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Watch those PR do's and don'ts
Published August 6, 2001
In his book "The Dream Job: Sports Publicity, Promotion and Marketing," Melvin Helitzer writes, "Publicity is the attempt by an organization or person to benefit from editorial coverage. Since the public believes editorial information is more trustworthy than paid advertising, there is incalculable value in publicity if it's positive and it's published."
To encourage the press to publish positive news, it is the job of the PR professional to ensure that the media get the most newsworthy information regarding his client or organization. It is the job of the media to provide the most newsworthy information to readers, listeners or viewers. For almost a century, the two entities have had a difficult time agreeing on what is newsworthy.
Because of this inherent conflict, the relationship between the PR pro and the media was, is and probably always will be rocky. Although PR is much more than garnering media placements, most PR types would agree that media relations are the core of the PR practice.
Consequently, PR people and the media will be forever intertwined. PR types often view the media as rude gatekeepers of information, and the media views PR types as used car salesmen. It is possible, however, for the two entities to work together on a peaceful, harmonious playing field.
Here are some tips PR pros can use to build a relationship with the media:
... send a large file electronically without first calling the reporter either to ask if it is OK or to warn him that the e-mail is coming. Most likely, your media contact is on tight deadline, so making him wait 10 minutes for your unexpected file to download is a sure way to annoy him and have your information scrapped.
... "double plant" a story. Only one reporter at a time should be pitched. The media views it as extremely unprofessional when a PR person sends a press release to multiple reporters at a single media outlet.
... follow up on a press release or pitch idea more than once. Some media would suggest not following up at all. However, faxes do get lost, receptionists misplace messages, the mailroom sends the package to the wrong department and e-mails accidentally get deleted. It is wise to place a friendly, follow-up call/e-mail explaining your idea and letting the media decide if it is newsworthy.
... send a press release only as an attachment. Always include the text in the body of the e-mail as well. The Washington Times reporters, for example, rarely download attachments.
... believe that the trade media ignore daily consumer newspapers. If a reporter at a trade publication sees the news a PR person is pitching him already placed throughout the daily newspapers, chances are your client won't receive much ink in the trade publication. Also, the trade media often expect exclusives.
... always insist on being at your client's side or on the phone during a media interview. Instead, ask if the reporter is open to forwarding sample questions in advance. Train your client or company executive on how to properly address the anticipated questions, develop talking points and go through mock interviews.
... be long-winded in your pitches. Convey the gist of your idea in the first 10 seconds or the first two sentences. If your pitch involves a high-tech or complex product or company, break it down into simple-to-understand terms. In the pitch, be ready to answer the questions "Do I have an exclusive and, if not, who else is covering it?"
... provide easy and quick access to your client and/or the company executive you represent. If you offer up your client, be sure to deliver him quickly to meet media deadlines.
... think like a reporter, whose job it is to get pertinent stories to his readers. Know his deadlines and editorial focus. Be sure to develop an unbiased "nose for news." Your credibility with reporters will quickly rise if they know you "know news" and understand some specifics of their trade.
... offer and honor exclusives. If you give your word verbally or in writing, stick to your commitment. No reporter will ever want to be scooped. If you burn a reporter by reneging on the promise of an exclusive, consider that contact lost.
... build relationships with the media. The better the relationship, the easier the pitch will be. Good PR pros don't always need press releases to announce news. If your media contacts are strong, a phone call could do the job.
... learn your client's industry and the services he performs. The reporter finds it extremely annoying if he knows more about what your client or company does than you do.
... thank the reporter if he reported a fair piece that helped convey your client's messages.
Good PR pros — and there are many — make the media's job easier. They provide timely news and relevant information that readers appreciate. They are also truthful and suggest unique, creative story angles relative to the specific media's focus. These PR pros are the ones who develop and cultivate winning relationships with the media and help both entities work well together.
Wayne Henninger (firstname.lastname@example.org) is co-founder of Sports Wave, a division of WAVE PR in Washington.