Media Relations

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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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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Boy ScoutLike a good Boy Scout, an effective communications person is always prepared – for just about anything. We have event kits full of five kinds of tape, scissors, pens, paper, ribbon, cellphone batteries and other might needs. We prepare for meetings with clients so that we can make the most of the time we have with them. We prepare for webinars, video blogs and even this blog. In our world, very little happens spontaneously. For the most part, the communications professionals I know are can think on their feet; that comes from years of being prepared for a wide range of scenarios. We are, in fact, quite a thoughtful group. We think through every angle, every probability, every possibility.

We thoroughly prepare for any media relations outreach; we go through all the questions a journalist might ask and we know the answers. We prepare. We research. We review all potential (not just probable) outcomes and we identify the appropriate next steps for each. We develop media kits and websites that might never see the light of day (and since they are usually created in case an issue or crisis arises, we hope they stay dark).

Even our quick phone call pitches to journalists are prepared (and reviewed) in advance. Here at AHA, we have strong professional relationships with many journalists and our e-mails and phone calls usually get a response. That’s because we know how busy journalists are and we respect that – and we prepare. We have our key messages outlined before we call or e-mail, we have researched to make sure we know what this journalist and media outlet is currently interested in, we have asked ourselves all the questions that we believe the journalist might ask and we have the answers (or we know who to get them from). We are prepared.

Quite some time ago, we had a client ask why we would spend so much time preparing to pitch a journalist. He thought it was a waste of time. He wanted us to just pick up the phone and call and set up a meeting for him with the journalist. We had to explain that journalists are busy and aren’t just sitting and waiting for a call to set up coffee with someone they don’t know and have never heard of (our client). A well-crafted pitch provides the journalist with background, context and the key news points in a way that engages and interests them. Taking the time to do this right is crucial. It can be the difference between unanswered e-mails and voicemails and obtaining media coverage. Preparation is a key element to success when it comes to generating media coverage.

Taking the time to properly prepare is, in fact, cost-effective. Time spent preparing means that you are equipped with what you need to do a good job and not backtrack, change direction or have to correct mistakes. It takes less time to do something right the first time than it does to go back and fix it.

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NewsI recently had an opportunity to reconnect with the former editor-in-chief of several magazines that I used to write for. She has gone on to do great things and now heads up a large media outlet in Canada. Every once in a while, we find that we have a reason to reach out to check in with each other. This time, I reached out to her.

I had an invitation to a fabulous wine tasting event that a client is hosting. No strings attached, no story pitches – just an invitation to spend an hour or so tasting some good wine and chatting. I think we are both looking forward to this event and the chance to catch up.

This is, in my opinion, the way to develop and maintain authentic media relationships as a PR professional. It is a two-way street and we connect with journalists on a regular basis – not just when we have a story to pitch. There are times when I will see something online (that has nothing to do with our clients) that I know would be of interest to a journalist, so I e-mail them the link. Or if they have written an article or produced a broadcast segment that resonated with me, I will shoot off a quick e-mail to say that. The key to this kind of proactive approach is that it has to be authentic or it just comes across as smarmy and sometimes creepy. (I’ve received e-mails like that – where you know the person is faking it just to get something from you – and you can clearly tell when that is happening.)

There is more to developing and maintaining a good relationship than just keeping in touch. You also have to deliver good story pitches that are relevant to the media outlet, and you have to be reliable and trustworthy. There have been times when we have had that difficult discussion with a client because they had something they wanted pitched to media and, unfortunately, from an unbiased perspective, it was just not newsworthy outside of their organization. It’s never fun to provide that feedback, but it is my job. I don’t want our clients to get a reputation for wasting the media’s time.

Our focus is always on making sure the information we provide is interesting, accurate (there is no room for errors here), timely and relevant to their readers, viewers or listeners. It’s also important, in a media relations context, to understand that if there is an issue or a crisis, these journalists aren’t going to give you a free pass. They have a job to do – and, if you have built a good relationship, there may be an opportunity to put forward information regarding the issue. No good media relations person is ever going to think their positive relationship would ever sway the journalist not to do their job.

Developing positive relationships is a part of my role – the journalists I connect with know that, just like I know that connecting with reliable communications professionals who respond quickly to their requests is a part of their job. It’s how our world works.

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There are days when I have so many solid ideas for blog posts that I do a happy dance. Other times, I struggle with finding a topic that you will find relevant and that I feel that I can, and should, weigh in on. And some days, my writing brain just doesn’t show up. Those are not easy days, given how much I write in a day. However, on some magical days, as I go through the morning’s news, blog posts and social media updates, a piece shows up that is so good I just have to share it. Today is one of those days.

This article on Inc.com is excellent. If you do any media relations, it is worth a read.

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