Pitch Craft Guide to Media Pitching: Secure Press Coverage

Pitch Craft Nellie PRSecure earned media coverage with my Pitch Craft Guide to Media Pitching. 

What a perfect Halloween day or rather a good enough spooky excuse to face some of your fears or rather one of your fears – the fear of media pitching or selling in your story to a journalist or blogger to secure media coverage.

Many businesses I talk to are scared to pitch their story for fear of rejection. And even if you work in PR and comms, you know that pitching is a craft that takes skill especially when you take into consideration the volume of emails that journalists receive daily. I’ve also witnessed experienced PR people wince at the thought of pitching especially if it means that they have to pick up the phone.

But don’t let fear hold you back. Media pitching doesn’t have to be scary. Indeed, once you’ve got a few successful pitches under your belt, you’ll come to love it, just like I do.

To help you, here are some Pitch Craft treats from me your friendly PR Witch – only at Halloween mind (the witch part that is) as I’m friendly all year round and really know my stuff when it comes to pitching.

Pitch Craft Treats for You

Get over Yourself

Remember, journalists, freelancers, bloggers, and the like need you as much as you need them. They need stories, they need ideas and content. If you’ve got a great story and something to say, want to say it and would benefit from some amazing press coverage (what business wouldn’t), brush up your Pitch Craft skills and get over yourself.

Why? Because it’s not about you. The end readers and viewers need to come first – answer the why or rather the ‘so what’ to make sure your pitch takes into account what the end audience wants to read, see or hear. The more you understand that audience, the better your pitch will be and you will focus on the outlet that is right for your audience.


Keeping with the Halloween theme – do you have a hook?

By hook, I mean a strong story that fits the publication/outlet in question such interesting and independent research, reaction to timely issues or news, follow-up or the promise of a case study.

In the main, the media isn’t interested in product news unless you’re talking the latest tech or selling in product for a specific feature. If that is the case, pitch away but make sure you don’t forget your hook – the thing that will make you stand out.

If you’re stuck for a hook, monitor the news for key issues in your industry. Google Alerts is a good free tool for this and could give you the hook you need to get in touch with the journalist that has just covered a particular issue – offer them a different angle or an opposing view, for example.


Do your research. Is there a particular publication that you want to get in? Make sure you do your research and understand what exactly they are looking for and what taking part will entail. For example, if you’re looking for a slot on BBC 5 Live or BBC Breakfast that means an early start (so you have to be up for that and available) and the broadcast media will expect a busy and visual backdrop – so that will mean that you need to get your staff in early. Don’t promise and then not be able to deliver – you don’t tend to get second chances.

When checking out the publication or media outlet, you’ll see what sort of stories they cover and what sort of opportunities are available such as:

  • Features list or editorial calendar detailing the up-and-coming schedule – so you can time and pitch your comment in line with what they’re looking for
  • Submission guidelines – take note of these (same applies to blogs) – check out submission guides or ways you can work with me/contribute/FAQs) and follow the rules i.e. submit a synopsis first and ensure that the content is unique and hasn’t been featured elsewhere
  • Guest blog post – lots of publications give you the opportunity to submit guest blog posts. Again, follow the rules and if you get an opportunity, make sure you deliver and stick to the word count
  • Think beyond the obvious – there are some great podcasts, Twitter chats, and speaker opportunities. Take your time to understand the opportunities and where you could plug a gap or offer something different.

No opportunities or guidance listed? Drop a line to the publication in question. Many publications will issue a regular email to their PR contacts to let them know what is coming up with synopses and contact details. Make sure you’re on the mailing list.

If you’re a member of a business association, read this post: why being a member is great for PR

Be Personal but not over Familiar

Make sure you have the right person to pitch your story to. For example, if you’re a small business – focus on the small business correspondent and take the time to read/watch/listen to their previous work – so you know exactly what they want to write about or the type of stories they like to feature.

Remember, much of the media use freelancers so take the time to research and get to know the freelancers that write for the publication/outlet you want to feature in.

Here are some tips on finding the right contact and creating your very own media list.


Tailor your pitch. Spend time crafting it to the right person and make direct reference to the target end audience and the content you can supply.

Get straight to the point – bring in your hook and answer the who, what, where, when, why. Want to know what a successful pitch looks like or get feedback on a pitch of your own? Join my PR that PAYS programme or sign-up to my email newsletter list to be alerted (not spooked) with dates of my Pitch Craft workshops.

My next Pitch Craft training workshop is in July 2019.


If you’re pitching to broadcast highlight the visual nature of the story or interview backdrop.

For radio, stress the fact that you can get to a local BBC studio (other studios are available) or that you’re happy to come into the studio.

Highlight your credibility (if pitching yourself forward) or the credibility of your spokesperson. For example, include a link to previous TV or radio footage to enable the journalist to check them out for suitability and a short biography so that the journalist/producer can check that they have the right experience.

For print and online, great photography, imagery as well as video footage (online) matters so include a link to a great photo(s) and highlight what imagery/footage/audio you have available. If you’re pitching to a particularly time-pressed visual publication (think interiors/fashion etc.) you can also embed the cut out image into the email so the journalist can see the visual straightaway.

Highlight the things that set you apart and show that you are the person to speak to i.e. the number of staff you employ, the oldest, where you are based for local pick-up, for example.


Having good timing helps.

For example, you don’t want to pitch a story too late. As a guide, in magazine land, Christmas is Christmas in July for a reason and glossy print magazines will work months in advance. Pitching something to a Sunday paper, make sure your pitch is there before Thursday.

Time your event so the media can cover it i.e. local TV needs to get to the event, film, get back to the studio and edit all in time for their slot.

Think key dates and issues – piggyback in advance of reports and figures such as the Budget, retail figures, ONS figures (the list goes on and on) and issue-jump on news coming out i.e. high profile documentary, third-party statistics, and reports.

When it comes to timing, also have a think about quiet news times. For example, Christmas can be a quiet time when a publication’s usual contacts are away on holiday meaning that you might get the chance to put forward your spokesperson, get the outlet to do a pre-record or secure some more detailed press coverage.

I’ve used quiet times to get some fantastic footage and press coverage ‘in the can’ to run over the festive period.

Be quick, if you are responding to a journalist request, including #journorequest on Twitter (not what it was but still useful for the odd opportunity) the early bird often catches the worm. The same goes for media requests you sign up for.

For more Pitch Craft advice, including tips on subject lines and how to build long term relationships, sign-up to my email newsletter for tips on PR that PAYS. You’ll also be the first to hear about my online workshops and PR training courses. My next Pitch Craft media pitching workshop takes place 16 July 2019 in Bristol.

In the meantime, good luck and here are some tips from me on making the most of your press coverage: 20 ways you can amplify your press coverage.

Looking to be more strategic with your PR? Join my PR that PAYS programme or check out ways you can work with me

Ellen Carroll

PR champion with a passion for profitable PR and newsworthy content. Setting up Nellie PR in 2007, Ellen has over 20 years’ experience in the PR and marketing industry.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook

20 Ways to Amplify your Press Coverage

Amplify press coverage
All too often, you secure some long-awaited press coverage but then fail to make the most of your success. But success breeds success, and press coverage is just the same. Indeed, the more earned press coverage you achieve – the more likely you are to get more.

Follow these #PRthatPays tips and I’ll show you how you can amplify your press coverage and sustain your PR.

  1. Say thanks – keep a record of your press coverage and always say thanks to the journalist or blogger that has taken the time to write about you
  2. Use your press coverage as a hook for your social media to build engagement.  You could also use it as a hook for a talk, workshop or even just a reason to pick up the phone to a client or prospect
  3. Ask the publisher if you can turn the press coverage into a PDF or printed direct mail piece – great for existing clients and new prospects
  4. Share it to boost its reach and impact.  Use coverage in your social media tweetables, creating your own imagery to increase engagement and drive traffic – be visual.  Don’t be afraid to share and promote your press coverage frequently. This will help you get found. Remember, journalists use Google too and your press coverage could come up in their searches when looking for someone to interview and feature
  5. Showcase your coverage in your press kit to further illustrate your credibility as a media spokesperson. You can make your press kit available as a download from your website and share on LinkedIn
  6. Ask yourself – is there still life in the story? Look to adapt, expand on and re-purpose
  7. Use it in award entries, crowdfunding or funding bids to back up your entries and secure support. People like to back a success story
  8. Use to pitch for interviews with your membership body/associations/publications that you are a member of, and seek out blogger/guest blog opportunities too
  9. Add media logos to ‘as seen in’ imagery that can be used across your social media profiles and online. You can get permission from the publisher for featuring logos/mastheads
  10. Build relationships with the journalist that has interviewed you – keep in touch so that when another opportunity presents itself, they know who to call
  11. Utilise press coverage to secure other press interviews and coverage – piggyback on the news agenda using your press coverage to help prove your suitability as an expert spokesperson
  12. Keep track of your coverage to understand its impact on your domain authority, referrals, and even new business
  13. Make sure the press coverage is shared and promoted internally – it can be great for staff morale
  14. Add a link to your press coverage in your email sign-off
  15. Use coverage topics as the basis of more detailed blog posts or social media comments/LinkedIn updates
  16. Get hard copies of press coverage and frame it for your very own coverage wall, showcase in your visitors’ book or on a company celebration wall
  17. Add coverage links to your website bearing in mind copyright rules. Having an online press room can help you secure more press coverage as it illustrates your credibility
  18. Share with clients – send them a link to relevant press coverage or even a hard copy
  19. Showcase coverage in your email newsletter
  20. Film short video pieces or short clips for your YouTube channel, building on the advice you gave in your press coverage, for example.

There you have it: 20 Ways to Amplify your Press Coverage. 

Would you like more #prthatpays tips like these 20 Ways to Amplify your Press Coverage? Please sign up to my PR that Pays newsletter.


This blog post was inspired by this handy download by Bryony Thomas of Watertight Marketing fame: One Piece of Content 20 Ways to Use it – to really help you squeeze every last drop of value out of your content.

Ellen Carroll

PR champion with a passion for profitable PR and newsworthy content. Setting up Nellie PR in 2007, Ellen has over 20 years’ experience in the PR and marketing industry.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook

Why being a member is great for PR

Are you a member of an association, membership body or business organisation? If so, did you know your membership could help you secure press coverage, PR opportunities and even more business?

When journalists go a looking for a businesses to interview around specific issues and trends, or comment on the back of the publication of reports or statistics they often go a calling on the likes of the British Chamber of Commerce, FSB, Enterprise Nation and EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, to name a few.

My top #prthatpays tip is to make sure your membership body is aware of you, your story, and knows that you are happy to be interviewed by the press or act as a case study. Build a relationship with its press office and ask to join its mailing list (if they have one) so you get an email when they put the call out for businesses to interview or put themselves forward to provide comment. Don’t forget to follow them on social media especially Twitter where they will also post out PR opportunities and media requests.

Many of the bigger membership bodies and associations also publish their own reports and are frequently interviewed by the press, so need businesses like yours to provide comment and bring their reports to life.

I’m a firm believer that you get out what you put in so take the time to pull together a membership action plan – contribute, share your knowledge and take the time to seek out opportunities such as awards, guest blogging, speaker slots, offer referral and discount codes for its members, and maybe even run a masterclass or two. The opportunities are there – go get them and sustain your PR for the long-term building your reputation and relationships.

You don’t just have to take my word for it:

“We get numerous requests for case studies from all types of media, from the trades through to the national written and broadcast outlets. They are an invaluable resource by which we get important messages across to the public and policymakers about the importance of manufacturing.

“It’s not only about ensuring our important voice is heard, however. We’re aware of a number of instances where companies have gained valuable business from appearing in the media, so it can be a win win for companies themselves and our sector.”

Mark Swift, Head of Communications, EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation.

For more #PRthatPays tips, sign-up to my newsletter.

Credits & More Information:

Background image from Unsplash.

PR that Pays is a PR mentoring programme for PR and comms professionals, business leaders and owners.  Delivered by Ellen Carroll to help you achieve and demonstrate real PR impact on your business.   For more details, visit PR that Pays.

Ellen Carroll

PR champion with a passion for profitable PR and newsworthy content. Setting up Nellie PR in 2007, Ellen has over 20 years’ experience in the PR and marketing industry.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook

Interview with Mark Swift, Head of Communications at EEF

Behind the business scenes

A monthly chat with the often-unseen public relations and communications professional – behind the business scenes one PR person at a time.

Mark Swift, EEF, PR comms

Mark Swift, Head of Communications at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation

From trainee pilot to Sliding Doors, probably the best ten pounds he’s ever spent, and a real-life living and breathing advert for the power of advertising  – pull up a chair, grab yourself a cuppa and enjoy my interview with Mark Swift, Head of Communications at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation – I certainly did.

Name: Mark Swift

Title: Head of Communications

Company: EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation

Blog: https://www.eef.org.uk/campaigning/news-blogs-and-publications/blogs

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EEF_Press

Mark, please tell me more about yourself and how you ended up in PR?

I’m originally from Bolton in the North West and fell into PR by accident. I studied history and politics at university and always been in interested in the political sphere.

After leaving university I joined the Navy as a trainee helicopter pilot but didn’t get my wings unfortunately, and didn’t fancy driving ships for a living.  So, I thought I’d come out and try something else.  I got a place to start teacher training in Nottingham but had time to kill before the course started.

 “It was one of those Gwyneth Paltrow Sliding Doors moments.

“You know, life can go one way or it can go 180 degrees in the opposite direction”

 I’d had friends at University who had done research work for MPs so I put an advert in a political magazine called The House. It cost me about 10 pounds back in Spring 1990, and it’s probably the best ten pounds I’ve ever spent because that’s how I got into this line of work.

“History and politics graduate seeks work”

It was just a freak coincidence that the director general of a small trade body happened to see my advert because he was looking to take someone on in a junior lobbying role.  My advert appeared just once, and he saw it. It’s my Sliding Doors moment whereby if he hadn’t seen that advert, I’d probably be teaching history for a living somewhere. That life would be completely different to what it is now.

Tell me a little bit more about your role at the EEF

I’m Head of Communications and the majority of my role is taken up dealing with the national, regional, and trade media but I also fall into anything communications-related within the organisation.

As well as the policy team in London, I also work with business services and marketing teams across to promote EEF’s significant business services and expertise. As well as the very substantial lobbying role that we have, EEF is also a fifty million pound business providing business services to manufacturers and other companies in the areas of employment law whilst we’re also a strategic partner with the Health and Safety Executive for example.

We’re also very big in management leadership and skills development, so we have an apprentice technology centre in Birmingham, which trains a thousand apprentices every year. We’re looking to replicate that facility possibly elsewhere in the country as part of the drive to become the National Champion for Apprentices. We’re also looking to develop new services for members as well. So at the moment, we’re developing services on Brexit, Trade and also in areas such as cyber security that is a rapidly emerging business risk.

The business services side is very important for EEF and the expertise within the organisation to help companies is substantial. I straddle both areas really although I sit with the policy and external affairs team in London.

Is there such a thing as a typical day?

There isn’t really – there are a lot of things that cross my desk each day.

“One of the joys of the job is that I never know what’s going come up every day”

So today, for example, we have the European Council meeting in Brussels, which will hopefully ratify the Brexit transition deal announced earlier in the week, so we’ll be commenting on that.  I’ve also seen colleagues this morning about a report on productivity that we’re publishing next month. And in the next four weeks, we’ve also got reports and surveys on work and wellbeing, cyber security, migration and skills, all of which are sponsored. So I’ll be working with different partners over the next three or four weeks on those pieces of work.

We also get queries every day from the national media to provide comment, and we often get requests from ITV, BBC, Sky and Channel 4 asking ‘can you find us a manufacturer in Nottingham to talk about XYZ?’  Our members are very valuable for providing case studies and comment to the press.

What are the key issues that you are working on at the moment?

The obvious one at the moment is Brexit. It dominates everything that we do.  It’s the most important issue of my lifetime and we are lobbying hard for some certainty on how the Brexit transition deal will work.

The industrial strategy is also very important for us, and we’re working on a number of other campaigns such as getting more women into engineering and we did a lot of work recently for Apprenticeship Week.

Have there been any real standout moments for you in your career?

Yes, there are a couple of things that stand out.  The collapse of Rover was a big deal because clearly, that was much more than just a collapse of a single company. It went right through the heart of how important manufacturing is or isn’t to the economy.  I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been through various governments where manufacturing hasn’t been at the top of the agenda, and that was very much at the heart of that debate.

We also had the impact of the financial crisis where conditions for industry fell off a cliff almost overnight but I think probably the biggest moment, and one I’m very proud of is the work we did as part of the steel crisis back in 2015 and 2016 when the industry was on the verge of collapse.

“A steel plant is not just a steel plant, it supports the heart of communities”

We knew that we were fighting for thousands and thousands of peoples’ jobs, and also communities. Because a steel plant is not just a steel plant, but it supports the heart of communities. The issue dominated the news and political agenda at the highest level for months and we were very, very proud of the work that we did during that particular period. The interesting issue from a PR and management perspective was that there were only three people effectively working on the Campaign. It meant we were very tightly focused on our objectives, could respond very quickly to a fast moving scenario and led the debate as a result. We ended up getting two PR awards for the campaign we ran, Trade Body of the Year and Campaign of the Year.

Tell me about your love of manufacturing

It’s the people within it and when you see what manufacturing companies are doing and what they’re making.

“Manufacturing and engineering will solve a lot of the global and societal challenges that we face at the moment”

Manufacturing and engineering will solve a lot of the challenges that we face at the moment such as climate change and an ageing population.  Just look at what a lot of our member companies are doing in the areas of recycling and waste management, for example.

“It’s an incredibly vibrant industry with some really terrific people in it”

If you were to ask Joe Bloggs in the street what he thinks manufacturing is, he probably thinks cars, planes, steel. You know, the very traditional image. Yet, we have member companies that cross fashion, food and drink, audiovisual and medical equipment which is at the cutting edge of technology. We also have Grand Prix teams in membership and airports which people wouldn’t think of as relevant to our sector but they employ a lot of engineers.  When you see the breadth and range of what companies are doing, what they’re contributing and the technology that they’re developing to improve people’s lives – it’s hard not to be passionate about it really.  It’s an incredibly vibrant industry with some really terrific people in it.

Do you think manufacturing still suffers from an image problem?

I think undoubtedly it still has a huge image problem. We still see and hear comments to the effect that Britain doesn’t make anything anymore even though It’s better than it was, say a decade ago when there was a feeling that we can get by with financial services and we don’t need manufacturing anymore.

Even during the steel crisis, there was a sense in some areas that people would have been happy to let the steel industry go, because their image of it was it’s dirty, it’s polluting, it’s old fashioned, and we could let it go to China, or Vietnam, or the Far East. There was definitely a feeling of that, and that’s only two or three years ago, so I think it’s a challenge for us and also companies within the sector itself, particularly with young people, parents, teachers and careers advisors to work hard to change that perception.

It’s why we have a very active government affairs programme at regional, national and European level.

Although we’re based in Westminster we’re really keen that we don’t get caught up in the Westminster village bubble as it’s not the real world here. The real world is out and about around the regions where our companies are.

Do you get out and about much yourself?

I make a conscious effort to get out and see as many companies as I can because I don’t want to get stuck in the London bubble either. It’s also fascinating to go out and see the different types of companies that we have. I came across one the other day, for example, in Leatherhead, which manufactures and stores yeast. They export to 175 countries I think, and claim that their yeast goes into 25% of the world’s beer.

You come across examples like that all the time, and you just think wow!  How would I ever come across a company like that if I don’t go out into the regions and visit them?

What’s your biggest challenge?

I think the biggest challenge is getting manufacturers themselves to talk vibrantly and contribute to PR for the sector, because I think companies do sometimes hide their light under a bushel.

We’ve got a severe skills shortage and if the sector is going to grow then it needs to show people, especially young people, that it’s a good place to work, a great sector with real opportunities. And the only way to do that is by doing PR. Some companies are only too willing to help us with case study requests, but sometimes it difficult.

Why do you think manufacturers are sometimes a bit shy when it comes to PR?

I think there’s a fear of ‘I’m going to get asked an awkward question’ or worry that they are going to get set up in an interview.  But one of the things I try and explain to companies is that it benefits them as well as the sector. I’ve had a number of companies tell me they’ve gained business as a direct result of doing media work. For example, I had a guy in South Wales who helped me with a request from the Sunday Times about doing business in Iran and was quoted at length – that resulted in a call for advice which resulted in his company winning a new customer.

“It’s not just a case of promoting themselves as a company, helping us out as an organisation, you can actually get some business from it”

I think another factor sometimes companies forget is internal PR within their business.  Many companies have told me that when they’ve taken part in an outside broadcast for say BBC Business Breakfast how great it’s been for the staff to see them on television, to have a film crew wandering around their plant to and to see how live TV works. There’s a tremendous amount of internal PR in terms of staff morale and motivation.

What sort of stories are the media interested in about manufacturers?

I think there are two things that always float their boat.  I’m stating the obvious but human-interest stories – somebody who’s done something remarkable or different, particularly female. We’re very keen to push females, particularly apprentices, and people that have worked their way up to very senior positions.  The human-interest element is always very, very strong.

“So what”

And then something that passes the ‘so what’ test like a company that is mould breaking or myth busting, the kind of thing where if you were to tell somebody at a party, they would just go ‘wow, I didn’t know that.’ I’m thinking of for example a company I know in Birmingham that makes very high-end cappuccino machines and exports them to Italy, or another I know in Warrington which exports Vodka to Russia.

We’re working on a programme at the moment with one of the national TV stations, which will hopefully broadcast in May called ‘What Britain Makes in a Week’. We put a request out to all our member companies. Literally, ‘can you think of anything, which is unusual or, which is myth busting so we can illustrate what Britain makes in a week.’  There are the very obvious examples such as how many cars we make in a week. But then you come across others such as Craft Gin companies, high-end leather cycling accessories, a company making parts for the Hadron Collider, driverless vehicles, medical equipment companies making MRI scanners and food and drink companies making everything from biscuits to beer.  What Britain makes in a week is quite remarkable when you think about it.

How can manufacturers help themselves more?

  • Do as much profile building and PR as possible.  It’s a really positive thing to get involved in and you never know what might come out of it.  The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a very, very real thing for industry. The rapid change in technology is quite amazing, and so the skill levels in our sector are only going to increase. Right now, we’ve got the Xbox generation, which is very digitally savvy, and may not think that there are skilled opportunities for them in manufacturing – but there are huge opportunities and we’ve got to get that message across to that generation that they should be looking at our sector
  • Work with local schools. It’s not always easy but can be very beneficial and will help manufacturers find their future workforce
  • Better photographs.  Remember that your website is often the first port of call for new customers so ensure your images matches their expectations.  We recognised ourselves that we had a very poor photo library, and we were seeing poor images used in the national media.  So about seven years ago, we started an annual manufacturing photography competition that is now sponsored by The Times and a couple of other major commercial partners.

Finally, what’s the value of joining an organisation such as EEF?

The value of belonging to an organisation like EEF is a very significant amount of professional expertise in terms of the business services we provide, especially for manufacturers.

With my wider London representation hat on I think our sector is also at a critical juncture right now in terms of how our economy is going to look in the future. Clearly life is going be different when we leave the European Union which is partly why we’ve got a massive focus on industrial strategy from government, which we’ve never had before. The value of manufacturing is only going to become more and more important.

“Manufacturing has a really terrific chance to put itself right at the heart of the economy”

As a result, our sector now has a really terrific chance to put itself right at the heart of the economy. The more people who are members of an organisation like ours – it gives critical mass.  The more companies join us, the bigger voice that we have with government, the bigger voice we have with all our stakeholders.  We’re at a very critical point for the economy and for manufacturing right now in terms of seizing that opportunity.

We’ve almost come full circle now from a position where before the financial crisis and changes in technology, people were openly questioning whether we needed a manufacturing sector and could get by without it. Now we’re at the point where people are saying we need a British manufacturing industry to make things here. That’s a terrific place to be in for our sector.

“The time has come for UK manufacturing”



Thanks to Mark Swift, Head of Communications at EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation for agreeing to be interviewed.

For more information on EEF, visit https://www.eef.org.uk

EEF is the representative voice of British manufacturing, both in the UK and Europe – fighting for more than 5,000 businesses and over 2,000 direct members for the last 120 years.

For more interviews and PR tips for UK manufacturers, visit nelliepr.co.uk and check out my UKMFG PR Diary for key dates  to piggyback on to secure PR that Pays.




Ellen Carroll

PR champion with a passion for profitable PR and newsworthy content. Setting up Nellie PR in 2007, Ellen has over 20 years’ experience in the PR and marketing industry.

Find me on: Web | Twitter | Facebook

GDPR and public relations: an interview with Suzanne Dibble

GDPR and public relations: an interview with Suzanne Dibble, the small business law expert by Ellen Carroll

I think that I’m pretty typical of many PRs (especially those of you that are freelance or run your own small agency) in that GDPR is most certainly on my radar.  I’m working towards GDPR compliance for Nellie PR and feel I’ve got a handle on it as a small business or rather a micro business owner.  But in terms of doing the day job – pitching to journalists, accessing client data to conduct interviews and the like – many GDPR and PR questions linger.

That’s not surprising – there seems to be a distinct lack of practical guidance about GDPR that is specifically focused on PR and comms coupled with the fact that some of the answers aren’t yet known as aspects of the legislation go through parliament.

I’m not alone – when I put it out there on the various PR groups that I’m a member of that I was as to interview a legal expert about GDPR and PR – lots of questions came in thick and fast.

As the majority of PR agencies and freelancers are small businesses, it made sense to interview a legal expert that could answer the GDPR and PR questions from a small business perspective. So thank you, Suzanne Dibble, for agreeing to be interviewed and your patience in answering all these PR and GDPR questions.

Interview and Q&A with Suzanne Dibble about GDPR and PR

Suzanne Dibble is a multi award-winning business lawyer, small business law expert and founder of the Small Business Legal Academy.   She’s also the joint founder of Express Global – a global collective of entrepreneurial women – as well as the face and legal brains behind her own massively popular free GDPR Facebook group with over 7,500 members (at last count) where she has been going raw and uncut every night to share her take on GDPR in the most accessible way.  And on the subject of accessibility, check out her GDPR mythbuster webinar for a bit of guided training on GDPR and what it all means for you as a business owner.  On her Facebook group, you’ll also find video advice on legitimate interests, GDPR and photographers too, and go ahead ask her a question.

GDPR and public relations

Suzanne, tell me about your own route into entrepreneurship?

I was a mergers and acquisitions lawyer in the City, at the world’s largest law firm, on the fast track to partnership at a very early age. Working 20-hour days, working on multi-million pound deals I realised that it wasn’t really a sustainable career if I wanted to have a family and children.  So after holding a couple of really good in-house roles working for the likes of ITV, I decided to set up my own legal practice in 2010. I was thinking, ‘Who do I want to help?’ And it came to me; actually the people I wanted to help were people like me, women who had left corporate to set up their own business. Who I knew traditional legal services just weren’t helping. The way they are set up meant that small business owners and particularly female-led business owners and solopreneurs just weren’t taking the legal advice that they needed because of their perceptions of traditional legal services.  I wanted to make law accessible to micro businesses, and particularly the female micro business owners, and still do.

What made you set-up your own GDPR Facebook group?

I was consulting with multinationals on GDPR but increasingly finding that small businesses were being left out in the cold.  I was seeing that much of the GDPR information on websites and in the stuff that people were sharing with each other was just wrong.  It really frustrated me that small business owners were running around in circles trying to work out what was fact and what was fiction.

So on a crazy whim, I decided that I would commit to doing a video a day in a Facebook group and share my take on GDPR, which is not the scaremongering headlines of: ‘As a small business owner, if you’re not fully compliant on the 25th of May, you are going to get fined 20 million Euros,’ because it’s absolutely not going to happen like that. So what I hope to offer in my group is just some really sensible, balanced guidance as to how small businesses can easily comply with GDPR. And it’s been an absolute hit. We’ve got over 7,000 members in there in less than a month and people are sharing it like crazy.

GDPR is complex regulation but I think because I am a small business owner and I don’t hang out with lawyers,  I hang out with small business owners, I know what interests them, I know what language they talk. And I can translate it for them, and be the approachable face of GDPR for small business owners.

Is GDPR a good thing?

Yes, in my view it is absolutely a good thing.  If you take away the scaremongering and look at it in its essence, it’s good for business owners and it’s good for the consumer. Certainly in the context of marketing, we small business owners need to be paying more attention to the quality of our marketing and it’s right that GDPR puts the focus on making sure that we’re sending the right information to people who actually want to receive it.

Because if you’ve got a big list of people – say you’ve got 10,000 people and 8,000 aren’t reading what you’re sending them because they’re just not interested, then that’s going to impact on your deliverability rates for the 2,000 who do actually want to read it. So you’d actually be much better off carrying out list hygiene and working out who doesn’t want to read your stuff, and giving them regular chances to opt out, and to update their preferences, so that you can make sure that people who do really want to see your stuff, and your potential customers, are actually seeing it.

In fact, I’ll read a quote from the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham.  She says: “This approach may require an up-front investment in privacy fundamentals, but it offers a pay-off down the line, not just in better legal compliance but also in giving you a competitive edge.”

There’s a real opportunity for organisations to present themselves on the basis of how they respect the privacy of individuals.  It is a reputation issue. 

How important is having a good privacy notice?

Privacy for consumers and individuals is such a big issue and increasingly so – you only have to look at what’s happening with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

If you as a business owner have a well put together privacy notice so that when people are giving you their data, you’re saying to them: ‘Look, we’re an organisation that actually really looks after your data. We comply with GDPR, we’ve got all the security aspects in place, we won’t share your data with third parties, we’re really keen on just giving you the types of information that you really want from us.’ That’s a competitive advantage.

I think that the small businesses and PRs that really embrace GDPR will absolutely have a competitive advantage.

How will GDPR impact PR?

The thing about GDPR is it’s not designed to stop people doing business – it’s designed to protect data.

I’ve had lots of questions in my Facebook group about theoreticals. Now, if you look at the exact letter of the law, then, yes, you might have to go and get consent for every single email address that you’re processing, if you can’t fall under a different lawful ground of processing. In reality, the only way that this is going to ever come to the ICO’s attention and for there to be any potential for any kind of investigation or a fine is if somebody reports you. And you’ve generally got to have been doing something pretty bad with that data for somebody to report you.

So if you’re a journalist or you’re in PR and you’re making those cold approaches but it’s done in a professional, respectful way, you’re not harassing people, you’re not sending them 20 follow-ups and saying, “Why haven’t you replied to me?” then I personally don’t foresee any problems. You need a lawful ground to process personal data and there are six lawful grounds for processing – consent is just one of them. The other two main ones that will apply to small businesses are legitimate interests and contractual grounds.

So if you’re reaching out to people with an opportunity, collaboration or something like that, then if you had to look at, what is the lawful ground of processing that data? The chances are it would fall under legitimate interests. In order to rely on legitimate interests, you have to carry out a balancing test, which is really about balancing your legitimate interest with the rights and freedoms of the person that you’re approaching. Now, is the person that you’re approaching going to suffer any harm to his rights or freedoms? No, because you’re doing a one-off processing of just sending him or her an email to see if they want to follow it up or collaborate.

What happens if you don’t have a journalist’s consent to send them an email, for example? 

If you are sending emails on something that they would reasonably expect to receive, then there’s a strong argument that you could rely on the legitimate interest grounds and you wouldn’t need consent.  The best approach is to carry out a balancing assessment as discussed before.

Do you have any tips on email best practice when you communicate with media such as journalists, bloggers, and influencers? 

It depends what your lawful ground of processing is, but if you are saying it’s legitimate interests, then you should inform them of that fact – that you are relying on legitimate interests, and also point out what those legitimate interests are. There is a right to object to processing on the grounds of legitimate interests. So, in short, an opt-out could be used.

What people need to be thinking about is having a GDPR compliant privacy notice, telling people what they’re doing with their information. So I would be having a link at the bottom of each email to that privacy notice and a link to an opt-out.

Where should you store your media data such as journalist contact details? 

Ideally, you would password-protect your data. Certainly sensitive data should be password-protected. But no, there isn’t one platform that you can use. If you’re storing data on something like Dropbox or a cloud-based solution, then that obviously gets you into the realms of data transfers and working out where their servers are, and then that would bring you into the realms of international transfers. But no, there’s no recommended solution to where you store it, it’s whatever works for your business. The main thing is making sure that those processes are GDPR compliant and have a reputable standard of security.

Is now the time to get rid of data that you no longer need?

One of the data protection principles is storage limitation and getting rid of data that you no longer need.  The letter of the law is that you only store data for as long as is necessary. But ultimately, it comes down to what is the reason behind that? And the reason behind that is so that you don’t contact, for example, Mr. Smith, who’s 77, has asked you to delete his records – you don’t then email him later, or he dies and you email his family or something like that. It’s that kind of thing that GDPR is designed to protect.

Remember, really the only way that somebody’s going to know whether you deleted or not is if you’ve got a complaint. The ICO hasn’t got this vast police force that is going to come around and look through every element of your data and say you should’ve deleted this, and you should’ve deleted that.  So if you’re handling data sensibly and there’s a chance that those contacts are still relevant and that they’re not going to mind an email from you or a contact from you, then keep them. If they are going to be cross that you’ve emailed them after so many years, then don’t email them and delete them. It’s kind of a straightforward, practical approach to it that’s needed.

Is there any distinction in the use of personal or freelance email addresses compared to the use of emailing a journalist at @BBC for example?

GDPR does not distinguish between individual and corporate subscribers. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR) prohibits unsolicited direct email marketing to individual subscribers (which include sole traders and partnerships) without the prior consent of the subscriber. It was hoped that PECR would be amended in time with GDPR but they’re way behind on that. So the best estimate is that the revised PECR will come into effect during 2019. But the aim is to align them with GDPR.

So firstly, it’s unsolicited email marketing – it’s got to be marketing. So if you’re just reaching out to say, ‘How about this collaboration?’ then arguably that’s not marketing. And it’s got to be unsolicited. So if somebody’s asked you, or there’s been some kind of invitation to connect, then it’s not applicable. But if it’s unsolicited marketing to an individual subscriber (including sole traders and partnerships), then you need to have prior consent under PECR.

My guidance on that is to forget about the distinction between corporate and the individual subscribers and just apply the same rules for all.

For more information on PECR, visit Suzanne’s Facebook live video on PECR.

What should you do if a client, for example, wants to see your media database? 

As this is your media list containing the personal data/email addresses of those journalists, they probably haven’t opted into that. If you’ve told them in your privacy notice that that’s what you’re doing with it, and they haven’t objected, then that’s probably okay.

You’d have to think about transferring it to clients outside of the EEA, as generally transfers outside of the EEA are prohibited. Transfers outside of the EEA is a complex area so best to come and watch one of the videos in my Facebook group about this.

Is it safer in terms of GDPR compliance to use a third-party media database, for example, rather than building your own?  And, if media database owners are saying that they are compliant – does that make you compliant too? 

In my experience, a lot of lists say that they’re compliant when they’re not, necessarily. So I would definitely do some due diligence on that, find out and ask some questions about how they are GDPR compliant. I would be wanting to see their privacy notices of when they collected the data, and what they were saying in that privacy notice, and that they had got consent. And remember, it’s got to be GDPR compliant consents now, so for old databases, that consent is probably no longer effective, so they would’ve had to get new GDPR consent from those people to share their data with third parties. So I’d want to see evidence of that. I’m not sure I would take a list-seller’s word on the fact that they’re GDPR compliant.

You’ve got to make sure that that consent has flowed through to you to have that information. And you’ve got to keep records of that consent. You’ve got to take more steps.

Do you need to register with the ICO?

The current ICO registration fee is being phased out and a new controller charge is being phased in. The new regulations dealing with this hasn’t been passed yet; it’s going through Parliament at the moment.

From the draft bill, it looks like the smallest level of business will pay £40 going up to £2,900 for tier three.

There is a schedule of exempt processing from this fee, and it actually looks to be wider exemptions than for the existing fee. So I suspect that in time the ICO will put together an online tool in the same way they do at the moment for the ICO registration fee. It takes small business owners through that, and then pops out a little answer that says, ‘yes, you need to register,’ or, ‘no, you don’t.’

In your GDPR pack there is a privacy notice template – is this suitable for PRs? 

Yes, it’s across all sectors.  There are two privacy notices in there: one that would go on your website if you’re collecting data through a website, and that’s a simpler form that would be if you’re collecting data offline. In the GDPR compliance pack, there are things like the legitimate interests assessment and whether you need to appoint a data protection officer, a data protection checklist, a data transfer checklist, a marketing checklist, the email to get fresh consent, tick box wording and lots more.

Do you put your privacy notice in your contracts to new clients and the like? 

It’s better to have a stand-alone document – something that you would send if you’re doing hard copy contracts for clients, or email across as a PDF of your privacy notice.  Again, it’s back to the competitive advantage and being transparent about how you’re going to look after their data.

What happens if you have to interview a customer of a client to get their approval on a testimonial, for example, but you’re using the client’s consent forms.  As the agency, where do you stand in terms of compliance? 

In the case where a client is giving you details of their customer for testimonial purposes – you have to think about the practicalities of it, and what’s the likelihood of that client being annoyed and complaining. Now, if they’re a happy client and you’ve been given the approval to contact them, the chances of that happening are very remote. Would you be able to rely on the ground of legitimate interests, or a different ground for getting in touch with those people? Probably. I think that’s absolutely fine. What we’re really thinking about here is large scale, automatic processing of data. So, again, if you’re doing it in a sympathetic, respectful way, I don’t think there’s going to be any problems.

Any final words of GDPR-wisdom?

Just to be sensible about it, really.

If the person you are contacting is dealt with respectfully, you’re not mass emailing, you’re not large scale data processing where you’re doing dodgy things with it, chances are you’re going to be okay.  A really sensible, balanced approach will serve small businesses.

GDPR is not out to trip small business owners up with non-compliance, it’s out to catch the people that are doing bad things with data.

Thank you Suzanne.

Credits and for more information

The Information Commissioner (ICO)

The ICO is the best source for information on GDPR and you can access lots helpful tools on the site, including 12 steps to take now, getting ready for GDPR checklist, lawful basis for processing (quick glance) and the Information Commissioner’s blog.  The ICO is also on Twitter and in my experience has been good at responding to requests for information and answering questions.  There is also an ICO helpline for small businesses that you can call on 0303 123 1113 and further information on GDPR and small businesses.


The CIPR has issued guidance on GDPR but it is only available for members, and they’re running some PR and GDPR events.

The PRCA has a GDPR FAQ and is running Get your Consultancy Ready for GDPR masterclasses.  Both were sold-out when I last looked.

You can follow my small business GDPR journey at Nellie PR and it is good to see that Response Source has been proactive on GDPR and here’s an interesting blog post from Wadds on GDPR for public relations.

Suzanne Dibble

Free Facebook group by Suzanne Dibble: GDPR for online entrepreneurs

Watch her GDPR mythbusting webinar and special offer GDPR compliance pack for only £97 (affiliate link) – the price goes up to £147 at 12.01am on Friday 30 March 2018.


I first met Suzanne Dibble at an Enterprise Nation event more than eight years ago – just as she was setting up in business.  We stayed in-touch in a professional capacity – she has provided me with legal advice and I’m a member of her Small Business Legal Academy, which has been incredibly helpful in terms of accessing all the legal templates I need to run my business and also includes her GDPR compliance pack, including a GDPR-compliant privacy policy.  You can purchase her GDPR compliance pack by visiting her GDPR mythbuster webinar replay.


Ellen Carroll

PR champion with a passion for profitable PR and newsworthy content. Setting up Nellie PR in 2007, Ellen has over 20 years’ experience in the PR and marketing industry.

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