Selecting the media to target is somewhat similar to deciding where to run advertising. Some publications will run your press releases or articles with a byline as a quid pro quo for your advertising, but these tend to be special-purpose journals, such as those organized around a trade conference. Most responsible journalists erect a “Chinese wall” between editorial and advertising. Being an advertiser does not automatically entitle you to news coverage (although it certainly doesn’t hurt). When picking the media to whom you will send your press release or press kit, keep their target market in mind, as well as your own. Everyone likes to see one’s name in large-circulation media like the Wall Street Journal or Business Week. But a trade journal, such as Bond Buyer or Institutional Investor, can not only be a better placement, given your target market, but can also be easier to get into. Trade journals don’t get the volume of press releases that general interest publications do. They have limited staff with limited time, so a usable press release may get run as it is written—something unheard of among the large circulation general media. If you send a release to Fortune or the Washington Post, at best you may pique the interest of a reporter who will do his or her own research on the topic.
To cultivate the journalists who cover your market, make sure to introduce yourself at trade shows. Let them know if there are important breaking stories. Invite them to attend if you or your spokespeople are giving a speech or holding an event. Put them on your list for any white papers or other materials of interest. Getting on a reporter’s Rolodex as a subject-matter expert or someone to bounce ideas off can lead to a gold mine of publicity. Each time you or your spokespeople are quoted as industry experts, your company’s reputation is reinforced.
Think of reporters and editors as if they were very special clients. Remember, their days are deadline-driven, so always ask if it’s a good time to talk if you call them. And remember that even if they cultivate you as a source, they don’t work for you. Their job is to write fairly, not necessarily favorably. The following practices will help you to work effectively with the press:
Be positive at all times. Adversarial relationships will not go far. Reporters are not the enemy. They have stories to write and deadlines to meet—what is important to you may not be important to them. Make sure you and your spokespeople deal with every reporter objectively and honestly.
Know the publication and its target audience. It is important to read back issues of the publication to understand the audience and make sure your message will be relevant to the reader. Learn what the editor is interested in. Look at who the advertisers are and what ads say to readers.
Take the time to know the kind of information the reporter will be looking for. Review the reporter’s past stories. What type of detail does she like to include?
Take time to build a relationship. Don’t just go to a publication when you have something to say in the interest of your own product or business. Share industry information. Be willing to serve as an industry expert, to provide someone from your firm, or even to refer a reporter to your competitor if appropriate.
Know the difference between news and information. Make sure you call reporters only when you have something that is newsworthy. Not everything your company does is worth shouting from the rooftops.
Don’t use industry jargon or acronyms. A reporter doesn’t have the time to interpret what you are saying.
Know what you are going to say before you call a reporter, editor, or producer. Before you get on the phone, jot down your talking points. Introduce yourself and be clear and concise when pitching your story.
Building Business by Becoming an Industry Expert
A small mortgage broker grew into a much bigger company through the steady use of PR. The firm’s principal began by giving talks about “qualifying for a mortgage” and “current directions in mortgage rates” at local community organizations, like the YMCA. She would then send press kits, including her speech, her bio, and background information about the firm to local newspapers, inviting them to call her if they needed information about the subject. Pretty soon, the local papers were quoting her name and the name of her firm every time they did a story about mortgages. Success breeds success, and she was soon the local authority on mortgage stories—to the extent that she had to hire eight more brokers to join her staff.
Never promise what you can’t deliver. If you commit to getting information for a reporter, make sure you provide it before his deadline. If you can’t deliver, let the reporter know as soon as possible.
Determine if charts, graphs, or illustrations are appropriate. When possible, make executives available for questions.
Don’t offer identical interviews to different publications, particularly if it is not breaking news. You can damage any relationship you have built if the same interview appears in competing newspapers or on competing radio or television programs.
Make sure you or your spokespeople are trained in handling the media, especially for broadcast interviews, where you need to respond quickly and clearly. Having a session or two with a professional media trainer will give you far more confidence, as well as some knowledge of how to better control the interview.
Follow up intelligently. It is a good idea, after sending a press release, to follow up with a phone call. Editors can get hundreds, even thousands, of press releases every day and don’t necessarily read every one. Reminding an editor of the subject of your press release may pique her interest. She may ask you to send the release again. Do so, marking it clearly “Information requested by [name and date].” Then follow-up once more. The more relevant the information is to the audience, the more likely the press release will be used and phone calls returned.
Don’t keep calling to find out if or when your press release or interview will appear. This is one case in which the squeaky wheel not only doesn’t get the grease, it may end up in the junk pile.
Above all be ethical. Never misinform, and be careful what you omit in the service of spinning your story. If you don’t know the answer, say so, and get the answer. If you can’t reveal certain information, say so.
Many corporations discourage employees from speaking directly with the press about company activities. From a corporate perspective, controlling the message assures consistency, as well as the ability to address press inquiries in an organized fashion. It also reduces the need for “damage control” when an unauthorized spokesperson makes a mistake. On the other hand, this policy does limit the ability of a local sales executive to build local visibility and credibility and may frustrate a reporter or editor who is looking for a local expert to quote.
If direct access to the press is important to you, build a relationship with your public relations or corporate communications group, just as you would with the press. Know the press guidelines established by your company and adhere to them. If a press opportunity arises, contact the appropriate people before making a comment, but do try to find out the nature of the press inquiry, the type of story being written, your role (whether the reporter is looking for a single comment that can be taken over the phone or a sit-down interview) and the deadline the reporter is under. Have this information available before you call corporate communications.
Given the financial industry’s strict regulations, licensed financial advisers should not offer any financial advice to the media before talking to your compliance department or your attorney. If not already required, ask a member of the corporate communications group to monitor any press interview that you schedule. This will not only protect your licenses, but will also help convince them that you are a knowledgeable and responsible spokesperson. Many calls from the press go directly to corporate communications. Let those colleagues
Finding the Right Publications and Editors
Media directories abound, both print and online, that identify everything from general interest magazines to tiny special-interest publications. These directories may be organized by geography or by subject and include such information as geographical address, e-mail address, phone and fax numbers, circulation, frequency (daily, weekly, monthly), and the names and phone numbers or e-mail addresses for the publisher and the various editors. Be aware, however, that editors’ names are often out of date. You should call the publication directly to make sure of the name of the editor you want to reach. When you call, ask the editor or assistant whether he or she is the right contact for your information, and if not, who at the publication might be interested.
If you are asked to become a local spokesperson, ask for media training. If not available internally, find a successful local PR firm that can provide one-on-one training. Expect to pay a fee to any outside firm.
In this post-Enron era, the press is taking a more critical look at the words and actions of the business community. Reporters will be more cautious and less likely to take what is said at face value. Many feel duped and manipulated by events over the past several years. In response, you can expect that statistics and recommendations will be scrutinized and held to a higher standard of proof than in the past.
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