By Claire Amber Young

First, a confession. I’m a poacher turned gamekeeper. Before I worked in food and drink PR, I worked in the trade press as assistant editor of Scottish Grocer.

What that means is my media relations clients benefit from the fact I know how journalists think and what they are looking for.

And it’s quite simple, really. What they’re looking for is a story – and the easier to tell, the better.

Journalists’ time is at a premium. There are far fewer of them than there used to be, so they have to work harder. And then there’s the internet, so the deadlines are tighter… and they have to work harder.

Even five years ago, when I left the press, things were pretty hairy – but things were never as hairy as when deadline loomed and advertising suddenly found another eight pages of editorial for us to fill.

And what helped me out in my hour of need? A well-crafted, properly researched, informative press release written by someone with the media relations savvy to know that news had to be new.

We’re not talking about sophisticated food and beverage marketing strategies here – just brass tacks facts that get your product in front of the people who make decisions.

The best releases came from agencies who knew their client’s audience. Scottish Grocer, like UK national titles such as The Grocer, sells mainly to the owners of small independent convenience stores.

There are the true independents, who buy their products from whichever wholesaler or cash and carry they like, and the tied stores, who operate under brands such as Day-Today or Nisa and are tied into using certain wholesalers.

The tied stores, meanwhile, have control over what they order and what they prioritise, but they will also have merchandising guidelines that come down from head office – the likes of promotions and deals of the week.

The margins are slim but the market is massive. Sales in convenience stores amounted to £38 billion in the year to March 2017, according to the Association of Convenience Stores.

Our readers were business people – they don’t buy a product on a whim or because of slick food and beverage marketing, they need to see the value in it, especially when those margins are so tight.

And what do retailers want to know? They want to know why they should stock a new product instead of something they’ve stacked on their shelves for 10 years. New products have to fight for that shelf space as it’s at a premium in small convenience stores. You’ve got to make that case using cold hard facts in your media relations packages.

So the trade press look for nice statistics that can be attributed to actual events. A press release about a new product shouldn’t just say: “We make cheese and onion flavour Fanta now – it’s brilliant, you should buy it.” That’s not news, that’s advertising. News adds context and insight.

What we wanted it to see were statistics on how the brand expects the product to perform. So if you were bringing out a new cheese – not necessarily Fanta-flavoured, but, y’know – we’d be looking for the year-on-year cheese sales, where in the market you’d identified your gap and what difference you’d make there.

As a reporter, it can be frustrating when you have to go hunting about for those kind of figures. It’s even more frustrating when a PR shrugs you off like it’s not important, saying: “But it’s new. Put it in your paper cos it’s new.”

Besides building an actual economic argument, there are a couple of other things the successful releases included.

There would be a bit of historical background about the manufacturers, their products and brand. Those help set the scene and gives the writer – and their readers – an idea of what your product is all about.

And images are essential. You can’t guarantee they’ll be used, but one of Murphy’s Laws of journalism guarantees that if you don’t send them, they’ll be needed. Good, clear product shots will let retailers see what they’d be buying. Simple, really.

Even sweetening the deal with freebies doesn’t necessarily seal coverage. We would get a lot of samples in and that does help to get your product attention, in the office at least. We didn’t necessarily always use the press release, though – that’s always going to be on the strength of the story.

Remember, the journalists aren’t there to sell your product for you – they want to sell papers. To do that, they need to keep their readers happy and their readers want to know how a product will perform for them.

It’s your buyers you are communicating with. The journalists are the conduit for that and they know what store owners want to know. If your food and drink PR team don’t realise this, they won’t get wins.

We are the food and drink marketing and PR experts. To find out how we can boost your brand, call 0800 612 9890.