Media Relations, the most sexy, but most irritating of all corporate communications?

Business communications, what we call Integrated Communications, is a Phoenix. In the last decade it has burned, regrouped and somewhat recently was born again from the ashes.

And that’s great, except for this: Many people are confused about how to successfully implement and drive communications, what communications vehicles are available (and work), how to reach the audiences they care about and and how to develop a communications strategy.

Working with a collaborator yesterday I was asked a great question, one I think more people should consider in planning overall corporate communications and marketing strategy:

 What is the difference between media relations, public relations and marketing?

As an integrated communications firm it’s our job to help clarify these components of communications and outline strategies and tactics utilizing them to achieve short and long term goals. So, welcome to our four-part tutorial on Integrated Communications.

To begin our review, let’s start with the sexiest component: Media Relations.

Media relations involves working with media for the purpose of informing the public of an organization’s mission, policies and practices in a positive, consistent and credible manner.

Sounds easy, right?

No. Not really. To accomplish this goal, you have to work with those people who create the news (have you heard? They are really busy). To do that, you’ll have to compete for a tiny slice of these newsmakers’ attention with many, many other people just like you. The best part? It’s free. The worst part? It’s free – so therefore cannot be controlled in any way.

The trickiest part about media relations is that, unlike baking a cake where you know the outcome of combining ingredients and following instructions, with media relations anything – and nothing – can happen. You heard me. That’s the stark truth. You may have pulled together the best campaign, press release or pitch on the planet, but there is no guarantee it will receive media attention.

Some things that will help your efforts:

  • Write it well.  Well-crafted (and brief) communications in the appropriate format and AP Style.
  • Send it to people who are already interested. Target reporters/publications that care about your news – reporters likely to cover the focus areas of your campaign/press release/Twitter pitch.
  • Be a professional and develop relationships with the reporters in your area.
  • Timing: Call/email/tweet pitches to reporters at an appropriate time (of day, of the week, of the quarter, etc.).
  • Think like an editor. Use a timely news hook.
  • Think like a producer. Include a celebrity angle or endorsement – this always helps.
  • Shares new data that no one else has access to.
  • Use lists or rankings. Readers love this, and it’s easy to write up as a packaged story.

People often find it frustrating so much work can lead to nothing. That’s why one of the key tenants for media relations is not to give up. I once worked for over a year to get a feature placed in USA TODAY. Of course, after hundreds of hours, a year of emails, phone calls, press releases and follow ups … it was worth it. The USA TODAY influences America probably more than any other newspaper in the country. It has a readership of over 2 million each day. From a brand building perspective, the placement was literally invaluable.

Because the value is so high for media relations-driven news stories (remember, they can’t be bought so there is a high level of trust comparative to advertising) the stakes are high, too. There are firms offering media relations services that pelt an outlet to death with media requests, hounding and harassing reporters in the hopes that eventually the reporter will “feel sorry for them,” and run a story to shut them up. They do not target an appropriate reporter or outlet and may bend an angle until it breaks the truth.

Beware this strategy. It may very occasionally work in the short term, but in the long term it does nothing (nothing positive anyway) toward developing personal relationships with reporters or building your brand.

A valuable media relations expert is one who has worked over time with reporters and outlets developing a positive relationship that neither wastes journalist’s time with a story not on their beat, nor massages messages until they are nearly untrue. In short: They help journalists do their job.

What has helped you succeed in media relations?