By Ellie Rand, Public Relations Accounts Supervisor, Deveney Communication
As published in Bulldog Reporter Daily ‘Dog on June 25, 2013
PR does not stand for “press release.”
Although that fact may be obvious to us practitioners, many people assume media relations, including the writing and pitching of press releases, is the primary function of a public relations professional.
I understand the confusion. While other PR tactics, such as partnerships, internal communications and social media efforts, are often employed as part of a comprehensive campaign, the work we do with the news media is often the most compelling.
Media relations efforts can be offensive or defensive. Landing your fashion designer client’s new handbag in Vogue? Offense. Drafting a statement to address alleged sweatshop conditions where that handbag was made? Defense. Definitely defense.
Whether you’re charged with generating consumer coverage or asked to ride point on a developing crisis, you need to be confident in the area of media relations.
Developing confidence in media relations requires the same steps it takes to master most anything. Consider cooking. Or baseball. First you need passion. You need to love it enough to keep going when progress isn’t apparent. Acquire the right tools and equipment, and then learn how to use them. Practice constantly. Consult the experts and learn from mistakes. Once you have the basics down, when you can chop an onion with your eyes closed or field a grounder on a slick field, take risks. Deviate from the recipe. Steal home. Text an editor a short pitch idea they have already turned down, citing a recent event that increases its relevancy.
Here are 3 absolutes I employ in any media relations effort:
1. Consume the Media Targets
Read the writers and editors you pitch. I mean really read. Not scroll. Understand what details interests that particular writer and then fold that element into your pitch. Attempting to generate a summer travel story for your hotel client? Identify a travel writer who has mentioned a wife or kids in his past articles and then craft the pitch to mention family travel deals and opportunities at the hotel.
Similarly, drop an email to a reporter whose story you enjoyed or to an editor whose blog was especially insightful. They will appreciate your interest in their work and that you took that time to contact them without asking for something.
If you are in a crisis situation, research the reporter who is launching the offensive. Does she know much about your industry? If not, provide helpful background that positions you and your clients as the experts. Does she routinely go back to the same sources? If so, contact those individuals and provide them with information that supports your messaging.
2. Give the News Media What They Need, When They Need It
Research your media targets to identify existing segments or sections in which your client can easily fit. Watch the morning shows. Listen to the drive time business report. Know what slots the producers need to fill and craft your pitch to fit the opportunity.
In the “timing is everything” department, know that editorial calendars are a terrific resource in Media Relations planning. Editorial calendars, whose main purpose to facilitate ad sales, allow Media Relations specialists to know for certain what topics will be hot and when. I use editorial calendars as a foundation for most of my content and pitch plans.
Timing is also important on the defensive side of the ball. The first question to an inquiring investigative reporter should be about deadlines. If he plans to air something that afternoon, you may want to provide a simple statement that can buy you time while not appearing “duck and cover.” However, if the piece is still a few days away, you may consider inviting the reporter to sit down with your client once you’ve developed your messaging and administered media training.
3. Follow Up, Follow Up, Follow Up
When I started in PR, dialing a push button phone after mailing or faxing a press release was the most technologically advanced form of reaching a member of the news media. Email and text messaging allows us to distribute information much more comprehensively and efficiently. However, technology also enables everyone else to distribute their information much more comprehensively and efficiently. The result? Email inboxes so full that your pitch has likely entered the black hole. If so, pick up the phone. Call the same day you hit “send.” Leave a message. If you’re lucky enough to speak with the editor, assume she has not read your email. Shorten and summarize. Pause for acknowledgement. Try again.
Follow Up is also important in crisis mode. Ensure the reporter received the statement. Clarify and confirm the quotes he intends to use. Ask the timing and tone of the piece while offering assistance to provide further sources that support your messaging. While these efforts may not head off a negative story, they will build your credibility and help maintain a good relationship with that specific reporter.
Be familiar with the style and content of media outlets with whom you work. Provide useful and timely information that meets the needs of the media. Don’t assume the media received your pitch or other communications. While these absolutes may be simple, adhering to them will help achieve Media Relations success while rounding out your Public Relations skill set.
Ellie is the Public Relations Accounts Supervisor at Deveney Communication in New Orleans, LA. She began her career in Media Relations as a Publicist with Simon & Schuster in New York City over 20 years ago, after serving as an editorial assistant to the late Hunter S. Thompson. Ellie holds a Masters in Mass Communication from Louisiana State University and is a mom, published essayist and show tune junkie.