Every think tank comms professional dreams of making their annual publication the story du jour. I know many of you will be familiar with those first moments when you wake up and nervously turn on your radio and check your phone to see how many of the scheduled broadcast and print pieces have made it live.
This year our press campaign for Cities Outlook 2014, Centre for Cities’ annual health check of UK cities, yielded the coverage of our dreams. We were the lead story all morning on BBC Radio 5 Live, front page of the Independent and landed page leads in the FT, the Times and the Guardian. Our report led the Today Programme and rounded off Newsnight. And even featured in Time Out, and our analysis was satirised by the Daily Mash. All of this drove significant traffic to the report, which has been downloaded over 20,000 times in the first three weeks alone.
Many think tanks are regularly at the heart of the news agenda. The Resolution Foundation, who recently released their annual review of living standards, is a strong example of an organisation that runs fantastic, agenda-setting campaigns. But for peers who work in communications for think tanks covering policy areas that may be less obviously of public interest, achieving blanket press coverage can be more challenging.
Here are a few of the things we think helped us to secure the coverage we did for the report:
1) Building the foundations of the story early
Early meetings with the project team can be challenging for major reports, but in getting the messaging right for Cities Outlook, we found them invaluable. Many of you reading this will be only too familiar with the healthy tension that should exist between External Affairs, whose job it is to develop a strong story for a press campaign, and Research, whose job it is to ensure that the rigorous work they have done is communicated accurately. With Cities Outlook we were able to get this balance right which delivered a strong combination of compelling top line messages with robust analysis underpinning them.
2) Reacting to the news agenda
Our story this year focused on the role of London in the national economy as the recovery gathers pace. We had identified that this would be a strong theme during economic recovery, and this was reinforced by national commentary on this issue. Many column inches have been dedicated to the nature of the economic recovery, who is benefiting, and in particular, the role of London – in December, for example, Vince Cable had called London a ‘giant suction machine’, draining the rest of the country of talent.
Recognising the interest in where recovery is happening, we looked specifically at private sector job creation and identified the most interesting statistics – for example, that London had created 80% of private sector jobs between 2010 and 2012. We also looked at people stories, particularly at the movement of people between cities which showed that one in three of all twenty-somethings who moved cities moved to London. Publishing in January allowed us to capitalise on the public and political interest in the nature of the economic recovery, and engage with the debate about ‘London vs the rest of the UK’.
3) Getting feedback from journalists
We found that speaking to a targeted group of journalists that we know well the month before the report launch helped us to gauge and to respond to their reactions on the story. Crucially, this allowed us to sharpen the pitch to media ready for the main sell in, closer to the report launch.
4) Different angles for different media
We are very spoiled with Cities Outlook – it is a treasure chest of fascinating facts, so our job as an External Affairs team each year is to think how we can make the most of this wealth of material to generate maximum coverage. This year, during our national sell in we pitched different angles which meant that the coverage we received was more varied. To maximise local coverage we developed local factsheets showcasing how individual cities compared against others across the indicators we measure. This meant that local journalists had more of a bespoke approach from which to base their stories. This led to over 500 local print and broadcast hits.
5) Making it visual
We worked with many journalists, including the BBC Online team, to ensure that they had access to our full data sets, and that it was interpreted to make strong visual impact on the reader through infographics and maps. This meant that on the day of the launch there were various charts and maps on different sites which helped to direct visitors to the report.
6) Social media campaign
We tied in our press campaign with a twitter and blog campaign which helped to showcase the research and drive traffic to the site. We had prepared key stats from the report ready for tweeting throughout the day of the launch and the weeks following. We also tweeted at local MPs and local journalists to draw their attention to relevant data. In the three weeks following Cities Outlook we picked up over 300 followers on Twitter and Centre for Cities was mentioned in tweets on the day of the launch 320 times.
There is one final factor that worked in our favour for this year’s Cities Outlook – lady luck. All the planning and preparation in the world won’t stop your campaign from being railroaded by a big national story. We have had previous campaigns pushed down the news agenda as a result of stories as diverse as extreme weather to the birth of Prince George. We had a strong story on the day, supported by all of the factors above, but we were also lucky that the news agenda was on our side.