by Dave Menzies
Not a lot of business executives understand what public relations really is, and even less know what it can be used for. Out of the small swath of savvy businesspeople who do get the basics of it — “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” – Public Relations Society of America, 2012 — an even smaller percentage know one of its key tools, media relations. At its core, media relations enables PR practitioners to build relationships with influential reporters and editors at key industry and mainstream news outlets popular with prospects, customers, and other stakeholders of a business or organization. Successful media relations can result in high-profile coverage that buries competitors while increasing market share.
Target the right media
Paying thousands of dollars to blast out a press release to every single news outlet under the sun is not media relations — it’s spam. Many of the paid press release distribution services boast of wide distribution, but end up sending a contract research organization’s press release to a bunch of reporters covering the computer software industry because those outlets sometimes cover software firms serving the pharmaceutical industry. Even if you don’t use one of these services (PRWeb, BusinessWire, MarketWired, PR Newswire) and take the spammer approach yourself, you’ll never truly know who is getting your release and you’ll spread yourself too thin for any meaningful media relations. The better approach is to spend some time researching what media outlets your target audiences (investors, prospects, customers, members, staff, etc.) go to for their news and information, which outlets dominate your particular market sector, and set up a “Tier One” list along with “Tier Two” (usually regional/local) and “Tier Three” (generally online business news websites) lists to focus on.
As a former newspaper editor, I can say definitively that people who called or emailed me to introduce themselves, asked me how I would like to receive news releases (which email address, how often, etc.), and showed at least a basic knowledge of my publication and readership were added to the nice list and, more often than not, were people I would reach out to as resources if I needed them for articles, thus getting them or their clients featured. Keep in mind that as media consolidation has led to newsroom contraction, and reporters and editors are busier than ever. You may not get through to the reporter covering a specific beat right away, and editors are even tougher to get hold of. That said, a concise, informative voicemail or email is a great start, with appropriate follow-ups on a weekly basis until you hear back. Be sure to include a question about how the outlet prefers to receive press releases and who the best person is to contact regarding your business/organization/client insofar as making them available as an information resource for news articles.
If you’ve started down the path to building a successful media relations plan, you’ve targeted the right media outlets, figured-out who the right person is at each outlet for your particular outreach, and made proper introductions so the outlets can be on the lookout for future news items from you. The next step is to figure-out the best time to push for coverage in a particular outlet. Each industry magazine and many mainstream publications has what is called an editorial calendar. These are produced each year, usually in October for the following year, and list topics that will be covered in each monthly/weekly issue. You’ll likely find these either in the publication’s “About Us” section or under the advertising info tab, as these are used by the outlet’s sales team to try and match potential customers with issues pertinent to their audience. If you find a topic that matches with knowledge your business/organization/client can offer, reach out to your contact about two-to-three months ahead of the issue’s publication date. Ideally, before you do that, send a press release to your target publication (in addition to others) showcasing the aforementioned knowledge on the topic to be covered down the road. By showcasing this knowledge, then following-up with your contact, you have a very good chance to get your client into the publication and get in front of tens of thousands of readers.
Done correctly, media relations is a relatively easy path to cementing expertise on a particular topic, validated by respected third-party media sources frequented by prospects and customers.
And it sure beats spamming.
– Dave Menzies is an award-winning PR coach, consultant and trainer. An advocate for America’s startup community, he provides group training and individual mentoring opportunities including PR101, PR201, and PR301 online courses designed for bootstrapping entrepreneurs. For more info give Dave a call at (910) 899-8935 or shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.