Practice Strategies:
The Three-Step Magic Methodology to a More Effective Media Relations Program

By Hale T. Chan

 

Taking three steps, and supporting them with enough effort, can gain valuable media coverage for your firm.

I have spent much effort trying to identify that magic methodology to get my firm noticed in the media. I have read media how-to manuals, attended public relations workshops, attended meetings with editors and reporters, and participated in journalistic events hoping to find insights that will allow my firm to rise above the media clutter. From one professional to another, I am willing to share that magic methodology with you.

As you may have suspected, the methodology is not new, nor unique, nor does it guarantee success without your putting effort into it. But it is effective. I can show results, ranging from having our managing partner, with photo, in the featured article of a major city newspaper’s business section, to getting another partner in a “Top Executives List,” to national radio interviews for other team members.

That methodology is based on my experiences of what has worked and what hasn’t. And to add more substance to this article, I have been fortunate enough to tap into the experience and insights from two leading reporters from two leading publications:

  • Darcy L. Evon, Publisher of i-Street Magazine, the i-Street Reporter e-mail publication, and webcasts targeting software, Internet, and technology professionals. She is also the technology columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Rob Kaiser, a respected business reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

The Magic Methodology in Three Steps

Step 1—Do Your Homework. Cover the Basics. Decide What Messages You Want to Convey.
The messages have to be clear and concise. Be ready to support those messages with client examples or, if possible, original white papers or surveys. Select your key spokespeople to speak on these issues. Identify your “thought-leaders.”

1a. Make sure your spokespeople are properly media trained.
They have to be fully prepared for the interview to be effective. This means knowing what the reporter writes about (see next paragraph), anticipating the questions, and being able to “bridge” back to your intended messages. It means putting together a media kit that is substantive and supports your messages—one that is not just “fluff.”

1b. Keep it simple; keep it obvious.
“Make it easy for the reporter to contact you,” said Kaiser. “Have your phone number and e-mail address displayed prominently. For more than one PR contact, make sure that your list identifies which PR person covers what industry.” Kaiser mentioned an instance in which he noted a website to which he was referred to that had no source for reporters to contact the company, and no e-mail address or phone numbers. This is not making it easy for media people to cover your firm.

“The best media relations professionals have adapted quickly to the technology age,” said Evon. “They don’t call you, but send e-mail instead. They send press releases pasted into an e-mail instead of attaching a word file—which may contain viruses.” This is part of the basics—finding out whether the reporter likes to be contacted by e-mail, fax, or phone. How do you find this out? By using publications such as The National PR Pitch Book, by reading their bylines at the end of articles, by attending meetings where they are speaking and asking them, or by asking them directly during your first contact.

1c. Keep it targeted; keep it focused.
Identify those publications and the reporters in those publications who would be the most interested in your story. How do you find out this information? By reading what they have written for the last few months. “Public Relations people get lazy,” said Kaiser. “They find a media list for a particular city and they just start calling without any idea if that reporter covers whatever it is that they are pitching.” Evon agrees. “They (the truly professional PR person) read your publication religiously so they know exactly what you cover,” she stated.
By doing this homework, you won’t be embarrassed by pitching a story that has just been recently covered by that reporter. Or, if your subject matter has already been written about, perhaps you can suggest a different angle to that story or add something pertinent as a follow-up piece.

Step 2—Contact
Make your contact points with the media—whether with a written communication or in person—effective and memorable. If you are just getting started, after you have identified the appropriate reporters and editors, Evon suggests sending them a short note of introduction by e-mail, and then sending news and information. She added that you can really make a big impression, and a lasting one, if you promise someone the exclusive for a particularly newsworthy story. An exclusive just means that the publication breaks it first, then all other media can cover it.

“Tell the reporter what’s important in the beginning of your e-mail, what’s unique, compelling, why your story is important,” said Kaiser. He notes especially that when sending press releases, you should state why the reporter should read the release in the cover letter or in an introduction to the release itself.

Here’s another way to establish or solidify a relationship with the media: Trust them enough to give them embargoed information and allow them to complete interviews by the release date.

2b. Networking or not.
Evon suggested that you not waste the reporter’s time by asking them to go to lunch to “network.” However, this writer has had significant success when meeting with an editor or reporter and offering them substantive information at face-to-face meetings. Topic matters could include informing the editor or reporter about a new firm initiative with impact in the local marketplace; current and future trends relative to that reporter’s beat; or what you see are the business conditions affecting that marketplace. Yes, it’s networking, but networking with benefits to the editor or reporter. It’s networking with a purpose.

Step 3—Follow-Up and Contact Maintenance
A pet peeve of many journalists is PR people who believe they should call a reporter to see if they have received a press release. In just about every meeting I’ve had with journalists, they state categorically that it is safe to assume that the journalist has received your press release. They get paid to review it. It’s in their best interest to review everything. If they are interested, they will contact you; you don’t need to call them and add to their accumulation of voice mail.

For following up and maintaining relations with a reporter, I might include sending them (depending on how they want to be contacted) substantive information. This might include a change of leadership in the executive ranks of your firm, a heads-up on an impending name change or merger, original research information that your firm has just developed, or suggestions (with supporting materials) for a story idea.

Evan says, “I have some favorite PR people—they are favorites because they provide breaking news and instant access to their broad array of clients.” She suggests that other desirable attributes include the ability to find the CEO and set up an interview in a matter of hours or less. Reporters are almost always on tight deadlines. Having already identified the appropriate spokespeople at your firm helps you to be responsive to the media. And truly competent public relations professionals are knowledgeable enough about their industry that they can refer the media to other experts in other firms, if the situation requires it.

The bottom line is that it’s a matter of being helpful, honest and respectful of the media. No magic here, but it is effective.


Hale T. Chan is the marketing communications director for Willamette Management Associates, one of the country’s oldest independent financial advisory firms. He can be reached htchan@Willamette.com
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