It can be a struggle to win media coverage, but there are ways to increase your chances of getting heard, says Ruth Sparkes

Could it be that vocational qualifications just aren’t sexy enough? Granted, they are getting recognition, but they’re not up there with the likes of GCSEs and A-levels just yet.

I mean, I don’t remember seeing female twin or triplet apprentices jumping up and down in strappy summer tops brandishing technical certificates on the front pages of national daily newspapers.

FE has suffered over recent times and the apprenticeship ‘brand’ has taken a bit of a beating. But (the levy and register aside) there is definitely a new positive buzz, and even awareness surrounding apprenticeships that I have certainly not experienced before.

Cybersecurity, law, marketing, veterinary nursing, journalism, software development and auctioneering are just some of the new and exciting industry areas for apprentices and we are seeing some fabulous marketing initiatives.

This buzz could quite feasibly be leveraged to give a boost to the FE sector as a whole in the public consciousness.

 The apprenticeship brand has taken a bit of a beating

So, what is it about vocational qualifications that gives journalists (other than the fabulous staff at FE Week) that glazed look? Is it the way we’re ‘selling’ that puts them off ‘buying’?

Granted, not everything that happens in the world of FE is newsworthy, however with a hook, a good picture and careful timing you can very often leverage column inches.

I’m running a session at the Annual Apprenticeship Conference 2017 that will look at:

The ‘dull story’ hall of fame: What is and isn’t news.

Messages: For parents and apprentices, your message might be ‘employers are hungry for certain skills and this is the most cost effective route to a rewarding and well-paid career – debt free’, but the message for employers might be something different.

How to leverage current national stories: Topics to piggyback upon, such as; skills shortages, mindfulness, women in STEM, males in primary schools, aerospace and Brexit.

Using a personal or unusual angle: Looking for something unique. We’ve used ex-soldiers who’ve retrained in construction – Baghdad to Battersea — and a costume apprentice at the English National Opera.

Timing is everything: We’ll look at some real-life examples of how timing has ensured an improved take-up of apprenticeship-related press releases.

Have you got the tools for the job? We’ll look at some helpful (and not so helpful) online tools to help get your story in front of the right people.

If you’re not able to attend the workshop at AAC 2017 – here are my top tips for getting press coverage.

Timing

Can you create a local story by piggybacking on a national event?

Pictures

VERY important these days – stories are getting shorter, and newspapers and websites need images. A good picture is where you will gain the advantage.

Topicality

What’s new is news.

Write for the publication

Newspapers generally have a house style. Look at who you are writing for and copy their house style. A pitch idea for a national paper will look quite different.

Widen your net

If you have a story about, for example, a carpentry apprentice, don’t just think local – think niche, too. A search will reveal that there are 27 magazine contacts who are interested in writing about carpentry.

Don’t just think print

Look at broadcast, blogs and online news, too.

Key messages

If a story can’t include one of your key messages, ditch it.

Quotes

All PRs ought to have a quote. Often if you cannot see a way to include a key message, you can use a quote to ensure there is link back.

Comment pieces

Some national titles have comment sections on their online platforms. Examples include: The Independent, The Guardian, Huffington Post, TES andFE Week

Relationships

Build relationships with your local journalists, education journalists and citizen journalists/bloggers.

 

Ruth Sparkes will be running a workshop entitled ‘Top tips for positive media coverage’ at AAC2017