Media Relations

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How we communicate, both professionally and personally, has changed drastically in the past decade. The online world has created a different way of connecting with stakeholders, your target markets and your community, as well as with family and friends. And that has had an impact in the world of media, including journalism, advertising and marketing.

For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to focus on journalism because publicity and media relations are often important components of what we do as communicators. In Canada and the U.S., newsrooms are not just shrinking – many are ceasing to exist. Print publications that have been in business for more than 100 years are going out of business and local television and radio stations are being closed down. We are at a critical stage in how local and international news is delivered to us. There is a great deal to be discussed about what this means to our communities. I strongly believe that journalists are a key element in maintaining a functioning, democratic society. They ask the tough questions, they investigate, and they hold public and private figures accountable to their promises and for their actions. However, for this blog post, I am going to stay off of my soapbox about this subject and focus on the practical business actions that need to be taken in response to the shrinking opportunity to connect with your stakeholders and tell your organization’s story through media relations or publicity.

The fact is, it’s harder to generate positive media coverage for your organization. Newspapers and magazines are smaller, radio and television breakfast shows and talk shows are being cancelled, and the opportunity for a communications professional to generate coverage is shrinking because the process of who gets interviewed has changed and no one is really talking about it. You see, advertisers have become the priority for who gets interviewed. The only way the media outlets that are still standing are going to stay standing is by increasing their revenues. That means creating added value for advertisers – like having them on a morning breakfast show as a guest, choosing to write about their product, service or event, or profiling the CEO or organization in a print publication – creating copy that is written by a journalist, but that leans more on the side of advertorial than editorial. And – none of this is to criticize the working reporters, producers or editors who are doing this work. The world has changed and they have had to adapt. None of the journalists I know are happy about this, but the fact is – they are trying to do their absolute best while the sand continues to shift under their feet.

One example showing how much things have changed is a recent pitch we did to a television breakfast show for a coffee company client. We had an interesting, newsworthy announcement about what the (Canadian) coffee company is doing at their plantation in Thailand for the environment and for the people of the surrounding villages. It is visionary, they use sustainable business practices, and it is environmental excellence. And the producer of the breakfast show said he loved it and that is was a great story and it was something that their viewers would be interested in, but (and it’s a big but here), they had just taken on a “coffee sponsor” and couldn’t cover any coffee news on the show. And low and behold, within the week, there were the hosts with their branded coffee mugs.

The AHA Moment

Organizations can no longer rely on traditional media to tell their stories, to help build their communities, or to connect with their stakeholder groups. They need to become their own media outlets – creating well-written editorial style articles, taking great photos that help showcase who they are and what they offer clients or customers, and producing short videos that share their news and information in a way that makes people want to watch. The good news is, brand journalism – branded content – can be done in a reasonable time frame for a reasonable budget. It will require a shift of budget and effort from media relations, publicity and even advertising and marketing to tell your own story in a compelling, engaging and entertaining manner.

We are going to be talking a great deal about brand journalism and branded content here on this blog in the coming weeks and months. And that’s because it’s a conversation we are having more and more with our clients. While publicity and media relations will always be an important part of the work that we do, the reality of the current landscape and the declining state of journalism and shrinking newsrooms around the world means that organizations will have to produce their own content – in an authentic and meaningful way (no marketing speak) – in order to stay relevant and build stakeholder and customer relationships. It’s an interesting and exciting time in our world and we’re looking forward to helping our clients to effectively tell their stories in a way that engages and informs their target market, stakeholders and influencers.

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Seahawks footballMillions of fans watched in dismay as the defending Super Bowl champions – the Seattle Seahawks – lost to the New England Patriots in the final 30 seconds of the game yesterday. According to those in the know, making the call to throw the ball (which had been intercepted) rather than passing it, was the reason for this devastating loss.

With the exception of a little bit of a scuffle on the field right before the Patriots won, the Seahawks team has taken the high road in their discussion of the loss. In interviews, head coach, Pete Carroll, and quarterback, Russell Wilson, clearly showed the integrity and class of this organization. They recognized the abilities of the other team and they acknowledged that it was a great game. When asked about the decision to throw instead of run the ball, Carroll said: “That’s my fault, totally.” The coach took responsibility rather than throwing his offensive coordinator under the bus. It’s no wonder their fans, called the 12th Man, are so loyal.

Seahawks fans also seemed to take the high road. I have a colleague who is a Facebook friend. He is pretty outspoken at times and he was having some fun on the social network site as the game progressed, talking it up about how the Seahawks were going to trounce the Patriots. When they lost, I worried a little that Facebook was going to turn into a nasty battleground, but Seahawks fans didn’t go there. In fact, my Facebook friend – like many Seattle fans I saw on social media – congratulated the Patriots and their fans for a game well played, while still putting forward their admiration for the Seahawks team and organization, and re-affirming their loyalty to their team.

The Seattle Seahawks have a strong brand. Their brand promise appears to be “doing our best on and off the field.” That’s a pretty big brand promise, if you ask me. But talk to any Seahawks fan and they will tell you how great the people are who play for this team and who work for the organization. They are engaged in the Seattle community, do more than is expected in the area of charities and volunteering, and they always take the high road – even during high stress and incredibly disappointing moments, like yesterday.

The fans deliver on the brand promise too. As the 12th Man, they are the loudest fans in the league and the team encourages their participation and – as was clear on social media last night and today – they love their team, win or lose. While they would have preferred a win yesterday, the team, the organization and the fans showed true leadership in how they handled the loss. It was impressive.

I am sure that in the Seattle Seahawks’ post-game debrief, errors and mistakes will be reviewed by the players and coaches many times, and individuals will be held accountable for their decisions or actions – but they didn’t do that in public. That is a task that belongs within the walls of the organization and behind closed doors.

The Seahawks’ form of leadership and communication should be applauded. They fully deliver on their brand promise.

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Happy New YearHappy New Year! From everyone at AHA – we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015.

In the AHA office, we have been talking a lot about 2015 and what it will bring in the world of communication. It is clear to us that this year will bring PR, branding, social media and marketing together – even more than it already is.

I think we have been fortunate because we have been involved in the online world for so long – close to fifteen years. We recognized where corporate and organizational communication was going a long time ago and have always been working towards a blended approach, with strategic PR and brand leading the strategic communications approach (which should include social media and marketing).

Building relationships with your stakeholders and communities has always been at the heart of public relations. And that is what the world demands now – relationships. Whether it is in branding, marketing, advertising, social media or PR – people want an authentic connection with the brand and the people who work at an organization.

There are no longer two worlds for a CEO or president – their personal life runs into their professional life and vice versa. If an organization only uses social media to push information out – it isn’t going to be effective. If ads are only about what the company wants to say rather than what the consumer wants to hear, they won’t work. (And if they don’t have some kind of social media component – there isn’t much chance of building any kind of connection or community.)

“Integrated” might be the word of the year when it comes to what we do for our clients. We need to blend PR, branding, social media and marketing so that you are speaking with the same voice, messaging and positioning, allowing your target market, stakeholders or community hear from you through a diverse range of platforms in a way that is engaging and interesting to them.

We strongly believe that this is the year for strategic engagement with stakeholders, customers or clients, and your communities. We are excited to help our clients achieve this through a blended approach that produces results and is budget-effective.

This year is going to be great for AHA and for our clients!

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Question mark imageThe world of media relations is getting trickier and trickier. I was listening to a news radio station this morning and they had a counsellor/therapist on to talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder and how the shorter days can influence our moods. There wasn’t any real news value attached to the interview, except that we are heading into shorter days. There was no news to report, no survey results, or a big breakthrough in helping to treat people; the interview rehashed the same stuff we always hear.

Interestingly enough, the counsellor/therapist is from a company that regularly advertises on this station. I recognized the company name and about five minutes after the interview, their ad came on. Hmmm….

It’s a fact of life that by being an advertiser, you are on the station’s radar should they need to do an interview about something you know about. But more and more today we are seeing the lines blur, and what would have been called advertising or advertorial is frequently being passed off as editorial. That is a frightening thing to me. We – as a society – count on journalists to be that unbiased source of information. If someone is getting media coverage because they are paying for it – how can they be unbiased?

We all know media companies are having financial issues, and this may be one of the ways they are able to keep their heads above water. But if the way to get good media coverage is to bundle it in with your advertising purchase, then it’s not unbiased media coverage and it shouldn’t be dressed up like it is.

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Crowded

We work with quite a few consumer products or services clients. We were writing a proposal the other day for a potential client that offers products and services in an overcrowded and very noisy market sector and it started an interesting conversation in the AHA office. In this day and age of digital and social media, how spread out does an organization need to be in order to reach their target market?

One of the first things we do with clients is review where they stand relative to competitors – both online and in traditional media. It’s important to understand the current landscape before developing a strategy.

Once we know what the playing field looks like, we review the products and services of the client and what they offer potential customers, guests or patients. In a marketplace where many companies are offering similar products and services, it is important to take a bit of a deep dive into this. To not just take what you see at face value, but to look for the unique areas – the “magic” that belongs only to the client – and how that can be packaged and promoted to engage both traditional and online/social media. We also look at how it can be used on their own website.

Many of our business to consumer clients are in specialized fields. That gives us some excellent opportunities to educate and inform their target markets. It also lets us profile the client as an expert in their field. We do this through bylined articles printed in trade and consumer publications and online, with informative and entertaining blog posts, through a series of short videos, through Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit, and by using webinars and a range of other tactics that put forward editorial style, valuable information that is not marketing speak and doesn’t try to “sell” – rather it educates and informs. In a crowded marketplace, consumers want to understand the expertise of an organization and they want to see the benefits of their products and services. Providing this type of information is far more valuable than focusing on a hard sell.

There is a great deal of opportunity to blend a media relations, social networking and direct to consumer approach that, done well, will have a measurable (and strong) impact on driving potential business through the door. Once they are in the door, it’s up to the staff to deliver on the brand promise and take good care of this customer, guest or patient.

Supporting staff in delivering the brand promise will be next week’s blog topic.

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