April 24, 2014
As a former journalist, in print and television, mostly on the business beat, I suggest these inside scoops if you want media coverage. Media relations is an inapt phrase. It really should be called media relationships. Following these guidelines will help you attain the kind of coverage you seek:
1) Don’t make it hard for them. Make reporters’ jobs easier, by treating them like customers and thinking as they do. I know from personal experience that most executives make reporters’ jobs more difficult, and then would expect us to write laudatory copy. Marketing begins when you learn to think like the customer, but many executives fail to realize that the reporter is the customer… for the information you transmit.
2) Never, ever lie. Please tell the truth. In the eyes of the press, companies have personalities just like people do. Some are truth-tellers, some are liars, and some vacillate between honesty and exaggeration. Preserve your reputation accordingly.
3) Don’t miss a deadline. Executives who failed to respond in timely fashion were the single most common problem I confronted as a journalist. “News cycles” used to last 24 hours; with the internet, information rotates every 24 minutes, or even 24 seconds, so be sure to respond quickly.
4) Don’t go off the record. Going “off the record” sounds so cool and James-Bondish, along with “shaken, not stirred.” Yet you might end up being both shaken and stirred if information that you considered confidential ends up in print. I suggest a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. Weigh the benefit of revealing secrets versus the risk of exposure. Chances are it’s not worth it.
5) Don’t forget the value of drama. Tell a story. Stories have three parties: heroes, villains and victims. There’s an old adage in Hollywood that great villains make great movies. Yet the evil need not be animate in the business press. A “villain” could be high cost, a bad experience, a terrible outcome, or simply frustration or pain. If your product or service functions as the “hero” by alleviating or mitigating these ills, and if you can show that you can improve the plight of the victim (i.e. your customer) accordingly, then you will add some drama to the mundane.
6) Do not use the phrase “No Comment.” It sounds like an admission of guilt. In a court of law you are innocent until proven guilty, but in the court of public opinion you are guilty until proven innocent. Saying “No Comment” is akin to pleading the fifth. If you can’t answer a question, please tell the reporter why. For example, you might say, “Company policy forbids breaking out finances by product line.”
7) Never tell reporters, “We sure could use some publicity on this product.” The press is not your PR agency. Of course you want publicity. But don’t say that to the reporter. It’s insulting. Simply tell your story and hope for the best.
8) Don’t forget to “soundbite.” Emulate a radio reporter. A skillful announcer puts you there, on the scene, and makes you see, hear, taste and smell what she does. Pretend you are describing a movie to a blind person. Paint pictures with words. Images we imagine are more real than those we see.
9) Don’t discount the viewers’ eyes. Make sure your story has visual appeal if you are seeking television coverage. (Even the print media are becoming more visual, so make sure that you illustrate your information with telling pictures or graphics.) Allow TV reporters onto your premises so they can shoot “b-roll” (the industry term for background footage). If that isn’t feasible, hire a high-quality crew to do it for you, and distribute copies for the asking. Be sure to include ambient sound. Silence is not golden in this context.
10) Don’t vilify the media. Remember that the press is neither friend nor foe, but can be an ally, or at least a megaphone. Think of the reporter as a conduit to and a representative of a larger audience. One interview is simply a conversation with hundreds of thousands or millions of people eavesdropping. It’s much less expensive, and much more effective, than paid advertising.
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