Write.On Communication Services International is a BBB Accredited Communication Consultant in London, ON

Shine when the spotlight shines on you

Do you feel butterflies of excitement or the roiling of bile at the idea of being on TV or featured in a newspaper story? It is exciting and horrifying at the same time, but every business needs customers and/or clients and to get new customers and clients, people need to know about you. Doing a media relations campaign can get your company noticed by the wide array of audiences that different forms of media touch.

I’ve done campaigns for clients that got multiple hits on media. For a corporate client a few years ago, we ruled the media landscape when I combined war veterans, kids and my client on Remembrance Day. We rocked it: both daily newspapers, one of the weekly papers, the TV station and three different radio stations all covered it. But success can be fleeting because the very next year, I tried the same formula – with a few tweaks for freshness – and only got about a quarter of the coverage because there were naked girls wearing fur coats walking around downtown. Yup, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) was in town. Nudity trumps kids and elderly gentlemen every day.

Dos and Don’ts for a successful media relations campaign:

Do – Start by figuring out your ‘story.’ You need to have ‘above the fold’ thinking. Think of it this way: you’re in an airport with time to kill and are standing in the terminal’s quick store looking for something to read to fill the time. There are 10 local, national and international newspapers on the stand. What compels you to pick one up to read further? What then makes you lay down money to buy it? That’s the kind of story idea you need to get media attention.

Do – Start with a formal media release. Don’t skip this step. If you can, hire someone to write a kick-ass one for you. If not, there are templates on the internet but make sure you have a juicy lead at the beginning, or it will be ignored.

Do – Have a solid list of targeted journalists/outlets (and only send your media release to those to whom it’s relevant; not every story is appropriate to send to every outlet.) Start cultivating connections (genuine connections not facile ones) long before you decide to float an idea past them.

Do – Email your media release, but then follow up by phone. Journalists and editors – TV, radio and newspaper – are busier today than they ever have been, so you may need to be a bit persistent. However, there’s a line between persistence and stalking.

Do – Work on your interview/speaking skills (be a confident speaker and know your facts/messaging). Get media training. Definitely, get media training. There’s a big difference between knowing your business and all the information about your service or product and being able to give a good interview. This is one case in which the adage ‘you only have one chance to make a good impression’ is true.

Do – Stay on point during the interview. ‘Squirrel!’ Nope, stay on topic and on message. Don’t muddy the weathers with unnecessary jargon, tons of details or trivia. If he/she needs clarification, she/he will ask.

Don’t – Make the reporter/writer chase you; journalists are busy people, so make yourself easily available. Answer his/her phone call, text or email promptly and be available for the interview at his/her convenience. Remember, members of the media are always on a tight deadline, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity because you weren’t answering your phone or looking at your email.

Don’t – Commandeer the conversation (give complete answers but let the journalist ask you questions). I once interviewed a woman, ‘Claire,’ who answered my first question for 25 minutes without stopping. I don’t think she breathed. I couldn’t get a word in to ask for clarification, ask a follow up question or divert to what I really needed to ask. It wasn’t a great story because I couldn’t get the information I needed. Don’t be a Claire.

Don’t – Use one-word answers. Conversely, I interviewed a chap, ‘Kevin,’ who just wouldn’t give me more than one-word answers. I was interviewing him for a story on a cool new trend and wanted to get some great quotes. None were to be had – at all. I tried – really – I rephrased. I asked follow-ups. I gave up. Don’t be a Kevin.

Don’t – Ask if you can see the story before it’s printed (rookie mistake). For most publications, it’s against journalistic ethics. The subject of a story doesn’t get to review it before printing. However, you can ask for a quote check/fact check if the information you are giving in the interview is very technical or number-heavy with a lot of jargon. The reporter will probably do that anyway as she/he isn’t trying to misquote you. The kind of story you can see before it is printed is called an advertorial. This is a story for which you pay, and you get to dictate its direction and content, as well as having approval before printing.

Do – Send a thank you email after the story is printed. You don’t need to send flowers, balloons or a fruit bouquet – I’ve received all three – because it’s against most journalist’s ethics to accept these, however thoughtful you’re being by sending them. Do send a thank you email. It’s just polite and affirms all the other good practices you’ve established (prompt reply to the query for interview; being a good interviewee; not asking to see the story) and will help put you on that reporter’s list as an easy-to-work with source for future interview opportunities.

And while good coverage today is great for your business, getting on that list is golden.

Media training is a good way to ensure you are able to get the golden ticket, and I’d be honoured to be your Willy Wonka. I can be reached at jill@writeoncommunicationservices.com.