Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Egads! A Reporter!

I hear this all the time: "I can't do my own public relations because I don't know how to deal with the media." Okay, DING! I have to admit that I love this admission, because it usually leads to a new client. However, I also coach folks that it has nothing to do with fear of the media...rather, it's fear of venturing into unchartered waters.

After spending much time in media centers with NASCAR, as well as being a J-school grad and writing myself - basically being on both side of this untidy fence - I can say that most journalists do find it funny that people are afraid of them. Wherever it started, in the McCarthyist 50s where opinions were suppressed; or by the Oprah-generation, who thinks everything is worthy of making her show....who knows.

But I will get out a shocking newsflash: they are nice people. They get up and put on their pants, one leg at a time, much like the rest of us; take their kids to school or play with grandkids; have stress, deadlines and stumbling blocks (hey, we all have bosses); and they pay bills.

Basically, they are human. Human with human stories, regular day jobs, and similar gripes. They don't want special treatment, gift boxes with press kits in the middle, or a cooing phone call on how wonderful they are at what they do (hint: they just might be investigative enough to see through it). Ha!

What they ARE interested in: talking to you, if you've got a concise, relevant, timely and newsworthy story. Being human, as they are - they like to write for their audiences. And they know you are afraid of them - and that leads to a little schoolyard-like ostracism. At the end of the day, they just want to write their column (or tape their story), have a great conversation, learn something, and then turn the lights off and go home. Just like you.

Top 5 Ways to Build Media Relationships to Promote Your Business

1) Remember that "they just want to be friends?" I'll repeat. They just want to be friends. When you show your fear or discomfort, they smell it. These are busy people who have deadlines, people calling with insane story ideas, and editors wanting more "retweets" each story. If you can stay calm, make them laugh, and inform them about something new, they will appreciate the new friendship.

2) Spend your time building relationships rather than the newest, greatest online press kits. Journalists don't have time to go through long press kits, cool videos or the latest and greatest social wunderkind you've put together for yourself or your client. Yes, they like info and facts - but they'd rather talk to you about it than have the bells and whistles. When you pick up the phone and start a conversation, it shows transparency - and that you're willing to devote more than just a mass email with a lot of "BCC'ed" people on it, to your topic.

3) Keep it short, shorty. We've all heard the term, "just the facts, Ma'am." Holds true for policework and PR - get your passion across in the big 5. Who, what, where, when, why...jazzed up with your reason for newsworthiness (see #5). It's just that simple - the major whizbang details can be on the followup.

4) Keep the word "used" in Used Cars - not PR. Journalists don't like being put on the hook - don't bait them and use them for a story. It's the best way to get printed once and once only by that contact. Media still use "sources" - and if you become a source, sometimes they'll come to you for ideas.

5) Ever notice the word "new" is in news? Journalists love to be the first, to see the latest and greatest, and to break the story. If you have a landscaping company that has water-free grass...hey, that's pretty interesting. But if it's just sod season, and you're laying grass - that's just another thing we all do as part of the calendar. Find the "only" statement about your company - a first, an only, a "cool" - and hawk it.

I'd add a sixth to this, but it would defeat the purpose of a "Top 5"...never give up. If an editor doesn't want your story today, it doesn't mean that it might not be usable to them later on (or another topic in your sphere of influence). Goes back to that building relationships point - if you establish a dialogue and drop them useful info from time to time, they'll remember you down the road.

Bottom line - don't expect the front page! PR isn't easy - that's why there are people who do it full-time. However, it's something you can hone and practice over time. The more you do it, the better you are!

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