How To Fire Up Your Media Relations Efforts.

Posted on July 3, 2014. Filed under: Creative Marketing, Media Commentary, Minneapolis, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , |

Is traditional media relations dead? Not by a long shot. People still rely on the traditional news media for news. They may not receive the news in the traditional way, e.g. home-delivered newspapers or by faithfully tuning into the 10 p.m. television newscast. But they’re still paying attention to the news.

Which means it still pays for companies to invest in traditional media relations programs. By that, I mean a program in which news coverage is actively pursued by an actual human being attempting to make personal contact with other actual human beings. The “other actual human beings” in this case being, news people. 5Centurions1

It also means thinking through a media relations strategy.  Even better, a strategy might take into account multiple opportunities for creating news over a period of time — several months, six months, a year.

Go Beyond Doing ‘Some Public Relations’

Now I see a lot of people using press release distribution services to disseminate news about their companies. Some are of the paid variety, others free, or at least so low-cost as to be nearly free. Many come from small- to mid-size companies, in what appears to me to be an attempt to do “some public relations.” As in, we’ve got news, we should put out a press release!

If you have news, by all means put out a press release. But wait! Have you thought it through? Do you know what you’re trying to accomplish with this press release? Is it written in such a way as to appeal to news people? Does it conform to AP style? Is it interesting? Do you have graphics – photos, charts, etc. — to help make your story more compelling? Links to online supporting video?

Do you have a larger media relations strategy in place, such as one that identifies key news making opportunities for the company over time — and sets out a plan for pursuing those opportunities to your fullest advantage?

If You Release It, Many Still Won’t See It.

Recently, I helped a client get major news out about a win in a court case. The news was of both local (metro) and national significance. We agreed to put a press release out on one of the major paid news distribution wires. The release would hit all the major business and consumer media in the country — including almost all daily newspapers, television and radio news stations. Key editors covering our type of news were targeted.

Out went the release. In came a barrage of “hits” — mostly verbatim pickup of the release on a variety of web-based news sites that subscribe to the news distribution service. Nice, but not really high-caliber hits — the kind where a reporter is so struck by your news that he/she calls or emails to get more information.

Even before sending the release out on the wire, I had contacted a number of key reporters and editors to alert them to the news. (Did I know all these people? Certainly not. But I figured they would likely be most interested in the news, because it landed on their “beats.”) Most of the reporters I talked with were happy to hear from me. In many instances, they wanted much more information — including a copy of the court transcript — and they wanted to personally interview my client.

As the day went on, I called and emailed numerous other reporters, locally and nationally. Almost to a person, none had seen the press release that went out on the wire earlier that day. None. Even though it was news specifically pertinent to their beats — and of high interest to their audiences — they were unaware of the news until I brought it to their attention. Many of them did in fact request more information. Some wanted to speak with my client, Some very significant stories resulted. The news coverage — specifically that which came about from the personal contacts with the media — wound up generating more business for my client. Which was the ultimate goal of the press release and media relations approach.

I say all this not to toot my own media relations horn (although I can’t deny doing some of that) but to point out the fallacy of thinking the job is complete by simply sending out a press release. Or even doing a bit of media relations follow-up. if you’ve got news, make the most of it! Do the hard media relations work — and it is hard, time-consuming work to get the media’s attention, make no mistake — of leveraging your news to its fullest extent.

You may be surprised at how far your news travels — when it’s assertively presented and pitched.


Doug Hovelson, author of this blog post, is an experienced media relations and public relations professional working out of Minneapolis. Some might call him a media junkie, in a good way. He’s written and placed thousands of press releases and company stories in almost every media outlet known to humankind. He’s always delighted to talk media relations strategies with people who want to see if they can do more with their media relations efforts. He can be reached at 612-722-5501 or at doughovelson AT MSN Dot COM.

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Lack Of Media Contacts No Reason To Sit On Stories

Posted on May 25, 2014. Filed under: Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Which comes first, the story idea or the media contact relationship?

Believe it or not, I’ll take the great story idea first — if I have to choose. So should you.

I’ve worked with literally thousands of media outlets and their people — reporters, editors, program producers, photographers —  over the years. From that experience, I’ve distilled some basic facts about “working with the media” that I’d like to share.

  • It’s not necessary to be on a first-name basis with reporters before you can pitch them on a story idea. “Who do you know” at such-and-such a media outlet is one of the most common things clients and prospective clients ask. I understand why clients ask this question so routinely. They want to be successful. Having contacts is important. I don’t want to downplay the advantage that a PR person has in knowing a key reporter personally, especially at the larger, more influential media outlets. But there’s no reason to believe that you have to know reporters and editors in advance to pitch them on your story idea. Not if you’ve done your homework first, to figure out if the story you’re pitching is relevant to the type of the coverage that the outlet handles, and matches up to the specific beat of the reporter, editor or producer. If you’ve got news, and it’s of interest to the media outlet’s audience, then you’ve got reason enough to get in touch with the editorial people who handle the type of story you’re proposing.
  • Do your media relations homework. Be a student of the game. Read, watch, listen to what’s being said about your industry — and where it’s being said. Analyze stories to understand what makes them newsworthy. Put yourself in the reporter’s place — think like a journalist! Build up a file of stories similar to what you’re hoping to get for you own business (online storage services like Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote are great for saving reference material like this).
  • Put it in writing. Most reporters will listen to your pitch, and then say something like “send me something written and I’ll taka  look at it.” Now you’ll send your press release, fact sheet, backgrounder, bio, news alert, white paper or whatever. Or maybe you’ve already sent the press release along as an attachment to an email pitch you sent to the reporter. You might have to send it again – or send more information that supports your story. Be sure to have this material prepared and ready to go in advance. You don’t watch to capture the reporter’s attention, only to lose it again because you can’t follow through with something so basic as a press release or fact sheet.
  • Concentrate on your story. Is it really newsworthy? Have you considered all the angles – are you looking at it from the journalist’s point of view?
  • I would never let not knowing the media stand between me and getting a good story placed. Neither should you. Let your story be your guide; if it’s a good one, and you’ve got the right attitude and know-how, you can be sure that the media will listen to you — even if they’re not in your pantheon of close personal friends prior to your contacting them.

Once again, I’m not saying that personal connections with the media aren’t important. They’re invaluable. All PR people of any standing have their personal media contact lists that they guard like family jewels. I’m no exception. But it’s no either/or situation. Enthusiasm for a good story can carry the day, no matter whether you’re pitching it to your best friend or to a complete stranger.

 

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Pitching The Media, Channel Basics

Posted on April 3, 2014. Filed under: Media Commentary, Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Public Relations Pointers, Public relations practices, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Reporters even today, in this most post-modern of post-modern worlds to date, prefer to get their pitches from PR people under cover of email. Or, get this, they’ll even take a story idea by telephone — yes that strange little talking device that pre-dates even the VCR, microwave ovens and the use of the designated hitter in baseball — over getting hit up with an idea by, say, a Tweet.

Not to say that all reporters, news producers and the like eschew the social media avenues for pitch contacts. TV reporters and program producers seem to get an abundance of their story ideas from social media sources, according to the 2014 Vocus State of the Media Report. This makes sense, since television news is particularly keen on reaching out to viewers for news tips and just generally more open to engaging with viewers via social media.

Best Bet – Email!

Email emerges as the favorite medium for story pitching for a number of reasons. One, it’s private. Two, it’s fast and also because people pay more attention to what’s happening in the email streams than they do to what’s being beamed at them on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and the like. Three, it’s easier to keep track of pitches sent via email versus the social media circuits.

Keeping things private, Edward Snowden aside, is pretty much a given when working with the news media. Some news people — outside the aforementioned local TV news realm — are receptive to receiving tips via openly public media such as Twitter. But putting a story idea up on a public Twitter feed also cues competitors in to what a reporter may be doing. It’s no way to pitch an exclusive story, that’s for sure. Most reporters that I know and work with seem to work under the assumption that whatever story they’re doing is their own private business — and they just don’t want other people outside their organization to know what they’re working on until they’re ready to reveal it themselves. This makes email a better choice than a public Tweet, especially if you’re pitching a particular story angle to a particular reporter. Using the private DM channel on Twitter to contact a reporter is a better approach – assuming you have that option – but again, there’s the chance that the reporter isn’t checking the Twitter feedline that often.

By Any Means Possible

A nice option is to use Twitter as a story-pitch alerter – signaling the reporter that you’ve got a newsy idea to discuss, with a note that you’ve sent an email – if that’s the case or left a voice-mail message if that’s the case. Use it as another tool for getting a news person’s attention, in other words.

Reporters often use Facebook and LinkedIn as means of tracking down sources. LinkedIn has its advantages with its built-in InMail feature, which allows users to send private emails to others in the LinkedIn system.

I find Twitter to be of immense use as a media relations tool, less for direct pitching of stories than for staying informed about specific media outlets and reporters. In fact, I often find myself browsing through my list of people I’m following on Twitter to find reporters and media outlets that might be interested in stories I’m currently pitching. The list changes all the time, depending on what I’m working on.

Personal Contact Is Essential

But for pitching story ideas – when you’re the pitcher – the best approach still seems to be a combination of email and followup telephone contact, perhaps supplemented by contacts on Twitter and other social media outlets where the news person maintains a presence. The unsettling thing about email is that you’re never sure if your pitch has been seen by a reporter who probably gets bombarded by email all day long. (There are unobtrusive email tracking systems that you can use to see if your emails are being opened; they just let you know if and when someone’s clicked open your email. (I’m not real familiar with the technology, although I’m interested in hearing from anyone who does know how effective such systems are and so forth.)

And yet, there are no absolutes — whatever works best with individual reporters and news people is the best approach.

Active media relations is very challenging work. The digital age has made it all the more complicated and demanding. People who do media relations work well tend to live and breathe the media world. Many are former journalists — more of them now than say 10 years ago. Now I’m speaking of media relations as the practice of reaching out to the media to generate coverage for clients. This goes beyond the idea of simply pumping out a press release, throwing it out on a paid distribution service, and sitting back to see what happens. Many companies do this for quick-fix SEO – search engine optimization reasons. Nothing wrong with that. But if you’ve got a good story to tell, one that you believe should be of interest to the media, then it’s worth taking the time to personally pitch the story to the media as well. The keys to great results, as the Vocus study shows, are persistence and using the appropriate means of contact.

Good Stories Buried With The Bad

Let me finish with a quote from a reporter at a national news media outlets in Southern California, as identified in the Vocus report. The reporter responds to the question of whether she is open to receiving pitches via social media. Her response appears to indicate that she isn’t currently receiving many pitches via social media.

“Yes, I think. It is hard to say what the long-term effect of my social media experience will be if my Facebook instant message or Twitter Direct Message box becomes packed with pitches like my email box is now. I routinely miss important emails as it is now because they are buried within the stack of “story ideas.” I think a more elegant solution is ahead of us, I just don’t know what it is yet.” – See more at: VOCUS State of the Media Report.

She sums up the crux of the matter, from a media relations perspective, very well when she says that a lot of important emails get buried under the stack of story ideas in her email box. That’s where good media relations people earn their keep – by finding ways to call pitch-saturated reporters’ and editors’ attention to their clients’ good story ideas. (Because a good story is a terrible thing to waste, damn it!)

Hats off to VOCUS for doing the report.

Got a media relations story to share, commentary on my commentary, etc? I’d love to hear from you.

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Cash Call On The Holidays

Posted on November 7, 2010. Filed under: Economic Trends, Public Relations | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Cover of "Surviving Christmas"

Cover of Surviving Christmas

Twin Cities malls are booked up with tenants, and brimming with good feelings about the holiday shopping season, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Sunday, Nov. 7).

Psstt…Don’t Tell The Pickpockets!

USAA, in a very cleverly conceived press release, reports that the new normal still holds true for this holiday season.  Ninety percent of the public plans to use cash when shopping for holiday items, according to USAA’s second annual holiday spending survey. (Let’s hope this news doesn’t get widely circulated among the nation’s pickpockets.)

Cash is the enemy of the plastic industry, of course: and indeed credit card issuers will be feeling the pinch if shoppers remain committed to leave the plastic at home. Only 41% of shoppers plan to use credit cards for their purchases, the survey says.

“The survey findings indicate that adopting better money habits as a result of the Great Recession isn’t a fad, but more of a long-term trend,” said Joseph Montanaro, a financial planner with USAA.

Consumer Sentiments Measured By Movie Relativity

Still 46% of consumers said that the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” is how they feel about their plans for holiday spending. But “Surviving Christmas” is the movie that best matches the budgetary concerns of 28% of families. The National Retail Federation projects a 2.9% increase in retail spending this year; that will mean a total holiday cash haul for retailers in the range of $447 billion, according to the NRF forecast. (By comparison, retailers rang up $435.6 billion in holiday sales in 2005, another year when consumers were coming out of a recessionary shell.)

It doesn’t take much for retailers to wax optimistic, of course. But in Minnesota at least, it looks as if the early November giddiness may be justified. For one thing, the state unemployment rate is just 6.6%, well below the national average. The Mall of America is 100% leased for the first time in 18 years, according to the Pioneer Press article.

Then there’s the Minnesota Vikings factor, a heretofore unreported prediction of increased Twin Cities mall traffic on Sundays if the Vikings’ continue to beat themselves out of playoff contention. Nothing like a little festive holiday shopping to ward off those collapsing football team blues after all.

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No Country For Dull Press Releases

Posted on March 19, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Public Relations Commentary, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

(And Other Thoughts In A Public Relations Vein)

Here’s best-selling author Michael Connelly on the state of the newspaper world, as seen through the eyes of Jack McEvoy, erstwhile star crime beat reporter for the fictional L.A. Times, a major daily newspaper in the City of Angels. In Scarecrow, Connelly’s 2009 novel, McEvoy is going the way of all aging reportorial flesh. Which is to say, he’s been riffed, let-go, pink-slipped, fired, in short, a casualty of the ongoing catastrophe that is 21st century newspaper journalism.

“There was no newspaper out there in the market for an over-40 cop shop reporter…Like the paper and ink newspaper itself, my time was over. It was all about the Internet now. It was about hourly uploads to online editions and blogs. It was about television tie-ins and Twitter updates…The morning paper might as well be called the Daily Afterthought. Everything in it was posted on the web the night before.”

newspaper revenue projections

Connelly’s a former Los Angeles Times cop shop reporter himself, so he knows whereof his bloodied lead character rants.

Okay then.

The newspaper business is in a bad way, no argument there.

But where does that leave us, the scribbling foot soldiers of the public relations world?

Writing, Still A Primary Tool Of The PR Trade?

Does good writing matter anymore, PR-wise? And if so, how so?

I was thinking all this through the other day as I pondered a client’s reaction to a piece of writing I had produced for publication – on the client’s behalf — in a daily newspaper. In a slight bit of deadline haste – ever had an anxious editor say you have to make a few last minute changes just before the ink hits the newsprint? — I put in a sentence that might not have totally captured my client’s thought process. My bad. Expediency can be a killer. Fortunately I had an understanding client, who did not let one bad moment spoil what I believe to be a good working relationship.

But, let’s think about this for a moment more. Here we are, in the post-literate age supposedly, and words obviously still count for something. More to the point, the written word counts, even if its published in that most maligned of modern media institutions, the daily newspaper.

Why is that?

Writing Sticks.

I thought of all the words that pour forth from the mouths of politicians and corporate spokespeople, celebrities, athletes, scientists, lawyers, cops (a passing nod to the crime beat reporter there), experts of all stripes, luncheon keynote speakers, not to mention babes, all emptying into the mighty maw of broadcast, print, Internet and personal journalism (AKA the grapevine). Such a mighty roar, and yet the power of the printed word is such that it can make a grown man nearly cry if he gets it wrong.

And why is that?

The only thing I can think of is that the printed word, is still understood to have lasting significance. Maybe that’s granting it a magical essence that it really doesn’t deserve. Personally, I don’t think that’s true though.

People instinctively know that they can be moved by the power of well-written words, be they found in a press release, a corporate backgrounder, a brochure, a newsletter, even – God forbid – in a Twitter alert. Moved to think, to learn, to take an action. Stuff that moves markets, in other words.

It may be that ink and paper newspapers are slouching towards extinction. I don’t know for sure about that. Everybody seemed to declare them dead in 2009, but even so recently as yesterday I found someone willing to sell me a hard copy of the daily newspaper over the counter for 50 cents.

But words in print, hand-crafted for a specific commercial/social realism purpose such as selling a product, building brand awareness, establishing a position, informing and motivating a target audience (or audiences)?

Not Quite As Post-Literate As We’d Like To Think.

I think my client was dead-on in expressing a concern about the way in which the newspaper article – an op-ed piece, as it were – depicted the issue at hand. There is magic in the printed word (and let’s call it like it is, the Internet does bear a striking resemblance to the world of print in some ways, noticeably by its durability). Good writing is powerful. It has staying power. It is memorable. When applied commercially, it is a reflection of the company that sponsors it.

Newspapering may not be what it once was. Public relations isn’t what it used to be either (it’s better, in my opinion, more comprehensive, more multi-dimensional).

But good writing, good story-telling, there’s a need for that – quite possibly now more than ever, what with the increasing emphasis on content as a marketable business and social commodity.

So while Jack McEvoy might be out of a job (or maybe not, you should really read Scarecrow to find out what happens to him, it’s a good read), those of us who labor away in the PR trenches know this: you can’t keep a good press release down!

 

 

 

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