Media Relations

The airlines are in trouble – we all know that. Well, maybe not Southwest – who have a great blog and seem to keep their passengers if not insanely happy, at least not screaming in the aisles like most other airlines. Now, United Airlines pilots are using social media tools to air their issues and demand the removal of UAL Chairman, President and CEO Glen Tilton.

They got the right url glentilton.com  and on this site, there is media coverage, reports and the opinions of the pilots themselves. They want Glen Tilton out and they are telling the public why.

From what I can see, no one from United Airlines is responding to this website or acknowledging the issues that the pilots are putting forward, at least not publicly. This is one of the challenges of social media, when something like this happens – what do you do?

I have to be clear that I do not know the entire story from both sides. I only know what I have read and seen in the media and what this website tells me. Which, I think is a perspective that United Airlines might be missing. They may have done a great deal to work things out with the pilots, but I don’t know that, as they aren’t telling us anything.

They may be in talks with the pilots right now. For all I know, the board of directors may be asking for Glen Tilton’s resignation as I write this. That’s the problem — no one from inside the organization is letting us know what is going on.

What if they did? What if they publicly announced that they were going to hold town hall meetings and that they were going to tape them and put them up on their intranet for employees who could not be there in person? What if they reached out to some of the pilots and and set up live panel discussions that were webcast so anyone in the company could watch the senior executive and the pilots have open, respectful and authentic discussions on what can be done to bring the two sides together? None of this would be available to anyone but employees, but what if they told the public that they were doing this … I know I would have a better perception of the people running the company.

From my perspective, United Airlines needs to wake up and smell the coffee (which is one of the few items you are not yet charged for on an airplane). The pilots have gone social media on them, they have opened their problems to the whole world. Shutting their C-Suite doors and pretending it isn’t happening, won’t do them any good.

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The New Rules of Marketing & PR is a book worth reading. It’s by David Meerman Scott…you can check out his blog here.

I was reminded of David’s work in a blog post by my friends at Beaupre. As communicators, we have this great opportunity to speak with people … news releases aren’t read just by the media anymore. On a global level, people are using search engines like Google to find the information they want and need. And – when they are searching online, it’s our job to give them what they need. Visuals – images, video, links to other information and — no more industry jargon. It’s a great time to be in this job — we get to have open, real, authentic conversations with real people. It’s exciting. And I can see how it can be scary, too. Change usually is. Do yourself a favour, buy the New Rules of Marketing & PR and read it … it will open your mind to a whole new way of doing business.

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I recently chatted with my friend and colleague Ken McQueen. Ken is the Bureau Chief for Vancouver for Maclean’s Magazine. He covers the West Coast of Canada and the U.S. for the magazine and is one of the best journalists around.

I asked Ken to tell me what he wants to receive from someone who wants to have Maclean’s cover their company’s story.

Here is what Ken told said:

“A good pitch is aimed at Maclean’s (link), not a generic pitch to all media. It is a story of national interest, or a story that is nationally interesting. And it arrives, miraculously, on a day, and in a week, when I have time to write it and the editors have an interest in slapping it into the magazine. This is a rare, but not impossible, confluence of events.

Somewhere in PR school they must teach that it is a good idea to follow up an email pitch with a phone call. Wrong. It is a bad idea unless there is something exceptional to add. I don’t know how many dozen pitches I get over the course of a week. If everyone includes a phone call I get no work done.

A general all-points pitch is dead on arrival. And a pitch that I think is going just to me, and ends up in the next day’s dailies, is a very, very, very bad idea. I need things exclusively, and well in advance if I’m going to hold my editors’ interest.

I honour embargoes. I appreciate tips and will sit on a story until a mutually agreeable date. I work for a news magazine, I don’t write advertising copy.”

This is great information – straight from a well-respected journalist. Read, watch or listen to the media organization you want to tell your story to … think about whether it is right for that organization. Then think about it again. Don’t pitch to everyone – choose who your target is and do your homework. Find out what they cover, find out what grabs their attention. Remember that the journalist you pitch has to find your story compelling enough to take it to the story meeting and pitch it to their editor or producer, give them the ammunition to do that.

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Blogs and other social media have created an incredible opportunity to communicate. They have also opened up the curtain and let us see the little man at the controls. (If you didn’t get The Wizard of Oz reference, my apologies.)

One of my favourite blogs is the bad pitch blog by PR gurus Kevin Dugan and Richard Laermer – this blog has a long list of smart, lively and witty contributors. Here, bad news releases and pitches are put under the microscope.

This blog has great information if you want to see what mistakes can be made – before you make them. They also showcase good pitches. The good pitch badge of honour award is named the “Glinda”, (after the good witch of the East in
The Wizard of Oz).

This blog covers an important topic in PR – the pitch. It is such an important part of reaching out to the media. Check this out and find out what works and what doesn’t.

There are a lot of people contacting the media that don’t even get the reporter’s name or their beat right.

Before you contact the media, make sure you have something to say, that you are saying it to the right person and that you are putting it in front of them at the right time and in the right way.

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