traditional print media

Unless you’ve been living on another planet, you can’t have not heard the increasing buzz over businesses building their public profile through engaging their existing customers and potential new ones through social media.

Underneath all this new-fangled noise and bluster though, if you listen very carefully you can still hear a constant older hum and it’s one which often provides the original content these digital channels so sorely need and consumers still rate surprisingly highly in terms of trust.

This older ‘hum’ was the subject of an informal talk – ‘How to harness the power of traditional media’ – I delivered to a 15-strong child-friendly networking group Mum’s The Boss, in Sheffield this Tuesday. As I explained to the group, even though social media is grabbing everyone’s attention, it’s the editorial content of traditional media, like magazines and newspapers, which still tend to set the news agenda and are likely to carry on doing so for some time to come.

I talked everyone through three simple steps towards gaining editorial coverage for their businesses: Step 1: Focus on your target media, Step 2: Uncracking the print media code (what makes titles tick & how consumers regard editorial) and in Step 3 I showed everyone a couple of articles I’d placed as a journalist and asked them to start thinking like editors…

Special mention goes to the ‘honourary’ female at the meeting, Jon Hilton, MD of Pulse Rate Training Ltd – and the first ever male attendee of Mum’s The Boss South Yorkshire!

Here’s 5 more top tips to help businesses create positive headlines:
• Great stories are media gold dust! Brands who understand the power of personal stories have more success connecting with their audience, being remembered and creating brand loyalty.
• If you don’t already know your target media, research it! Buy the title & study it or look at their online offer. If they have website, look on advertisers section as will have details about their audience demographic, official circulation figures and other useful info.
• When you’re ready to approach a title with your story, write a short, well-written and informative press release, include a photo & always email to a named journalist/section editor. Build connections with these journalists – you might not strike lucky at first but learn to understand what they’re looking for as they are the gatekeepers to unlocking great editorial coverage.
• In many national female consumer magazines (and some newspapers or trade titles) if you are talking about your personal story to highlight your business it’s often acceptable for your website details to be featured in the article. Many womens’ magazines also permit copy approval to interviewees (this will mean final version of the article will be read to you over the phone) – if in doubt, ask.
• Once your story is out in local press, be aware there is a good chance it will get picked up by national media – (this is how many national stories are still sourced by journalists).

So don’t believe the hype. Print isn’t dead (not quite yet anyway). And great editorial coverage still has immense value.


Taking stock and snapping smiles

Photo credit: Richard Bolam Digital Media

Even though I’ve built my career on writing, thirteen years on from my first paid work as a journalist I remain fascinated by the process of getting the words which start somewhere in your head down onto paper (or, more often than not these days, laptop screen).

At the risk of sounding as though I have a mild, somewhat geeky super-power, I can usually hear the text spoken somewhere in my grey matter before the words work down to my fingers. So I put this question to the other wordsmiths out there (just because I’m interested to know): How do you work your magic? Do the fingers start moving before you know how you’re going to finish the sentence? All comments most welcome!

I’m taking stock of this text-based creative process because, as from next week, I’ve been knocking out these weekly blog posts for your enlightment and entertainment for five uninterrupted months.

In the grand expanse of the bloggarati world, this represents a mere click of a mouse. In my world though, steeped in the grand old tradition of print media, this small personal challenge has loomed pretty large. You could say, dear reader, it’s been a case of no pain, no gain.

I’m glad I’ve stuck with blogging – without a doubt it’s paid off and breathed new life into my professional world. And as someone who’s worked solo for a long time, it’s been a fantastic boost to receive supportive feedback from contacts old and new, so thank you – and please keep them coming!

A great blog needs an authentic voice. For some who are further immersed in the techy/online world than myself, this translates to simply posting a series of links they found interesting/useful. The voice for stellamedia speaks is still organically forming but from the outset I’ve treated my postings in the same way a newspaper columnist gets their day job done. The constant question has been: ‘What do I write about this week?’

So that’s why I got to pondering the process of what happens to me when I’m faced with a blank screen every week. There I sit, fingers poised over keyboard, waiting for my super-power to kick in. Sometimes this happens fast, sometimes the ‘voice’ comes through as faint whisper.

This week I had a screamer. ‘Why not tell everyone about your Facebook group about smiley faces?’ So I’m telling you about it. It’s called ‘The first time I ever saw your face’ and was sparked by the rather odd but harmless habit I started forming of taking photos of ‘faces’ everywhere I went. Suddenly I found myself capturing visages in buildings, trees, gadgets, food…and so the list went on.

I soon discovered I wasn’t the only snapper who did this. Once I created the group and started posting my (mostly) smiley snaps, others soon followed suit. Today I’m proud to say there’s 115 members from many corners of the globe. If you fancy joining, please feel free:

Keep on smiling!

Sheffield’s big conversation

Image: An illustrated example of one of the ideas received.
Source: Sheffield City of Culture team

Once a journalist, always a journalist. Talking to ‘ordinary people’, finding out what the real story is, watching an organic, exciting event come to life – I’ll never get tired of being in the thick of these sweet slices of life.

And last week, I was thrilled to witness this spirit was alive and well in Sheffield, at ‘What’s Your Big Idea? event, held by the Sheffield City of Culture 2013 team.

Sheffield, keep on speaking up!

Here’s more about the event, from the SCC team:

The team behind Sheffield’s UK City of Culture bid undertook the largest arts and culture consultation that the city has ever seen last week. The ‘Sheffield City of Culture: What’s Your Big Idea’ event, which took place on Friday 16th April at The Circle from 8.30am – 8.30pm, saw hundreds of people of all ages and walks of life turn up to share their ideas for arts and culture in Sheffield – well exceeding the target of 1000 big ideas!

Amy Carter, Head of Arts at Sheffield City Council, was thrilled by the enthusiasm and ingenuity of the Sheffield public: “People seemed to come in their droves, full of great thoughts and ideas for the city. Some people were waiting outside for the doors to open at 8.30am! Many simply wrote their ideas down, however others drew pictures, created collages and even sang their ideas to us.

“Some people were engaged in long conversations and constructive debates with members of the bid team, and guest facilitators from the cultural sector, including leading artists, festival directors, choreographers and musicians, were on hand to discuss the bid and help capture and explore people’s ideas.”

Visitors were encouraged to think broadly, use their imaginations and think beyond restriction to come up with exciting programme ideas for 2013. An impressive 41 blank canvasses were filled, 11 huge paper table cloths were covered in ideas and the suggestion box was over flowing.

The ideas received encompassed:

supporting and showcasing Sheffield’s new talent
taking the city’s existing great events to a new level
capitalising on the power of dance as a way of bringing people together
a range of ideas about how art can improve people’s health
using the cities topography as a stage to promote community arts and music
reflecting the city’s reputation for independent thinking in the 2013 programme

The very best of the ideas will be included in the final bid to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport which will be submitted on 21st May 2010.

Amy concludes: “It was fantastic to see such enthusiasm for the bid and a real desire from the Sheffield public and businesses to make the bid a success. We look forward to carrying the ideas forward, developing them and really creating something amazing in 2013!

“If you have an idea that you would like to share with us, then you can still do so by visiting”

The world wide egg: How do you share yours?

My initial courtship with what’s now a significant other in my life had the most mundane and ordinary of beginnings. For one thing, our first date wasn’t in a swish location – ‘we’ started in a stuffy and crowded office.

Neither did I have the thrilling luxury of a one-to-one, intimate encounter. Instead I had to sit at a special computer, within the buzzing features desk of the busy weekly magazine where I worked.

Back then, in 1998, no-one I knew expected anything different. The doorway I was about to open wasn’t the swing one we now take for granted, forever at the tips of our click-ready fingers. In many ways, this 24-hour culture was still the stuff of science fiction – a mere technological twinkle in the eyes of the Geekarati.

Yes, dear reader, I’m talking about the first time I set up my first private, web-based email account. Of course, I already had a virtual address, provided by work and strictly used for business.

Only once I started my personal, pleasure-based relationship with email, another tantalising world opened up to me. Keeping in touch with friends, ordering gig tickets, shopping, sharing photos (or as back then, a never-ending supply of silly jokes)…all this and more seemed so much simpler, quicker and…well, fun, than ever before.

You can guess how the rest of my email relationship has developed. There are times when I love its capacity for brevity, others when I curse the reams of messages I inevitably sift through, but really could I give email up? Would I want to? Never!

Other later communication milestones in my life also started out in this similar, nonchalent manner – YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook were once optional amusing extras in my life but now I couldn’t imagine my future without them.

Still, while I’m devoted to social media, I can understand the bewildered reaction many people still have to this vital part of my life. ‘Why,’ they might ask, ‘do you Tweet about an event you’ve just been to?’ Maybe I’d watch their confused faces when I tell them I share photos of the latest cake I’ve just baked with those I’m virtually connected to.

My answer to such bemused protests would be simple. My online presence works for me because I enjoy feeling connected and sharing with others. My life feels richer for it. I’d like to think the effect of my internet comings and goings is a two-way street.

Of course, the internet is a double-edged sword. For every person who gains connections, there’s one who loses their grasp on their close tangible, relationships. You know the scenes so well they’ve become well-worn cliches. The teenager playing video games until his thumbs bleed, the lonely married virtually cruising for company…

As a journalist, I’ve written endless ‘internet love cheat’ stories. On the other hand, I think of another batch of articles I’ve brought to the world – the ‘online reunions of long-lost mum/dad/sister.’

All in all, I look at the internet in a positive light. For me, it’s not a ‘faceless’ world but one founded on freedom.

Whether that means sharing knowledge, information and opinion or building friendships beyond physical boundaries or pioneering modern ways of balancing careers with home life – just like the Easter eggs being devoured this weekend – the world wide web was made for sharing.

So am I right? Do you think the internet is friend or foe?

Let’s share!

Between a stone and a chatty place

Interviews bring out the good, the bad and the plain old bizarre in people. In my 13-year career as a journalist, I must have gone through this simple, but deceptively-skilled, Q + A process several hundreds of times – often talking to people who have never before sat down to delve into the details of their personal ‘story’ with anyone close to them, never mind an official member of the press.

In this situation, my default state of mind confidently clicks into relaxed auto-pilot, steering the talk with firm but friendly control. Within seconds of beginning an interview, it’s amazing how many people I come across who can be placed into three main ‘types’ of talker.

First, there’s the sort who is journalistic gold: they chat easily but don’t ramble, reel off dates of birth, times of weddings, clothes sizes, baby’s birth weights and whatever other details I ask them about to make their story spring to life on the page.

Next, there’s the cul-de-sac gassers, who erratically jump from one decade in their lives to another, starting off anecdotes with no endings or apparent relevance to the subject in hand. With a bit of reigning in, we usually reach our destination, despite the many wrong turns and dead ends!

Finally, there’s the blood-out-of-stone people. You know the sort. You ask a long, detailed question, wait expectantly for a reply but are lucky to get one that consists of a few, half-mumbled words. Silence is my most effective tool when these moments strike. Give these ‘stones’ space and they will – sooner or later – speak.

I hate to pigeon-hole, but men tend to fall into this category, unless they’re celebrities or for whatever other reason have been trained to speak to the media. Does this mean women are natural chatterers then? Or just more willing to talk about the ins and outs of their lives?

In the past week, I experienced yet another interview. Only this time, I was the one facing the questions. Despite my old-hand experience, I have to admit I had a few nerves. ‘Shall we start?’ I was asked confidently, as a mic was thrust into my hands. Then off we went…

My role-switch over, I’d like to think I fell into the first of my three makeshift categories for the radio journalist, studying at University of Sheffield, who been keen to record my thoughts about Sheffield’s bid to become City of Culture 2013 for her final year project.

With my journalist’s hat on, this temporary swap of professional shoes was a great way of reminding myself good communication means getting under the skin of the person you’re connecting with.

After all it’s their story you’re telling. So it’s my job to listen up, take note – and let even the hardest stone have a chance to speak.

Happy talk!

It’s real life! Just beware the distorted lens

Enter the warped land of the documentary and you could be forgiven for assuming the topics they often focus their beady little wobbly cams on are like the broadcasting equivalent of your proverbial local bus. Essentially, it only needs one fly-on-the-wall screening of an in-depth analysis of a subject then all of a sudden, another similar broadcasting brand gets to grip with this suddenly ‘hot’ topic.

And so it was last week, when ‘Secrets for Sale’ – a programme following the features team at Real People magazine going about their day-to-day business of creating a weekly real life magazine – was aired on BBC1. Three nights later, C4 screened Cutting Edge’s ‘My Daughter Grew Another Head’ detailing an assortment of journalists, readers and the people who willingly share their stories in this sector of the print media.

As someone who’s spent much of her journalistic career writing almost every type of human interest story you could possibly imagine (believe me, dear reader, the truth is far weirder – and indeed more interesting – than fiction) for these titles and many others like them, on one level I was savouring every second of both these shows. It was a pretty odd sensation to see so many familiar faces and former desks where I’d sat working as a freelancer – yes, right there on my TV screen!

I wasn’t the least bit surprised they focused on the more salacious and seedy side of the women’s real life magazine market – which remains huge, compared to the sales figures of aspirational glossies such as Cosmopolitan. After all, this apparently neutral view of ‘the truth’ behind the ins and outs of this world was being filtered through the decidedly dumb and ultimately thick lens of so-called ‘investigative’ television.

After the final credits had rolled, I still found myself asking one question. Why do the middle classes get so affronted by someone (who’s usually broadly-speaking working class), agreeing to share their personal story in print and receiving a fee from the magazine they appear in, for their time and trouble? For far too long, access to the non-news media was effectively out-of-reach to large swathes of the British public. And then real life magazines came along. You can shout ‘patronising’ and ‘exploitative’ as loud as you like, but why does telling your story to a broadsheet – which will also be printed to the fit the angle they want – without receiving payment give you any high ground? In many cases, freelancers might offer the same story to that’s life! as to The Guardian. It’s the same ‘truth’ but with distinctly different audiences.

Throughout both these shows, I was feverishly tweeting (updating on Twitter, for those who aren’t fluent in social media) with other seemingly Guardian-worshipping viewers. The sheer venom and ignorance in their messages was unnerving and left a distinctly bitter taste in my mouth. Real life magazines may not be the reading matter of choice for one group in society but they have as much right to exist on the newstand as their glossier and perfume-scented cousins.

Now, let me step off my soap box, as I have more news about Sheffield’s bid to become the UK’s first City of Culture 2013.

Last Friday, I caught the Radio 4 show ‘You and Yours’ which profiled my great home city and discussed the possible economic benefits this award would bring to Sheffield. University research, conducted to determine the financial impact for Liverpool after the city had gained its title as European City of Culture, concluded the award had brought 9.7m additional visitors to the area and the overall economic impact totted in at a hefty £753m.

Sheffield City Council have set aside £150,000 to spend on the bidding process and project the economic impact on the city if the bid’s successful could be around £10m.

In these austerity-ridden times, who can deny this prospect sounds especially welcome….whatever your taste in magazines?

Happy reading!

Links: my-daughter-grew-another-head-and-other/4od

Life’s a stage – so keep your focus and mind that perspective!

It’s just as well there’s no evil pay-per-hour penalty charge god, who imposes whopping fines for straying out of our comfort zones because I would have been in danger of being declared bankrupt over the last week…

Reason one: I found myself ‘starring’ in the crucial end scenes of a friend’s short film which she’s creating and entering into a competition. While you wouldn’t remotely call my silent appearances acting, for an intense few hours I was urged to pose, pose and pose again, continually channeling diva-like thoughts, while cutting an identical array of striking poses on a real pock-marked theatre stage. There were masses of lights, an army of tripods and countless camera cuts – all focused on me in a classic cocktail dress!

My snapshot into the movie game has left me with a different perspective about actors – and a renewed respect for anyone who has the resilience of mind and body to grind relentlessly away in the film-making industry. Behind the perceived razzle-dazzle of the big screen, there’s a shed load of elbow grease, brute force and sheer tenacity of spirit encapsulated in clips which often only exist for a few seconds of screen time. All that monumental effort – so easily lost in the blink of an eye. Watch this space for details of my film debut(popcorn not included!).

Reason two: Back in the real world, I sat whizzing through my grand tactical plan to increase my reach into the copywriting field, at a meeting with a business adviser, when he wedged a small spanner into the cogs of my well-oiled marketing machine. ‘Rather than re-inventing the wheel,’ he said. ‘Look at what your competitors are doing….’

Shrugging off my slightly-battered ego, I duly accepted his point. My brilliant writing skills and media expertise may be invaluable to any number of companies but convincing corporate clients this could be an uphill struggle, as many time-strapped and budget-restricted small businesses are looking for an easy solution to their marketing and publicity needs – a one-stop PR shop.

So from now on part of my strategy to win such business, is to team up with a local like-minded web designer, photographer and possibly printing company to offer tailored communication packages. If you can’t beat ’em…

Another day, another meeting(it’s been that kind of week) with my fabulous self-appointed professional mentor. Suddenly I was finally guided back onto familiar territory. ‘Forward-thinking brands recognise the power of storytelling,’ she told me. ‘That’s where all your writing experience for magazines will really shine through…’

Steering away from my comfort zone, being scrutinsed and getting these new perspectives made me refocus on the value of the path I’ve been treading as a journalist.

And far from being lost, I’m ready to put my best foot forward again. But acting? I’ll do you all a massive favour and stick to my day job.