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=”!/Bookgirl96/statuses/106815124261703680″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/JenJAshley/statuses/106816028138422272″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/mculpPR/statuses/106815993988386816″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/mculpPR/statuses/106815639099949056″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/JulieMa/statuses/106812944096047105″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/jpitts/statuses/106817252728389632″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/RACHELkoppes/statuses/106816629446410241″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/jenna_levy/statuses/106819096561192960″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/behindthespin/statuses/106831502993657856″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/KellysDavies/statuses/106832108646965249″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/ztzinthecity/statuses/106820662022250496″]


[blackbirdpie url=”!/jamescrawford/statuses/106832389141037056″]

See James’ blog, too.


[blackbirdpie url=”!/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?

PR Sucks and Other Fallacies.

“…PR people are ruining social media…”

“…P.R. people drive me crazy…”

“…PR sucks…”

Okay, that last one is more of a paraphrase than a quote, but you get the point. PR has taken a bit of a lashing recently.

Beyond being tired, cliche and trite, the “PR Sucks” meme is an informal fallacy – a straw man argument. The assertion of  most of these pieces is that because much of PR (particularly agency work and especially over the last 20 years) has been focused on earned media (media relations), that PR people are not suited/incapable/really bad at social media strategy and implementation. That media relations models don’t work in the social world, so clearly we’re ill-suited.

But media relations of course is only one specialized function – this argument reveals more about the respective writers’ (lack of) experience or limited view of PR and its role in management than it does about the nature of the public relations profession.

The “PR Sucks” argument doesn’t get at the actual discussion we should be having. I would love to see the discussion focused on creating understanding what PR is and what it is not. Limiting public relations to any singular function – whether it’s media relations or event planning or speechwriting is not productive. The authors of such posts are being incendiary on purpose, of course. “If we flame them, they will come and comment and link back! yay!”

But in the process, the broad brush with which they paint is not flattering to them or to those they caricature. And disclaimers like, “some of my best friends are PR people…” doesn’t help.

Defining public relations is complicated to say the least. The nuance and context within which a public relations professional works is hard to pin down and even the scholars don’t agree. However, since this is my blog, I’ll offer that the best definitions of PR have three things in common:

  • The importance of research
  • The primacy of relationships
  • The central requirement of listening and responding

One of my favorite definitions is from Rex Harlow:

Public relations is the distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and sound and ethical communication as its principal tools.

Another from Carl Botan:

Using communication to adapt relationships between organizations and their publics.

Finally, from the Encyclopedia of PR (which I didn’t know existed), Robert Heath offers:

Public Relations is a set of management, supervisory, and technical functions that foster an organization’s ability to strategically listen to, appreciate, and respond to those persons whose mutually beneficial relationships with the organization are necessary if it is to achieve its missions and values.

“Beneficial” relationships are not necessarily positive or the relationships that you enjoy building and maintaining. In fact, stakeholders may be the readers and viewers of media outlets, but they may also be employees, vendors, investors, neighbors, activists, government agencies, etc. Our focus in PR is not exclusively on the customer.

Creating a shared space for dialogue and feedback has been part of our job all along. Those “shared spaces” have taken real world shapes in the form of town halls, open houses, public comment opportunities, trade shows, desk-side briefings, CEO tours, and so on. But the online equivalents are a natural fit.

The problem, it seems, is the lack of understanding and “world view” of communications management by the PR Sucks crowd. Oh, and there are plenty of PR people who also lack understanding and “world view.” They’re the spammers, the bad pitchers, the flacks, the “smile and dial” publicists. But they are also not the norm.  Nor are they public relations professionals.

I lectured this week on the history of PR and I’m always invigorated by Arthur Page’s position on the role of public relations. Every time I get to this part of the lecture, I’m struck by how clearly his six principles often resonate with me and the work that I do as a public relations practitioner.

  • Tell the truth: Let the public know what’s happening and provide an accurate picture of your organization’s character, ideals, and practices.
  • Prove it with Action: Public perception of an organization is based on 90% doing and 10% telling.
  • Listen: Understand what the organization’s publics want and need. Keep top decision makers and other employees informed about company products, policies and practices.
  • Manage for Tomorrow: Anticipate opportunities and challenges, eliminate practices that create difficulties. Generate goodwill.
  • Conduct PR as if the whole company depends on it: No strategy should be implemented without considering its impact on the public.
  • Remain Calm, Patient and Good-Humored: Lay the groundwork for PR miracles with consistent, calm and reasoned action to information and contacts. Cool heads communicate best. (my favorite)

I would love to hear from you. What do you think?

photo by Richard Sunderland

Traveling Linky Love

I’m just wrapping up a weekend in Seattle where I was a keynote at the Pacific Northwest President Elect Training Seminar, so I’m a bit late on my weekly best-of. In fact, I can tell that I’ll be running to catch up with myself this week… so here we go!

You can learn more info about these “linky loves” and the background on the students’ assignment here.


Grin & Bare It Linky Love

Wow! I actually had to stop looking at my feedreader. Way too much good stuff to share this week. Enjoy!

What skills (tangible or conceptual) do public relations students need as they graduate from college?

I asked this question on Quora, the newest shiny object that social media peeps are paying attention to. Check out the great responses I got back. And share your thoughts!

Please, Facebook: Help shameless recruitniks help themselves by Andy Staples at Sports Illustrated.

A tongue-in-cheek open letter to Mark Zuckerberg, asking for a Facebook shut down to save all those football recruits from themselves. An interesting look at college football and social media.

The History of Social Media from Mashable

I love infographics. This one is a timeline, going back to the first email that was sent. An interesting response post could be just to share your thoughts about how these tools have changed your life (if they have) and your place in this history.

10 Ways to Whip 20-Something Employees into Professional Shape

If you haven’t figured this out yet, there are lot of stereotypes (many rooted in truth, as stereotypes tend to be) about millennials (those under age 26 or 27). PR faculty here (including me) have some done some research on Millennials and I can tell you that this article has some great advice based on what I know. But what you do think?

Social Media to the Rescue: Getting Your Brand Back on Track When Crisis Strikes by Amber Naslund and Jay Baer

I gotta say, I’ve been impressed with the excerpts I’ve seen from this book. This one shares eight tips for dealing with crisis online. Based on my own experience, I’d agree that these are useful tips – simple, but not simplistic.

Seven Ways to Gain PR Campaign Momentum

Even if you’ve got the best idea in the world, you have to have client buy in and team motivation, this article has some tips for both.

The Four Keys to Tweet Success from Mark Schaefer

Four solid tips. Whether you write about this post or not for your weekly post, you should read it.

Can You Pass the Social Media Relations Quiz? from Kevin Dugan at Bad Pitch Blog

Too often building media lists is done half-assed. Trust me, I get crappy pitches pretty regularly. This is a great checklist for thinking about before you make the pitch.

Should I Care About Quora? from Marketing Profs

I might be a little obsessed with Quora at the moment (see first link). Here’s some reasons why it might be worth paying attention to.

(Headline story: spent two days this week at the dentist with my 4 year old. Good times.)

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?

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

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!

How to Write a Basic Media Relations Strategy

The ability to work with the media is our “value added” in public relations (and one of the key reasons PR is in the journalism school at the UofO)… So when you want to add a media relations strategy to a client plan or proposal, how do you do it?

“Get [my organization] on morning talk shows” is not a media relations strategy.

First, think about your target audience. You need to have a solid understanding of who your target audience is. Have you painted a picture that makes it clear what media they use and respond to. If not, do more research.

Once you’re comfortable with your understanding on the audience, you’re ready to move forward with recommended strategy. Your strategy needs to include your key messages and the tone of the media materials that you will create.

For example, say you’re working with a local humane society on recruiting more adopters and your target audience is senior citizens. Your objective might be: To raise awareness of [the humane society] among senior citizens so to encourage more adoptions.

You’ve determined through your research that your target audience reads the local newspaper daily. Your strategy might read something like this:

To accomplish this objective, we recommend a media relations strategy that focuses on the health benefits of owning an animal. According to, health benefits include lower blood pressure, longer life and lower stress levels. The Humane Society should identify key spokespeople from this target audience to dispel possible myths about behavior or social problems of shelter animals and discuss the benefits of adopting from the Humane Society.

The specific tactics would follow-on in a priority list and would include the steps to take to execute the strategy and meet the objective.

What else goes into a media relations strategy? Check out these articles:
Ten Steps for Successful Media Relations (on
Website Pressroom – A Key Promotional Tool

Other tips? What key elements must be considered for an effective media relations campaign?

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