Disciplines Engaged: Think, Write, Talk, Laugh
By then, it was too late.
After five years working with one of the top public relations firms in world, as a client, we’d grown tired of their performance. They had changed our account representatives. They had moved our account to their headquarters office. They had brought their top executives to our office to get a better understanding of what we were looking for.
And, yes, I get it. There are many different types of activities in which a public relations firm can operate and bring value. But the main reason that P.R. firms exist – the main function we were looking for from our P.R. agency at least – was to get our story out in the media.
In our particular case, we were looking to be part of the ongoing debate that raged within the industry we served on ethics and transparency in the capital markets. I have little doubt that we were a difficult client with many different personalities and departments involved, but we likewise paid a hefty, hefty retainer each month that more than made up for that fact.
Yes, we wanted to be quoted in newspapers. We wanted our executives appearing on television and being part of debates on the radio.
Did we want media coaching for our executives? Absolutely. Did we want to conduct strategy sessions to fine-tune our key messages with what resonated with our client base? You bet. Were we willing to invest time and money in conducting educational programming for journalists that might not directly involve media coverage, but help those journalists to better understand a complex business? Yes, and we did that.
But, holy cow, all of it … the time, the money, the energy … was all part of an overall strategy to build our recognition amongst the media as a go-to resource. All of it was invested because our organization was particularly well suited to educate the public – through the media – with our perspectives on the issues of the day.
So, when one of the most senior executives looked at us as we traveled to their office to fire them that “we didn’t know you were looking for MEDIA coverage,” I don’t know that I have ever witnessed a more clueless remark in a professional setting.
The truth is that “public relations” is more ambiguous within the big firms that ply that trade than it is in the general marketplace. And, then again, the media often is pre-disposed to ignore or even view with contempt what they perceive to be manufactured coverage. No journalist worth his or her salt wants to be seen as doing the bidding of a corporation or a special interest group. So, P.R. is hard. And the biggest firms are no better at it than the little guys … they have more resources behind them and most certainly they have an impressive roster of experts on their collective team.
But big P.R. firms more often than not lack bench strength in key areas such as strategy development, pitching the media, and the bottom-line expectation that you would expect they, above all else, would OWN – good writing.
Here’s are the seven key elements to an effective P.R. campaign:
- Be patient. You need to be ready to invest a significant amount of time and energy to develop relationships and to become known as a resource for the media.
- Think like a journalist. Journalists need an angle because they need to write a story. You need to think about the assets that you have at your disposal – the viewpoints of your clients or members, the perspectives of your executives, a provocative opinion on an issue – and you need to be prepared to access those assets.
- Build a media list. Whether you’re pitching a story that’s relevant locally or nationally, whether it’s relevant to a general audience or a niche, trade group, you need to be ready, when the time comes, to distribute your message, personally, to the group that is most likely to care. The list can and should be large and inclusive, but you need to recognize that not everyone will be interested in your story.
- Play the long game. Just because YOU think it’s time for coverage does not mean the journalists think the same thing. Unless you have an event, a survey, a product release, or something significant to pitch, and maybe even at those times, the journalist will work on his or her own schedule. Keep putting your message out there and then wait for those moments when the journalists get around to a story on which your perspective will be relevant.
- Go full-boar on social media to complement your efforts. Follow the journalists whose interest you covet. Figure out whom they’re following and follow those groups as well. What’s the conversation that’s taking place and how can you be relevant to it?
- Seize opportunity. When the opportunity arrives to be part of the conversation, grab it. Nothing is more frustrating than when you dig, dig, dig for media coverage and then a journalist finally calls and the client is not prepared to engage in the conversation. Assemble your list of experts. Prepare your talking points. And when the journalist calls to get your perspective, you talk to them.
- Know your story. What is particularly important about your business or organization to the audiences served by the media? What is special or relevant about you? Why do you deserve to be considered an authority on a particular subject or issue? Have anecdotes and experiences at the ready to tell and re-tell.