The rumors about the death of “the media” are highly exaggerated Yes, new communications technologies are blurring the line between “the press” and the noise of personal reporting, going viral and other media phenomena, but people—especially people in business—still do consider the source of what they read. There remain real and important gatekeepers.
If you believe in an integrated approach to marketing communications, media/press relations are an important part of your marketing communications. Following is a list of items to prepare for the cornerstone of building and maintaining relations with the media: the press release.
- If you’ve read Communicate you know the first order of business: analyze your audience. In a press release, this task is complicated by the fact that you have many audiences to address. There are the gatekeepers — journalists and opinion leaders such as industry analysts, for example. Do not make the mistake of discounting their importance. Then there are potential buyers, existing customers, competitors and people who have an interest in your technology, for whatever reason. For instance, good “press” is a great way to recruit the best and the brightest.Nurture contacts among gatekeepers. If you know your industry sector, you know who the opinion leaders and top journalists are, or you should make it your business to know. They are in the business of knowing their areas of expertise, so start by feeding them knowledge. They’ve heard every pitch, so don’t pitch anything. First, give them something they can use. When you do have news, they’ll be more receptive. Want to single yourself out? Try sending a handwritten note in the mail to preview or accompany your release. Trust me, paper has become a stealth tactic!
- You want to have well-defined goals for influencing the attitudes, actions and even the beliefs of these diverse audiences. You may be tempted to tailor different releases for each. This is a dangerous game. Yes, your messaging for different products or services will be different, but it can never be conflicting. A single release needs, above all, focus on a single topic and what it means to your audiences.
- Choose your distribution channels according to the focus and reputation of the gatekeepers who will decide whether your release qualifies as real news to them. Distribution channels are breeding like rabbits, but media quality and the reputation of other gatekeepers will always trump the flavor of the the day. It’s easier than ever for you to address audiences, directly or indirectly, but your competition has all the same tools. Both gatekeepers and your end-audiences have merely adapted to information overload by increasing their filters. This is one of many good reasons to use a distributor like PRNewswire or BusinessWire. These distributors have packaged and customizable distribution lists for any industry you can name, can publish multi-media releases, provide an imprimatur for your release and maintain searchable databases that go way back.
- A separate distribution issue is self-publication on your company’s website. I encourage my clients to build a “Press Room” as soon as it’s feasible, meaning that you have a enough material to make your press room more than just a cubical with one lonely release. It’s not cheating to make up time by writing predated releases, fact sheets, features and white papers along with providing links to actual stories and reports about your company, its products and your industry sector in your Press Room. Of course, content must be factual and newsworthy (for its time).
- Form a release team and assign roles and responsibilities. Decide who will write the release, who will review it and who will approve it. Assign a person or people to “pitching” the story. Your CEO and other company officers may know some important analysts, editors and writers, but he or she may not be the person for the pitch proper. He or she could be right for putting out feelers to his contacts and, if the news is big, the right person for an interview. But the time-consuming job of following up the release with the pitch, which could involve as many as 10 key gatekeepers, should be tackled by a person, ideally, who has experience with both writing news and pitching it. Are there other people in development, finance, marketing, technical support or human resources that have all the facts at their fingertips? They should be ready to serve as SMEs for the release writer and to answer questions from gatekeepers as well. Your release team needs to plan, confer and discuss all contingencies before the release date.