Avoiding Common Media Relations Missteps
Every year or so, we’ll read a high-profile editor’s blog or reporter’s column that dismisses all things public relations and classifies media strategists as anything but strategic.
While we shrug off the unfair blanket criticism and equate it to a reporter having a “bad hair day,” there are commonsense rules we can glean from these rants to employ in our media relations outreach.
First things first
One of the most common complaints journalists have against public relations professionals is we don’t know their publications/media outlets or their beats. Taking the time to truly understand a reporter’s interests is a simple step that starts with reading their stories or watching their shows.
Today’s environment of newsroom shakeups and constantly changing beats makes our job even harder. Most reporters, now more than ever, genuinely appreciate the extra effort PR professionals take to provide ideas that easily fit into their beats and help them create a relevant story without having to cobble together a lot of extra pieces.
A complete understanding of a journalist also includes knowing their deadlines and preferred method of communication. There’s a time for everything – including blast e-mails – just don’t expect your follow-up phone pitch to “seal the deal” if you’re calling too close to deadline or in the middle of breaking news that the reporter may be covering.
With this core fundamental in hand, here are several of the most common missteps to avoid when conducting media relations outreach.
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Lost in translation
Using too much jargon is one of the fastest ways to get an e-mail pitch deleted, or have reporters give you the canned “I’m on deadline” excuse when you reach them on the phone. Even though you are targeting the right reporters (see above), don’t expect them to have a clear understanding of your company’s or client’s latest whiz- bang gadget, software or service offering.
Keep explanations clear, concise and as jargon-free as possible. The industry-leading, first-ever, world-class, scalable and mission-critical widget is, well, just a widget unless you can clearly explain how it solves an existing or new problem – in plain English.
Who's on first?
Not lining up the right spokespeople in advance of an announcement or when major news breaks is another common media relations misstep. Have your media-trained, media-savvy company executive on stand-by for any interviews that you’ll secure as a result of proactive pitching or news release distribution.
There should also be a communications plan in place in the event you’re involved in a company crisis. For those unfortunate situations, it is even more important to have a point person for Plan A and a Plan B executive who is equally prepared and trained to address the media in a time of crises.
As public relations strategists, we live by several golden rules, including “never promise more than you can deliver.” When executing a media relations strategy, make sure your company or clients also espouse that rule.
Whether your heavily pitched product promises to grow hair or make computer firewalls impenetrable, the product needs to live up to the hype. If it falls short, expect the one reporter who is often critical of your company to find the product’s imperfections and, yes, report on them.
Social (media) unrest
Not taking a proactive approach to social media for media relations purposes can be detrimental on several fronts. First, Twitter, YouTube and blogs are providing public relations professionals with a whole new set of vehicles to reach and engage the audience, including journalists. In fact, according to a recent survey, 68 percent of business journalists consider the impact of social media on BtoB reporting as positive.
At the same time, social media provides channels through which new industry influencers, journalists and bloggers can “report” on your company and its competitors. So, use these channels to complement traditional PR programs – not replace them – and take steps to become more aware of the noise and news that is being created and circulated faster than ever through social media.
The more things change...
Some big city newspapers such as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News have moved completely online. Magazines that were once published weekly now hit newsstands with less frequency. Even television news shows are tweaking their formats to align more closely with viewers’ on-the-go lifestyles.
While this changes the media landscape, it doesn’t lessen the importance of providing real value to journalists in order to generate results and build strong relationships. In fact, despite the “we hate PR people” rants, reduced newsroom staffs and constantly changing beats are likely to create an environment where journalists rely on professionals more than ever.
We hope these tips and best practices will help you avoid common media relations missteps. If you are looking for guidance or assistance in building a solid media relations program that generates results or need a partner to walk you through the process, we’re happy to help. Contact Arketi at firstname.lastname@example.org.