The media definitely has a strong influence on the consumer's purchasing decisions. Companies and organizations that are regularly present in the media surely catch the attention of more consumers. Media relations are essential to put the company in the news in a positive way.
This essay is about using public relations in media relations. It will start by explaining what these are, discuss the similarities of a good journalist and public relations person, continue by explaining media coverage and how to deliver stories to the media, and will later bring to a close by stating how to build good relationships with journalists.
According to the UK Chartered Institute of Public Relations,
‘Public relations is about reputation; the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public relations are the discipline, which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behavior. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics. Public relations not only tell an organization's story to its publics, it also helps to shape the organization and the way it works.'
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Very often, public relations are carried out through the mass media, and here is where media relations step in. According to - USA (Washington) based Public Relations and Communications Company - Woo Public Relations & Communications, LLC,
“Media relations are any activities which involveworking directly with persons responsible for editorial (news and features), public services and sponsored programming products of the media”.
(Woo Public Relations & Communications, LLC)
Therefore it is of utmost importance that the public relations spokesperson is trained in media, since it is quite usual that when journalists call, they ask to speak to the person responsible in the field in question not the public relations officer, so as to be able to go in depth in their story, or maybe even quote the source. No wonder that former journalist and public relations specialist Martin Keller in his article ‘Crossing Over to The Dark Side' says that one might notice how many public relations officers are former journalists. He also adds that these public relations people have clients that
“benefit from their experience and skill sets, especially their ability to ferret out what the story really is. They're trained to be good listeners and know how to corroborate the details that make up a good story. They also still heavily follow the news cycle. […] And they usually know what reporters are going to ask”
(Keller Martin, 2010)
In fact, Keller explains that both the public relations officer and the journalist need to have two things in common; they both have to know what a good story is and how to communicate it successfully.
Whilst media relations are, as previously explained, the relationships that a person develops with the people in the media - such as journalists, editors etc - public relations deals with the publics beyond the media. Through good media relations you get placement in the mass media of your company's messages without having to pay for it by advertising. This free coverage is at times called publicity.
So apart from being free, what are the advantages of media coverage? Whilst paid advertising can increase the company's name recognition, media coverage can increase credibility. In fact, as Washington based agency Woo Public Relations and Communications' web site shows, the public tends to disbelieve paid advertising; hence it is better getting your company's name in the news coverage. Also it is more likely that messages delivered by the mass media be more credible that messages delivered by the company itself since the media is considered, or should be, more of a neutral body. People reading a feature about your company in the newspaper or see a positive feature about it on television, tend to have a positive reaction about it. And finally, placing the company's name on the news can help to stress the importance of the news item.
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However managing to get free media coverage is not an easy task. It would be practically impossible for editors and journalists to cover each and every news item that goes on. These people decide what news and events will be shown in their newspaper or magazine etc. One must cultivate and apply strategies that will increase the probability that the stories will be selected by the journalist or editor. One has to make issues as striking as possible since there is much competition out there.
So how does one catch the media's attention? According to PR expert John P. David (with more than 18 years experience in public relations industry, currently working for David and Garcia PR, serving Florida based clients), all you need to do is “say something meaningful, true and authentic”. He explains that although this sounds very simple, it is rarely found, and media persons work very hard to find those who are ready to give the truth about important issues. David suggests three ways on how to build and keep a good relationship with journalists. He first says that you have to speak out the truth about your organization to be on a good starting point, he adds that,
“Sources need to have clear message points and be prepared when speaking with the media, but real opinions and verifiable facts will trump the spin every time.”
(John P. David)
He continues to say that one does not have to be afraid, be convinced of what he says and speak about topics with authority. Strong words will not damage as many might think, but on the contrary they will stand out. David finally suggests using “trend spotting” or “scoop spotting”. He states how,
“Journalists love to identify the next big trend. Want a journalist to remember you, help them out by letting them know which way your industry is turning/heading. Further, if you can offer up a real nugget of unreported news (a scoop), you will have a friend for a long time.”
(John P. David)
At this point however we need to delve deeper in how to deliver our stories to the media to get our placement, better known as ‘pitching stories'. As marketing officer CR Ransom (Co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Mosnar Communications, Inc. in metro Atlanta, Georgia) explains that,
“A mass explosion of free publicity is the best reward to launching a successfulPR campaign. The ultimate goal of a PR campaign is to receive loads of free publicity about your book, product, service, or cause.” (CR Ransom)
Ransom states that thanks to this free publicity, sales increase as much as brand awareness does. She says that being in the news in a positive way is the best and fastest way to make consumers wanting to try your product or services out. Ransom continues by saying that this entails a lot of research and hard work, however it is all worth the while once results start showing. Since advertising is pretty expensive, especially to issue a packed feature article in a popular newspaper, what else would you wish for than to get loads of free publicity? Ransom gives some guidelines on how to “pitch” to get as much media placement as possible. She first mentions the announcement's ‘press release' and emphasizes how important it is that a press release contains news value, such as,
“New additions, breakthroughs, mergers, acquisitions, research findings, etc. A media or press release will tell the story that you are trying to pitch.”
Next he speaks about finding the media publications which are the most related to the story you wish to deliver. The media runs on news, so if you supply news will give you free publicity. Knowing how to plan to get the best media publicity engages matching the release to the best publications. Using the wrong media sources can lead to a story not being picked up at all; hence one must search publications which match the topics you focus on.
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Ransom then states that you usually get just one chance to make a good first impression, so you have to be good to clearly state why your story is good for the journalist and how the viewers or readers will benefit from it. You are also recommended to ‘promote' your release so that journalists will find it easier to find you. Nowadays this is much easier thanks to the internet, hence using wire services. A number of wire services for press releases are available for free. Ransom, like David explains above, emphasizes on building good relationships with media persons so as to “become a lead source for media publications. Give them what they want: a great story!”
It is also good to prepare press kits for journalists. A press kit usually consists of a number of information for the journalists to use. It is also very useful to have a press section on the company's web-site, if this is available. This can be use for journalists to obtain accurate information instantaneously from their work desk, and they would need to add only little to no information to it.
So we have seen how good public relations are crucial when dealing with the media. Hence, whilst training is always helpful as explained above, one has to admit that to be in public relations and media relations, one has to be an innately good communicator first and foremost.
* ‘Cutlip and Center's Effective Public Relations' - Scott M. Cutlip Prentice Hall International Editions (2008)
* ‘The Art of Public Speaking' - Dale Carnegie and J. Berg Esenwein (Kindle Edition) - Kindle Book (2009)
* ‘Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: How Social Media Is Reinventing the Aging Business of PR' - Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge (2009)
* ‘Public Relations: An Introduction' - Shirley Harrison, Routledge (2000)
Lecturer: C. Bonello 1