Media Relations all know that media relations and publicity are an important component of public relations. Prior to social media, these areas were at the heart of many campaigns. Getting an unbiased third party (a journalist) to speak positively about your organization, its services or products was crucial. Many, many hours of my PR career have been spent defining a good story pitch, specific to the media outlet we wanted to “earn” coverage in.

Fast forward to today. While media relations and publicity are still important, there are more opportunities where public relations professionals should be involved. These days, the range includes earned (editorial media coverage), paid (advertising and marketing) and owned (channels and content that you produce and share) media.

Earned media is one component of connecting with stakeholder groups and a very important part of most organizations’ communications strategies.

On the paid media side, it’s vital to realize that advertising has changed drastically. Think about some of the ads and marketing campaigns you see now. First of all, quite often the ads have a media relations or publicity component to them that outlines their creativity and shares results. Many ads or marketing campaigns also have an interactive component, asking the target market to participate in some way (create a new flavour of potato chips, for example). Some of the commercials we see on television that are shared on Facebook and other social media networks, tell a story (like a mini-movie) that doesn’t just inform us of the product or service benefits, but also engages our emotions. It isn’t just about informing you of a product anymore – it’s about creating a feeling.

Owned media falls into the area of brand journalism, where you produce content that is shared through your own distribution channels (website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc.) that you hope will be shared by your followers. This is a growing area and one we are seeing more and more organizations choosing to focus on. With a solid editorial approach, creating great content means you have to think like a producer. Here you can build strong relationships with your community that are supported by earned and paid media. It has to be about creating engaging content, and can’t been seen as “selling” anyone on anything.

It’s an exciting time to be a communicator when you understand all of the opportunities we have for authentically engaging and connecting with stakeholders.

Read more people – even those, like me, who don’t follow football – have heard about NFL draft prospect Michael Sam announcing that he is gay. It caused a bit of a stir in the football world, but that seems to have died down quite a bit. Now, apparently some lobbyist is working to have gays banned from the NFL. (Really? Aren’t we so far past this kind of limited and outdated thinking?) I have to admit, I was surprised that this would really matter. But I also have to remember that I live in a region that is not just known for tolerance and acceptance, but also for equality and diversity when it comes to race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and a range of other areas important to human beings as a whole. So I had to put my personal opinions (we’re all human beings – equality is a right and we should celebrate diversity) aside and look at this as if it could be an issue.

Below are the PR lessons that can be learned from Michael Sam’s announcement.

Lesson #1 – Work with a professional who has expertise and experience in the areas of publicity, public relations and/or communication.

Mr. Sam hired a publicist (Howard Bragman), a communications professional with experience in helping high profile individuals to live (and speak) their truth, to represent him. Mr. Bragman has helped several well-known individuals to publicly “come out” and has expertise in this area.

Lesson #2 – Get out ahead of the story. If you don’t tell your story – someone else will.

Mr. Sam – with Mr. Bragman’s assistance – got out ahead of the story; they broke the story on their timeline. They didn’t have to react to the threat of a media outlet or someone else taking this news public before they were ready. They decided to announce it.

Lesson #3 – Timing is everything.

The timing of the announcement was a smart move – after the Super Bowl, before the NFL Scouting Combine, and months before the draft. The media response will have played itself out by the time the draft comes around. I mean, really – how long can they talk about something that has no impact on how good a player Mr. Sam will be?

Lesson #4 – Support the message by creating a human connection, and then get out of your own way.

One of the strategies that Mr. Bragman used was to show Mr. Sam as a human being. He made this a human-interest story and presented Mr. Sam as a well-rounded individual and created understanding and support for him. Mr. Sam made his announcement and then he stopped giving interviews. Brilliant. He stopped being a part of the story after he said what he needed to say. This story has now become about how the NFL is going to deal with sexual orientation diversity in its players.

Lesson #5 – Support clients to live their truth.

One of the key statements that Mr. Bragman made when explaining his strategy was: Release your statement, make your peace and get on with your life. Mr. Bragman has helped several high profile individuals come out and “live their truth” – and that is the most effective (and compelling) lesson we can learn as communicators. Nothing is as engaging as authenticity. The discussion – and maybe even some controversy – can swirl around Mr. Sam but, the fact is, he lives his truth and he had the courage to step into it. Not only do you have to admire him for that, but also respect him.

My sense is that there will be a smart NFL team out there that sees not only the football value of Mr. Sam, but also the PR value. There has been talk about his announcement as being “a distraction” for the team that drafts him. There isn’t a football team out there that hasn’t dealt with controversy before – and I would place odds that there are a dozen teams dealing with actions by players that are far more negative than someone coming out and saying he is gay. It’s 2014 people – step into the real world.

A smart PR move for the team that does draft him would be to step forward and identify themselves as a team that chooses their players based on their athletic ability and what they bring to the team overall. Their positioning should be that his sexual preference is none of their business, and that they stand for equality.

They will gain more fans than they lose by taking this approach. Putting your team out there as standing for equality is not just a good PR move, it’s the right thing to do. The Brooklyn Dodgers stood up and put Jackie Robinson in their lineup to end racial segregation in baseball. What will the drafting of Mr. Sam do for professional sports, as a whole? We have to stop identifying people by their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other elements that chip away at the basic human right of equality that we are all entitled to.

We all need to stand up for equality – especially those of us who have lived a blessed life and not had to face the kind of ugly hatred that comes from ignorance, bigotry and bias directed at us.

Time magazine had a great article on Mr. Sam’s announcement and you can read Mr. Bragman’s post on lessons learned.

As an aside, I have to say that the strategy that Mr. Brag developed for this announcement is as close to flawless as I have ever seen. It may be that he authentically believes that his clients need to live their truth and he is committed to working with them to facilitate that opportunity. We all deserve to live our truth.

There is PR gold for whatever team drafts Mr. Sam. They have the opportunity to raise awareness of the fact that we all deserve to live in a society that treats us as equals and to bring a talented football player onto their team.

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strategyAt AHA, we have just completed and submitted a strategic communications plan for a start-up organization client. It was clear that this client has many opportunities to use marketing communication and PR to raise awareness of their service and engage their target market and stakeholder groups. However, it’s a small organization and they are in start-up mode. Their ability to implement had to be seriously taken into consideration in the development of the plan.

This is something that we are aware of with every client – from large global corporations to local companies to government agencies and everyone in between. We have worked with some companies that have large budgets and we have worked with those that are financially challenged. No matter who (or how big) the client organization is, it is crucial to ask: What are their resourcing (human and financial) limitations?

Developing plans with clients is one of our favourite things to do and we’re really good at it. And, I have to admit, there are days when I wish that the magical client, with an unlimited budget and who is ready to take calculated risks, would appear and we could see every great idea that could be brought to life. I am starting to think that client is a bit like the myth of the unicorn, Bigfoot or desserts that don’t make you gain weight. They are nice to dream about, but they really don’t exist.

One of the interesting and exciting challenges that we, as communicators, face is how we can create a great plan that generates measureable results and can be implemented within the budget. Everyone who knows me gets that I love a good challenge and, as a PR agency, we have become really good at digging in and developing effective plans that work within identified resources.

Getting a client to talk about the barriers they face during the plan development stage can be difficult – but it’s important. Does the client have the right people in the right roles with the right skill set or do they need to budget for a contractor or consultant? Is the client capable of doing what needs to be done, in house, to meet the deadlines? If not, something needs to be adjusted to accommodate these issues.

Start-ups are often focused on big ideas; there is excitement and energy and inspiration in the room. Sometimes, they look at what others in their field have done and they want to emulate their initiatives, and that’s not always the best approach. Even taking a best practices approach, it’s important to understand what resources it took to achieve those outcomes and if they authentically fit with your stakeholder group, objectives and goals.

We always provide a measurement component in plans. When presenting the draft plan to the client, that is where I start – measurement and its importance. How the elements in the plan will be measured – including the return-on-investment – always leads back to budget. Putting it all into context is important before you can showcase the tools, tactics and technologies that will be implemented.

It’s much easier to develop an exciting plan when you don’t bring resourcing into it. A blue-sky plan is fun to write; there’s nothing holding you back. A realistic plan takes a lot more research and effort, which is why it works when it is implemented. There are no surprises or detours that take the client away from their strategic road map – they just keep moving forward, measuring the return-on-investment and experiencing success.

Most blue-sky plans don’t get implemented because the resources necessary aren’t available. They are just nice stories on pretty paper.

What would you rather have?

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angry business personMedia relations is a crucial component of your public relations efforts. It is important to maintain positive (and ongoing) relationships with journalists. This doesn’t mean they are always going to write what you want them to write (they don’t work for you, your client or your organization), but creating mutual respect and trust is valuable. Below are several guidelines that will help build a positive relationship with journalists.

  • Understand what the journalist you’re pitching does. Don’t send a music pitch to the TV critic unless the song is about to be played on a hit television show and you are hoping for a small mention. (You wouldn’t believe how many PR people out there don’t take the time to do this or just spam an entire list of random media. This doesn’t work and it doesn’t build long-term relationships.)
  • Don’t pitch four journalists at the same outlet without letting them know the others you also sent the pitch to. (Going into a story meeting with a good story and having another colleague pitch it to their editor isn’t any fun and they will realize and remember that they were put in that position by you.) Be transparent. The fact is, some stories cross media “sections” – let them know of everyone receiving the pitch at their organization.
  • Don’t exaggerate your stats or details. (If you don’t know, it’s okay to say: “I am not certain about that; let me get back to you.” Then make sure you get back to them ASAP.)
  • Do not be late for anything with the media. (Deadlines people. And live TV or radio waits for no one.)
  • If you say you will do something for the media, do it immediately. They have deadlines. You have a made a commitment. If you hit a snag in getting them the information, give them an update on where you are in getting it for them.
  • Be respectful of their time. Have everything prepared and be ready to go immediately.
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AHA works with clients in a range of sectors – consumer goods, technology, post-secondary education, health care, fitness, law and the judiciary, fashion, not-for-profit, insurance and, of course, travel. We provide a range of services for our clients including promotional public relations, community relations (including social media), strategic communications planning, writing and editing services, messaging and positioning, crisis and communication planning, and issues communication management.

We have extensive travel PR experience and a strong skill set in this area. Our clients range from tourism boards to hotels to airlines to tour operators and local activities. We have spent a decade building positive relationships with traditional and online journalists, bloggers and editorial content creators. AHA works in the world of travel because we love it, we’re really good at it, and we continue to grow and evolve our skill set in this ever-changing world.

Recently, we decided to put a little more focus on travel PR. Believe me, that doesn’t mean that our non-travel clients will get any less attention. Each one of our clients knows how important they are to us – and how dedicated we are to providing world-class client service and generating exceptional results. What it does mean is that we are going to get a little more proactive in the area of travel business development. We’re a little spoiled here. We have been incredibly fortunate that colleagues, clients, former clients and professional acquaintances recommend us and refer new clients to us – and that has kept us pretty busy. However, we have a kick-ass crew across the country and it’s time to reach out and connect with some great potential clients.

As a part of the launch of our increased focus in the area of travel, we worked the fabulously talented, incredibly professional, and delightful to work with Tanya Gadsby of Drawing Out Ideas to produce a short graphic recording video that highlights the benefits of working with AHA for your travel PR. We hope you like it!


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