How to get a membership magazine onto the Today programme

Membership magazines sometimes get pigeonholed as earnest and safe but, as the team is proving again and again with Influence and other Think titles, they are increasingly the real agenda-setters in the media.

In short

  • Be ambitious in editorial planning. Why can’t your membership magazine get a major interview or scoop?
  • Know your trump card
  • Put together a proper PR campaign plan, and sell it in to the right journalists.

In the Q3 2017 edition of Influence, the quarterly magazine of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, we ran an interview with former chancellor George Osborne. It was the first serious one he’d given since he stepped down as an MP, and unsurprisingly it generated a lot of media interest, including on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

This was no accidental PR win. The build-up had featured several months of planning, disappointment, scheming and persistence. Here’s the full story of how the CIPR and Think Publishing teams, led by editor Rob Smith and deputy editor Gaby Lane, together got Influence magazine onto the most influential broadcast in Britain.

In March, George Osborne was announced as editor of the London Evening Standard. Many Londoners grumbled. Social media memes were created. Debate about the overlap between PR, journalism and politics raged. This was prime material for the CIPR’s magazine.

So we pooled our address books and set John Higginson, the well-connected former political editor of Metro, on the case.

Would Osborne be interested in being interviewed for Influence? The answer initially was no. He seemed to be lying low, following criticism that his new role clashed with his position as an MP.

Then in April, Osborne announced that he would stand down as an MP. Calls were made and remade. Tentative diary dates were mooted; there may or may not still have been two other jobs to contend with.

We moved deadlines and got the interview at last.

Then came June. A disappointing general election result for the Conservatives saw former chancellor Osborne making cameos on every public affairs show going to offer – usually – scathing analysis. The emails between Influence and the London Evening Standard dried up. The date for our interview was cancelled due to “unforeseen events” and we resolved to change the editorial plan.

Luckily, Osborne had already learned a thing or two about deadlines in his new job. An 11th-hour reschedule saw John Higginson invited to Osborne’s corner office for half an hour in mid-July. High-fives in the Think and CIPR offices, and John got a belter of an interview about the changing nature of communications, Osborne’s plans for the modernisation of the paper, as well as frank and emotional reflections on his toughest day in the job.

This issue of Influence also featured an exclusive with Arianna Huffington and Laszlo Bock, former head of people at Google, but we knew that George was our trump card.

So, orchestrated this time by CIPR’s own PR manager Koray Camgoz, the story was put out to the newsrooms.

“The interview unlocked a treasure trove of content,” said Camgoz. George Osborne shared frank views on Brexit and opened up on the ethical challenges of editing the Evening Standard following the Manchester bombing.

But it was his views on the current political landscape and his admission that we wouldn’t rule out a return to Parliament that stood out – in particular, his thoughts on the ‘real gap’ in the middle of politics between Corbynists and hard Brexiteeers.

“I shared the story with BBC’s news editor Jonathan Whitney, who put me in touch with political editor, Chris Mason,” explains Camgoz. “Chris used the quotes in a brilliant piece on the potential for a new political party, which featured on Radio 4’s Today programme and the BBC news website”.

That theme, that there may be room in the UK as well as a France for a new centrist political party, may well become the defining conversation of the upcoming session of Parliament.

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