Six Pieces of Media Relations Advice for the Newbies

Heart racing, palms sweating… no, you’re not having a heart attack. You’re pitching your first story as an intern or entry-level pro. Whew! it can be nerve wracking, for sure. Through a good process, you can feel prepared and confident in your delivery.

  1. Know “why.” What’s the point of the media relations effort? What’s the big picture? How does this release, this pitch fit into what the client/company wants to accomplish? It’s ok to ask. You’re not just “smiling and dialing,” asking why can help you craft a better pitch, but also helps you understand the business of public relations and the media relations function.
  2. Know the story. Understand not only the primary story, but all the potential angles. You may not be able to pitch the primary story to every editor (in fact, you probably can’t).
  3. Create, refine and refine again your media list. An awesomely targeted and strategically refined media list is your golden ticket. This part is pretty freaking tedious, but it’s so important. Don’t let the tedium deter you. Tools like Cision and Vocus can help a lot if your organization has a subscription. If they don’t, there are a bunch of free or almost free tools… including your eyes and brain. If you understand the “why,” (see #1), you can be reading, watching and listening to the right sources and you’ll get to know who will be interested in your pitch. This takes time, so the computer-aided-search-tools are a nice boost, but don’t lean on them too hard. Know your organization’s industry.
  4. Write the pitch. If you’re emailing it, make sure the grammar is pristine, the message clear and that it’s SHORT. If you’re calling, make sure the grammar is pristine, the message clear and that it’s SHORT.
  5. Practice the pitch. Have colleagues read and listen to your pitch and give you feedback.
  6. Make the call! (or send the email). But really, you’re going to have to make the call at some point, even if your first pitch is via email.

I asked my friends via Twitter what advice they would give to newbies and, boy! did they have advice. Check it out. And follow these super smarties – some are vets and some are newbies themselves.

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/Bookgirl96/statuses/106815124261703680″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/JenJAshley/statuses/106816028138422272″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/mculpPR/statuses/106815993988386816″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/mculpPR/statuses/106815639099949056″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/JulieMa/statuses/106812944096047105″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/jpitts/statuses/106817252728389632″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/RACHELkoppes/statuses/106816629446410241″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/jenna_levy/statuses/106819096561192960″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/behindthespin/statuses/106831502993657856″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/KellysDavies/statuses/106832108646965249″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/ztzinthecity/statuses/106820662022250496″]

 

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/jamescrawford/statuses/106832389141037056″]

See James’ blog, too.

 

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/kevinkennedy320/statuses/106833121214865408″]

For even more tips & advice, check out my Delicious tag on media relations. And I’d love to hear what you think? What would you add?

Not Covered? Find Other Ways to Be Part of the Discussion

The day comes in every PRo’s life when you open the paper to an article, read the magazine story, or catch a talk show episode that would’ve been the perfect fit for your company or client. They should’ve been part of that story! You know it… and they know it.

So if you’ve missed a big opportunity, what do you do?

Clients/managers will often ask you to pitch a follow-up. Not super effective. In a recent Bad Pitch Blog post, Kevin explains why pitching the journalist to extend the article in and of itself is not terribly useful – chances are they aren’t going to write about the same topic. But you can use it as an opportunity to contact the journalist.

Clay, a commentor on the BPB post offers some additional suggestions that I’d like to expand on.

It’s still possible to participate in the discussion and use social media channels to your advantage.

  • If the story is available online, chances are you can comment on it. Be respectful, keep out the sales pitch and add value to the conversation. Go back to your key talking points. In most cases, the comment should come from company executives. After all, the PRo wouldn’t have been the source for the story in the first place. Let the CEO or Executive Director make the comment under his or her name. Transparency, people.
  • Use your own social media channels to discuss. Blog about it. And not, “we totally should’ve been part of this piece! wah!” Add value, bring a new perspective to the story. Tweet, Facebook or post on forums (wherever your community is talking) and link back to your blog. If the your traffic points to the story through your blog, you can share your perspective with
  • Tap into your champions and fans. By sharing your organization’s perspective, you can ensure your champions have the “ammunition” that they need to help tell your story, too. Do not, however, encourage them to swarm the site with positive comments about your company, however. It’ll look staged and potentially backfire. (And it should go without saying that employees, public relations team members, random family should not comment as genuine “fans” on a post.)

Outside of the social media activities, it’s always a best practice to make sure that your media list and contacts are up-to-date and targeted appropriately. The media landscape changes quickly. And while you can’t be in-the-know on every trend piece or industry round-up, a well-targeted media list and time spent building relationships with those on it will help you earn great coverage on an ongoing basis.

What advice would you add? What do you do when you miss “the” story?

Short Term “Gain” for Long Term Damage… April Fool’s!

Ah, April Fool’s. I have to say I’m not a fan. In 9th grade, I was voted “most gullible” by my classmates, if that tells you anything about my April Fool’s history.

From a public relations perspective, pulling a prank on an audience – whether it’s your customers, the media or colleagues can be dangerous. The ones that work, in my opinion, are in good fun and have no victim.Year after year, organizations try jokes that just don’t work – they confuse, offend, humiliate or worse.

Today, the Eugene Emeralds, our local minor league baseball team, put out a release claiming that Jeremiah Masoli would be pitching for the Ems in the 2010 season.

I heard it this morning on the news as a real story and frankly, just didn’t give it much thought.

Throughout the day, though, I picked up through Twitter that the story was a hoax, a fake release.

I’m sure the PR folks who wrote the release thought it was funny. I’m sure that plenty of people thought it was funny… in concept. But the prank shows a lack of understanding of the media market in Eugene and the importance of relationships with editors and news directors.

The prank crossed the line into being questionable ethically when Ems management apparently lied when asked if it was an April Fool’s joke so that it would get “more play.” Yikes.

Broadcast news (and really any news media) is highly competitive. Each station is trying to get the best stories for their viewers/readers and hopefully it’s not the exact same story as the other outlets. Issuing a prank release with such high profile parties (such as the oft-in-the-news Masoli) preys on that need to get the story, get it fast and tell it right.

By preventing the station from doing its job, this kind of prank damages the sometimes fragile relationship with the news directors, assignment editors and reporters. And ultimately, that has the potential of preventing the PR manager from doing her job in the future.

Lying is never ok.

What do you think? Does local media just need to stop taking itself so seriously? Do I need to get a sense of humor?

See the coverage on the prank here:

Eugene Emeralds Lie About Masoli Playing for the Ems (KEZI)
Minor League Baseball Team Scams Local Media (KVAL)
Ems Admit Masoli Announcement Was an April Fool’s Joke (KMTR)
Emeralds Pull of April Fool’s Joke (Register-Guard, which of course was too smart to fall for it…)

Warning: Spinmeisters are Trying to Control Your News!

Stuff like this irks me.

According to a study of Australian newspapers, more than 50 percent of the content was “driven by some sort of public relations.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard stats like this, and it’s not even the largest percent I’ve seen.

What irks me is the tone. Oh dear God… PR might have an influence on media coverage? Oh the humanity! Those PR people are evil! I am shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

Let’s be real. Without public relations people most organizations, nonprofits, government agencies (even little ones like parks and recreation, human right commissions or your public library), entrepreneurs, start-up companies, etc. would not have a voice in the marketplace of ideas. They wouldn’t be able to tell their stories. If it weren’t for PR people, how would that work?

So, yeah, sometimes that takes a press release or a pitch. And sometimes those releases and pitches pique the interest of the editor, reporter or producer on the other end. Sure, there’s plenty of fluff, plenty of overworked media folks with too much news hole to fill and plenty of PR people who will pitch crap and hope it sticks.

But if you wade through all that, the relationship can be a win-win. We (PR people) understand the media’s job and if we’re good at OUR job, then we make it easier and more efficient and ultimately allow the reporters, editors and producers to tell a better story.

No, I don’t want my paper full of stories driven by PR. But I do expect for organizations to be able to have a presence and a voice…and it takes PR to do that.

photo by CarbonNYC via Flickr

Guest Post: Simple Yet Savvy PR – Disciplined News Monitoring

This is a guest post from Jamie Szwiec, a PR colleague I connected with on Twitter. More about Jamie at the bottom of the post.

I can remember when I went client-side and my boss gave me the task of personally monitoring the news, daily, through Google news alerts and RSS feeds.

Something along the lines of … “Spend an hour a day, first thing. I’m not talking about those third-party monitors that charge an arm and a leg. Do it diligently, for competitive analysis, tracking trends and sharing ideas with the team. Most importantly, media relations.”

The internal dialogue in my head was along the lines of … “Dude, you’ve gotta be kidding me. Fine, I’m client-side and don’t have to worry about the lingering 0.25’s and billing my time now.”

At first, it was daunting. More than a dozen Google alerts to sift through every morning followed by 30-plus relevant publications in the RSS reader.

After about a month, I got it down to an hour worth of time. The internal marketing folks loved it.

And, in a short amount of time, the sea of headlines, news alerts and RSS began to generate tangible and intangible results, including:

  • Breakthrough with reporters – I’m sure many savvy media relations people can attest: it’s an awesome thing when you email a reporter with their recent story in the subject line, info and idea(s) for future reference.
  • Data – Pulled right from the news, saving time to dig up facts later and giving us hooks to support pitches. Some times, a single piece of data can hold a newsworthy angle together.
  • Better writing – Reading all that news, over time, will make you a better writer. As a PR pro, it will gradually show up in your work when you start to notice you’re writing like a reporter. And, it will give you plenty of story ideas. If a story has worked nationally, why not tie it to a client locally as well.
  • Media list building – Done right. Done organically.

The “I don’t have time to this everyday” dialogue in my head was turned off.

I quickly realized it was one thing to monitor the news on an as needed basis. But a whole different ballpark to do it with discipline.

Going agency-side again nearly two years ago, the practice continued. Spreading the news across industry pubs for the agency and keywords for PR clients. The benefits are still endless. From breaking the ice with national reporters to gathering story ideas for local media to establishing an organizational RSS feed and gathering solid Twitter material.

In more than five years, Jamie Szwiec has ventured with organizations across industries to deliver PR solutions and quality editorial coverage on mainstream Evening News with Katie Couric, the pages of newsstand magazines such as Cosmopolitan and People, the front of target daily newspapers, the cover of client wish list publications, online with major media outlets and on-air with 24-hour cable news. He currently lives and works in Milwaukee, Wis. You can learn more about Jamie at his site: jamiePRszwiec.com.

Basic Ethics of Media Relations

Picture 1Public relations professionals are, I would argue, faced with ethical decisions every day. They might be small or they might be life or death. In this business, the “product” we have is our integrity and credibility. Doing things that breech either can damage your reputation and your ability to be effective and just do your job.

My best all-purpose advice is to develop a decision making process for yourself and to think through in advance, how you’ll handle difficult situations.

One of the trickiest areas of practice for PR professionals is dealing with the media. Spin, control and manipulation can not be part of your repertoire. Period. Some specific (and basic) tips for behaving ethically in a media relations function.

  • Don’t lie. People will find out. And in this day-and-age, they will find out more quickly and the backlash will be broader and more far reaching than ever before. You’d think that case after case of people who have been caught should teach others a lesson.
  • Be upfront with how much you can share. If you’re not able to share certain information about a situation, be upfront about how much you can share. Legal or privacy regulations (such as HIPPA in the healthcare communications arena) will keep you from being able to share everything all the time.
  • Be a resource, even if you don’t benefit directly. This might be more of a best practice than a tip for good ethics, but it all ties in together. If you have a relationship with the media, foster it by being a good resource and ensuring the reporters, editors or producers know that you understand what they need to do a good job.
  • You cannot control content (even if you don’t like it, or you think it’s wrong). The key benefit to getting media coverage (vs. buying an ad) is the third party credibility that it offers. The media gatekeepers get to decide how the story is covered and that doesn’t always mean that you get the exact quotes or even specific information that you wanted. Get over it. Do not demand information be changed, do not throw a fit if you don’t get the coverage you want. (If there’s a genuine error of fact, you can request a correction, but do this only when absolutely necessary.)
  • Don’t lie. This is important enough to mention twice. Don’t do it. People will find out and they will never forgive you.
  • Be fair. Reporters and editors and producers and people, too. And sometimes they aren’t very nice people. But it’s important that you be fair and give equal access to a story. If you’re holding a press conference or issuing a statement, don’t leave someone out of the announcement because you don’t like them. Be professional and do your job.
  • Disclose, disclose, disclose! Disclose who you represent and what the organization’s interest are. Don’t be manipulative or less than transparent on this. Again… people will find out and you will damage your reputation.
  • Let the media do its job. Don’t undercut or sabotage a story.

What do you think? I know there are tips you’d add to this list and I know you have some examples. Let’s hear them!

Name Your Media

In class this week, we were talking about where we’d send a PSA and media kit as part of a campaign to increase voter registration in our local community (Eugene, Oregon). It was a pretty casual discussion, but it brought up an important topic:

Regardless of your “market,” you must be an avid media consumer. You must know and understand how the media work. You must consume local media, the key national media and relevant trade and consumer media. You must be able to name, off the top of your head, the media that matter to you and your work.

There are two points I’d like to make about this.

The first is that even if you don’t enjoy reading the local paper or catching the evening news or (gasp!) listening to NPR – it’s your job in PR to know that the media’s agenda is and how your client or organization fits. This is a vague requirement, but an important one. You may have heard recently that Ms. Palin has been ridiculed for not being able to name a single media outlet from which she gets information. While you’re not likely to have the opportunity to fumble an interview with Katie Couric, it should be just as embarrassing for you if you can’t answer this basic question.

The second point is more directly related to your future work in PR and specifically, media relations. I would estimate in those campaigns that I’ve worked on with a media relations component, the top tier list of media was no more than about 10 or 15 outlets. These were the media that we focused on as being the most important strategically.

You must know these media inside and out, backwards and forwards. Pitching your top tier media takes research (and more research!) and preparation and you should be working to build long term relationships. This means that you really get to know these outlets and yes, even be able to name them off the top of your head.

Test yourself with an easy question: Can you name every local media outlet in your city?

15 Ways To Tell the Backyard Chicken Story

Last week at our faculty retreat, Jill Davis, the deputy editor for Portland Monthly magazine talked about an exercise that the publication does with their interns to help them reframe and rethink a story for pitching as a freelance writer.

She said they often get “tips” from Portlanders revealing the shocking phenomenon of people who have chickens in their backyard. In Portland! In the CITY! It’s so often that Jill said they call it the “backyard chicken story.” Interns must think of 15 ways to tell this story.

What if you were pitching …

  • A business editor or publication
  • An entree/food section at a major daily paper or a food-focused outlet
  • The features editor at a major daily paper
  • “Front of Book” sections (typically news briefs or “what’s hot”)
  • The health and wellness section or publication
  • With a home & garden focus (think: Sunset Magazine)
  • A technology publication (this might be a stretch… maybe there’s some fancy social network start-up for urban chickens)

I would love it if my readers would pick one of these and leave a comment with their story idea. Let’s hear it! How would you pitch the backyard chicken? Be creative!

OOPS! US News Ranking Mistake Puts PSU at the Top 10

The annual U.S. News & World Report College Ranking Guide always seems to create controversy. This year is no exception.

In the version sent to bookstores, Portland State University’s electrical engineering program was ranked #9 in the guide with such heavies as M.I.T., Stanford and UC-Berkley. In press release:

“We are proud that PSU represents Oregon in this prestigious national ranking,” said President Daniel O. Bernstine. “It illustrates how state investments in higher education can increase programmatic capacity and excellence.”

“It is very exciting to have our Electrical Engineering program and faculty recognized by national engineering peers,” said Robert Dryden, dean of the college. “This acknowledges the fundamental transformation of the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science into a national and international academic and research institution.” Malgorzata Chrzanowska-Jeske, department chair, leads the Electrical and Computer Engineering program.

It turns out Portland State didn’t make the top 10, or even the top 70 for that matter. It wasn’t even ranked at a number that is typically listed in the printed directory.

So… what do you do?

The response from PSU (from Chronicle of Higher Education):

Portland State had to rush out an e-mail to its press list, advising recipients to ignore the earlier release and to contact Morse at U.S. News to find out why it happened.

Joan Barnes, assistant vice president for communications at Portland State, said that educators there were “disappointed at this unexpected turn of events,” but not discouraged. “We’re redoubling our efforts to serve Oregon with confidence that increased national recognition will follow our success.”

Seems like that’s about all you can do. U.S. News is notorious for screwing up the rankings and for the process being full of controversy. Plus… who knows, PSU might get some positive attention from prospective graduates who may take a second look at the program.

Nice Overview of Media Strategy for Social Justice

Marie Clarke Brill of AfricaAction.org recently conducted a workshop on media relations with the Oregon Peace Institute and social activists with the Portland Genocide Awareness Coalition in May 2006.

For “non PR” or entry-level PR or students of PR… or even veterans who may need a media relations refresher that’s specific for social justice issues, I thought this was clear and pretty interesting.

The video is 45 minutes long, so hang tight.

Related Posts with Thumbnails