Thought Leadership on Integrated Marketing Communications presented by RMR Associates
Practicing public relations is much like handling explosives. Detonate in just the right way and your blast does its job, capturing lots of attention. But handle your detonation recklessly and it can explode in your face – also capturing lots of attention.
Savvy marketers realize that before they ignite any public relations program, they better have a systematic game plan for how they’ll proceed. When you go out too early in your development schedule and talk about how great your product is going to be, you might get some press coverage, which is great! But if your development schedule then slips, reporters will certainly remember, and your credibility will suffer.
To ensure you get the best return for your public relations efforts, I recommend following “The 10 Tips to Sharpen Your PR.”
- Understand the reporter’s role. It is the reporter’s job to sift through the mountain of press releases and industry information to inform, educate and advise his or her readers. Editors and reporters value their role as independent observers and resent companies that blatantly try to influence them. They do not want to be viewed as an extension of your company’s promotional efforts, or worse yet, to be used as “free advertising” for your company. The worst thing that you can do as someone who is launching a new product or service is to ask the reporter for ink in the publication because you advertise in it. Journalists find that very unprofessional, degrading and manipulative. Manipulation is not what good PR is all about.
- Don’t imprint the wrong image. You never get a second chance to make a strong first impression, so thoroughly prepare before meeting with the media. You should be able to concisely articulate your message points, have a practiced and smooth delivery, and be ready to answer every possible difficult question. Also, consider your appearance. Today, many firms have loosened their dress code and if yours is one of them, great. Just remember that the reporter’s culture may adhere to coats and ties. Your appearance should match that of the editor you are visiting (i.e. Wall Street Journal is quite different from Fast Company Magazine).
- Don’t go to press too early. Before releasing your information to the media, have your press release reviewed by coworkers. Is it newsworthy? Would the information benefit the editor’s target audience of readers? If you can’t answer yes to these two questions, you need to find more substance. To build credibility, make sure you have collected beta customer and outside industry analyst quotes, gained their approval to be used as references, and have already secured their agreement to answer any media inquiries. In some cases, it might make sense to go out on an analyst tour first, come back, digest all that information, talk about message development and positioning, and THEN go out and meet with the press.
- Meet with journalists one-on-one. Remember that with the media and analysts, the 80/20 rule applies. Twenty percent will influence the remaining 80 percent. So choose your editors and reporters carefully and cultivate relationships with the leaders. One-on-one meetings allow you to really show your expertise, your personality, and present yourself as a credible resource. Some suggestions might be to meet at an industry trade show, an analyst event, or association symposium. I also often recommend phone briefings and luncheon events.
Journalists do have ethics, so make sure your lunch or dinner meeting isn’t seen as an effort to bribe them. If the editor offers to pay for her own meal, let her.
Also, target your message points to the specific needs of each editor. Different publications have different missions. For instance, EE Times wants technical details, while TechCrunch wants technology-based news and The Washington Post wants business news. Individual editor briefings take more time but they allow you to tailor your response and deliver it more effectively.
- Educate the media. Editors create order out of chaos every day. PR is an education process where you are helping editors and reporters understand industries and how your products fit into them. By becoming an important information source for editors, you increase your influence opportunities. If you treat editors as you would treat your best customers – educating, informing and valuing their time and feedback – you will enter the exercise with the right attitude.
- Develop long-term relationships. Developing good relationships with the press takes time. Press relations is a process, not an event. Companies must be patient and willing to consistently deliver reader-valuable messages that turn your company from being an “editor’s source”, to becoming a resource that is used over and over. Consistency over time builds this relationship. Keep in mind that editors are always on deadline. Just because your product is the most important thing in your life right now, does not mean it is the most important thing to the editor.
- Look beyond product positioning. It’s really important to see where the “market category” is, and where your product or service is positioned in that market. Pitch trend stories to the business media as the market matures.
- Be honest about bad news. It’s important that when faced with a negative situation, your company is forthright and honest. If your product development schedule slips, or if your customer service is not where it needs to be, be brutally honest. Don’t make claims about your product or services that you can’t back up, and resist the urge to exaggerate. In a negative situation, a company’s character and style will greatly influence how the press perceives and writes about your company.
- Use your top management. Most consumer companies’ top management only pays attention to press coverage when it’s negative. This causes these companies to miss many PR opportunities. Nothing helps gain press coverage like making your CEO available for interviews that discuss his/her vision and technological insight for the marketplace. In most industries, the personality and culture can frequently be traced right to the CEO and top management team.
If your CEO is an entrepreneur or if your CTO is the best engineer, make sure that you’re creating a brand for your company. Folks like Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg are their company, they are their brand. Notice how they don’t fade from the press.
- Follow the two guiding principles. Finally, like business, PR success is based on two guiding principles – building relationships and practicing patience. A final word of caution – by effectively using these 10 keys to sharpen your PR, you can cut through the clutter and stand out in the press!