Freedom of Information (FOI) requests are a powerful tool that organisations can use to create compelling news stories. At Rostrum, we help our clients identify and create the most powerful FOI requests for maximum impact with the press.
But what is an FOI? What information can you ask? And how can it benefit your PR strategy?
Public authorities are obliged to publish certain information about their activities and members of the public are entitled to request that information. The aim is to create a more open government based on mutual trust and to encourage healthy debate on what the government is doing with taxpayers’ money.
FOI requests can cover any recorded information held by a public authority including printed documents, computer files, letters, emails, photographs, and sound or video recordings.
However, there are some limitations to the information that public officials can provide in an FOI, and any requests must pass the “public interest test”.
Understanding these limitations helps us create impactful FOI requests that get answers and results for our clients.
Benefits of FOIs for PR
In the UK, FOIs are free, which means they are a cost-effective way to collect original data for our clients. We find that journalists are often interested in FOI data because of its uniqueness and exclusivity, and it also makes for strong headlines and press releases. FOI statistics also allow our clients to provide their insights on topical issues and to be seen as thought leaders on the subject.
With so many benefits, and when crafted with care and diligence, FOIs are an excellent option for PR and should be considered as an ongoing PR tactic throughout the year.
How to write an FOI
Writing an FOI is part process and part “art” – and it takes practice! We approach drafting the request with a data mindset, with a view to getting the most impactful statistics for PR.
FOI requests cannot be too narrow or too wide or you may find yourself in a position where the government organisation cannot answer your question. If tracking changes over time, for example, it’s a good idea to ask for specific date ranges and to consider the timeframe carefully. You can also narrow down the request by asking about specific subsets of the data.
Above all, you must think about the end-result when asking your questions: think about what headline or angle journalists would be interested in and then tailor your questions accordingly.
When drafted and executed correctly, FOI requests have the potential to generate loads of media coverage and visibility for our clients.
We recently drafted FOI requests on behalf of two different clients for the FCA: Buck’s FOI request looked into harmful pension transfer advice, while Duff & Phelps’ looked into MiFID II enforcement cases. The data that we obtained – and stories that came out as a result – generated both print and online coverage in the Financial Times, as well as dozens of nationals and trade publication media hits.
While both were on completely different topics, they both uncovered new and interesting data that was newsworthy – which clearly shows the value that FOI requests can deliver.