Alex Hesketh
Alex Hesketh
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Small Talk – James Sillars, Senior Business Producer, Sky News

By Alex Hesketh


For our first Small Talk at our brand new Bloomsbury studio we were delighted to welcome Sky Business producer James Sillars. James has been a journalist for 17 years and has been on the business desk at Sky News for the last 5.

His talk was honest, insightful, and provided some fascinating anecdotes from his years of experience as a journalist. He also gave some excellent pointers to bear in mind when pitching a story, and an idea of what his team look for in a broadcast PR story.

We’ve summarised some of the key points:

Sky News’ mission

James stressed that we are in a changing broadcast landscape and outlined where the channel sat within this. He disclosed there has been a review of the way business news is produced for Sky News. Ian King Live remains as a flag ship business show but he felt that historically, particularly in business, packages were written by niche experts for people who already understood the business news in stand-alone bulletins. For the last year coverage has been on the merit of the story so as not to alienate an audience who weren’t business-oriented. Here’s an example of a story he had published just the morning before our talk:

http://news.sky.com/story/living-standards-squeeze-returns-as-inflation-tops-wage-rises-10834305

The power of radio

James’s career began in radio – he was formally Deputy Editor of Sky News Radio and a massive advocate of the power of radio.  He maintains it is still the ‘go to’ source of news in terms of audience reach. Latest RAJAR figures show the UK radio’s overall weekly reach is now 90.1%  and James urged PR’s not to dismiss radio interviews as an add on to a campaign. Independent Radio News which is provided by Sky News broadcasts to 27 million people every week.

Paring down

As Jonathan Levy, Director of News-Gathering at Sky News, also mentioned at our Big Talk in 2016, news teams have been heavily streamlined in the last few years. James’ own team has been reduced by about 40% since he started there, and yet the ways in which news is consumed has grown exponentially. Social media means that everyone is now a reporter, so large TV crews are not necessarily needed to cover a story. He revealed Sky News now employs someone to scan social media channels on a daily basis for information to help inform their coverage. Resources have been switched and there are two business journalists writing for Sky News’ online presence.

Large companies are now more liable to public exposure, and James highlighted the United Airlines assault story as an example of how not to handle a PR crisis in the social media age. Just as we recommend to our clients, he was an advocate of honesty as the best policy at all times! James also felt, that whilst Twitter is currently a useful tool for broadcasters and PRs alike that the next ‘big thing’ that will change how we consume news is around the corner, and that Sky News and PRs alike need to react quickly when it arrives.

So, what does a story need to feature on Sky?

Case studies: James couldn’t have stressed this enough, as a case study makes for an infinitely better story than, for example, a PR generated survey, which only presents a percentage statistic rather than in his words ‘real, accessible information’.

Diversity: Sky News recently commissioned an audit of spokespeople and found the balance of men to women was disproportionate. They are now positively looking to redress the balance and are encouraging PR’s to put forward female spokespeople to comment on campaigns.

B-roll: If you are selling in to Sky News TV, James agreed that providing B-roll is still a great way to boost your chances of coverage. He stressed the importance of shooting this in a ‘news style’ so it can be cut straight into a news package by editors.

News Hi-Jacking: James said realistically having a credible spokesperson to react to the news of the day is the best way Comms Teams and PR’s can secure on air coverage. He recommended just a paragraph on who is available, but also where and at what times they are available to speak. They have designated guest bookers and shows are hungry for live studio guests.

Image library: This is a change in emphasis. The business desk at Sky News now produces lots of stories for online, so having high resolution images related to the story that are easily accessible saves him and his team a lot of time, something we know that journalists are short of!

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