IABC Victoria's recent Meet the Journalists evening provided a great opportunity for public relations practitioners to hear the other side of the media relations story.
With the relentless din created by social, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how important mainstream media is to successful public relations.
TV, radio, print and online news services – and the journalists who bring them to life – wield enormous influence over the day to day beliefs and actions of both consumers and organisations.
And that makes them important friends for PR professionals.
Given this, it’s not surprising that IABC Victoria’s recent Meet the Journalists evening turned out to be one of our most heavily attended events. Over 70 people registered for the event at Melbourne’s Saint & Rogue to hear the views of our panel of seasoned journos from Business Spectator, AFR, The Australian, Seven News and the MMP/Fairfax Community Network.
While the evening’s discussion covered enormous ground, there were four key take-outs.
1. Know who you’re dealing with
It’s called media relations for a reason. Nothing is more important to successful media engagement than strong journalist relationships.
And the first step in building a quality relationship is to know who you’re dealing with. The panel talked time and again about the importance of understanding each journalist – their area of coverage (both subject and geography), their values, their interests and the way they operate.
They also gave some good tips on building relationships. Start by connecting on social media – in particular, Twitter. Try inviting the journalist out for a coffee. Make it a relevant meeting though. Pick a time when you have a relevant story to share.
Studies, research and exclusives are also a great way to grow both your reach and your relationship with a journalist – provided, again, that they’re relevant.
Having said that, don’t take a cookie cutter approach to media relations. Some journalists, for example, love a coffee… others don’t have time. Some use Twitter relentlessly while others don’t. Some work for national media, while others are hyper-local. And most of the dailies are focused on reporting the news as and when it happens, while many weekly publications have 2-3 week lead times.
The key to cultivating a strong relationship is to understand each outlet and journalist individually. And that takes time and commitment.
As one of our panel members said:
“The best thing a PR person can do is trust me, talk to me, tell me … especially if there is an issue. I want our relationship to be ongoing too.”
2. Get your story straight
You’ll only get media cut-through if you have a good story to tell: one that hits the mark for the media outlet, the audience and the times.
Too often, however, the real story is lost in overly long media releases that are too internally focused and leave the headline until the final paragraph.
The key here is to understand the news value of your story. Why would a journalist want to report it? Why would a person want to read, watch or listen to it?
When you have the story, make sure you can communicate it clearly and quickly. Most journalists don’t have the time to wade through waffle in search of the story. They need to get it immediately.
And, if at all possible, give the journalist as much of a heads up as you can. That gives them time to research and cover the topic while finding space to present it.
3. Be there
As one of our panel members said:
“PR’s stock in trade is access… access to us [the journalists] and access to your executives.”
As a media relations practitioner, it’s vital that you are always accessible. Yours is probably one of the only professions where leaving a meeting to take a phone call should be accepted.
At the same time, you need to be able to provide ready access to your executives and spokespeople.
4. Embrace digital… but don’t O.D.
Digital has revolutionised every aspect of the news cycle. The way we work together. The content. The time frames. The channels. Everything has changed.
Being successful in media relations today means understanding these changes and how to use digital media in a way that helps, rather than hinders, the journalists.
With that in mind, here’s four do’s and don’ts from our panel:
- DO keep your PR / News page on your site up to date – journo’s often check it for background and relevant spokespeople.
- DO provide photo galleries and other multimedia. Even if they don’t get used (many publications like to produce their own) your images and video can help the journalist work out what to shoot.
- DON’T flood journalist’s inboxes with large media files. Use links to your newsroom instead.
- DON’T (most of all) try to pitch news stories via social media. Many (but not all) journalists are happy to chat on Twitter and the like, but they are almost universal in their opposition to pitches via social media.
Thanks to our MC, our panel members and the IABC members and friends who attended the event. We hope to see you all again soon.