Five things we learned from Simon Neville, City Editor at PA Media

By Simon Renwick

Tuesday 03rd August

At a time when wire services are proving more valuable than ever for the public and wider media, Simon Neville from PA Media joined Pagefield CEO Oliver Foster for a virtual Q+A. Simon spoke about the importance of services like PA in the modern media landscape, the best ways to pitch stories to in-demand journalists, and what the future has in store for businesses following the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit.

The Power of PA

While many people may not know they’re reading a PA article on another outlet’s website, that doesn’t diminish the power of the organisation’s reach. Simon discussed how, in the business team, the write-ups he and his team do first thing following the morning RNS and stock market announcements on the latest business news usually ended up being used as the basis of other outlet’s pieces on the same topic.

And the number of outlets likely to be running the same PA story at any given time is likely to be high. “We have an agreement with about 100 websites and outlets that when we publish anything on our wires, it goes on their websites straight away,” Simon said. That includes online heavyweights such as the Evening Standard, Independent and the Daily Mail Online.

And it’s not just text; PA are setting the agenda on the best news pictures too. “We had a picture on, I think, five front pages for the same story last week,” he said.

What good, and bad, PR looks like

Having himself worked in public relations in between spells in journalism, Simon has a unique insight from both sides of the fence on how to do PR well… and how not to.

“Making sure interactions with journalists are targeted is key; scattergun doesn’t tend to work,” he said. “I get up to around 500 emails every day, so any email needs to really grab my attention in the subject or the first line. I don’t want to read three paragraphs on why this is an exciting prospect and background on who the company are – just give me the top line!”

But PRs need not worry too much about whether traditional methods such as the press release still work. Simon still feels there’s a place for these in modern PR – just make sure they’re succinct and the information in it really helps grab the reader’s attention.

At the end of the day, does your pitch pass the ‘pub test’ – if you sat down next to a total stranger in the pub and started talking, could you get their attention in a minute?

Business can be the Opposition

Focussing more on his beat, Simon strongly feels there’s a role for businesses to play an ‘Opposition role’ to the Government, providing the scrutiny and challenge to Government decisions seen in other spheres such as Westminster and in the media.

There is that opportunity, if companies go on the record to challenge decision-making, to really influence the Government – really, that is part of the role of Chief Executives, according to Simon.

Covid’s impact, and what next for the business community?

Business has been badly affected by the pandemic, but it’s also changed the way journalists interact with the business community.

“There’s an element of missing the human interaction when it comes to meeting people in PR and the Chief Executives of these companies,” Simon said. “You lose a huge amount having to do things through Zoom compared to meeting and talking face to face – it makes it harder to do off the record chats and get real opinions on how business leaders view what’s happening in their sector.”

Looking to the future, Simon still believes consumer-facing sectors – FMCG, retail banks and the hospitality industry – will continue to provide the heaviest focus for news – but tech will also play a big part too, as will news around the economy such as the jobs market and tracking inflation.

…and could there ever be a PA TV channel?

Finally though, Simon gave short shrift to the idea of PA ever setting up its own news channel. “I think we prefer being a little more behind the scenes,” he said. Saying that, Simon did point out PA’s video unit makes it multi-media competent.

As for the newest kid on the broadcast scene, is that GB News? “They believe there’s a market for it – we’ll have to wait and see!”


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