“When you do ‘media relations’ your audience is not the public but journalists.”

Felicity Cowie

We sat down with Felicity Cowie, an award-winning former BBC News and Panorama journalist turned media relations troubleshooter. She has recently released a book: ‘Exposure: Insider Secrets to Make Your Business a Go-To Authority for Journalists’, which was called ‘a must-read for founders, a truly game-changing guide’ by venture capital investor Eileen Burbidge MBE.

Your new book ‘Exposure: Insider Secrets to Make Your Business a Go-To Authority for Journalists’ has just been released. What are the benefits of exposure for founders?

The biggest benefit of media coverage for founders is independent third party endorsement. No matter how great the content you create for your own channels, it will always be viewed as self-promotional. But when journalists choose to cover you, you effectively gain a turbo-charged testimonial from someone who has no direct involvement in your business but has chosen to feature you. Decision-makers seek reassurance and media coverage can give them a sense that you’ve stood up to scrutiny and performed well.

How is media relations different from public relations or marketing?

‘Media relations’ is simply the name of the process of working with journalists to get unpaid coverage for your business. You are most likely considering it because you want to reach some sort of public, such as investors, talent, customers or perhaps the wider world.

However, when you do ‘media relations’ your audience is not the public but journalists. You must appeal to and collaborate with them to get your messages out via their outlets. And journalists are under no obligation to do what you ask, you don’t get opportunities to read their stories before they publish them, and you cannot rely on any errors being put right. With ‘public relations’ and marketing you have much more control of the information you are giving the public because you can choose what you put on your social media channels or what you say at your events.

So, do we need to work with the media today at all?

If you already have a strong following and network which includes all the targets you want to reach, then probably not. There is no point in taking the risks involved in media relations work if you can get everything you want via your own channels. However, for many early-stage businesses they don’t have this. Or they struggle to ‘cut through the noise’ in their space and stand out from competitors and related businesses.

Founders who forsake media coverage as a ‘vanity project’ are missing early opportunities to scale. They, more than anybody else, know what they want to achieve. Being able to articulate this and share it authentically from the start accelerates attracting the talent, customers and investment critical for growth.

Where should I start as a business leader?

The best thing to do is think ‘long’. Look as far across your business as you can. What are the key things you hope to achieve in the coming year? Or if that’s too far out, in next 3 to 6 months. Now consider which of these things you most want to amplify, or to put it bluntly ‘show off about’. There may just be one thing e.g., you want to recruit key people in the next 6 months. Think about what will impress the people you want to attract.

What media will they be impressed by? They don’t necessarily need to see your coverage when it comes out. But you want to be promoting this coverage on your own channels so that when they do find you, or you go out proactively to them, they are impressed.

What’s the biggest mistake to avoid when working with journalists?

Not being able to describe your business in around 50 words which articulate in human language who are you, what do you do, how do you make it work, where/when do you make it work.

If you can do this you can rapidly win engagement from journalists who want to see you as a source they can trust, a source that knows itself and has nothing to hide. And if you can put this into clear and concise words on the bottom of your press releases you will find journalists use them, often word for word.