Help the media, and help yourself
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Help the media, and help yourself

Editors everywhere – at least, traditional media ones – must be quaking in their boots. The advent of the Internet was difficult enough to survive. But the revolution that is social media, accompanied by the great technological strides of recent times, mean that media is more democratic and less in the hands of a journalistic elite than it has ever been.
People no longer need to buy a newspaper to know the news, and they can access a wider range of media than they could ever imagine. And – horrors – anyone with a smartphone or iPad can be an instant journalist and publisher.

Competing with other news outlets
How can editors possibly compete with other news outlets that are free, lightning-quick, incorporate multimedia, are not necessarily reliant on advertising, don’t require teams of specialist writers and editors, say whatever they want without much fear of reprisal, and can reach anyone, anywhere in the world? And that with smaller newsrooms and budgets than ever before?
Theirs is a nightmarish lot.

News values
Traditional media’s main differentiators in this increasingly lowest-common-denominator media environment are credibility, exclusivity and specialisation. But these things don’t come cheap.

Credibility – presumably founded on solid, professional journalistic principles and a proven track record – takes years to achieve, and can be destroyed in a heartbeat; just ask the News of the World, where a 168-year-old heritage recently went down the tubes over one little ethics crisis.

Exclusivity and specialisation entail paying for content that one can’t find anywhere else, produced by expert writers. That’s expensive stuff, and it stays exclusive relatively momentarily – pretty much until it’s published, and then it’s picked up by everyone else anyway.

All of this said, traditional media (print and radio, in particular) remains the greatest source of trusted news and information to most people, and it still dominates the media environment. For now; but it needs all the help it can get.

Take the opportunity
So what does this all mean for an enterprising public relations practitioner? In a word: opportunity. But to capitalise on this opportunity it will take more than a one-size-fits-all press release, and a spray-and-pray approach to communications. Much more.

Understanding media

First up, our PR person needs to have a solid understanding of how media works, what media is out there, and what they really want in terms of stories. This kind of knowledge, surprisingly, seems to be in fairly short supply in the PR industry – and it shows both in the torrent of irrelevant communications that wash over journalists on a daily basis, and the disdain that those journalists generally reserve for PR people. Wouldn’t you also hate them if you constantly fielded emails and calls that have little to do with what you do?

Secondly, our PR person should grasp that he or she is doing much more than putting out a communication on behalf of a client. What should be offered is not merely a story – it’s a package that gives a journalist exclusivity (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), saves the journalist precious time, and promises a story that will appeal not only to his or her audience, but to news editor as well.

Think like a journalist
And to do that, it is necessary to think like a journalist. What’s the story – and the strongest angle – for that audience? Is there an even better story behind the story? What’s the deadline? What’s the medium? Who are the right people to interview? What images are necessary? Why tell the story at all?
In other words, a good PR practitioner must give an invariably stretched, time-starved journalist a great story on a plate, instead of leaving the journalist do it from scratch.

Thirdly, a clever PR person will come up with different angles for different audiences, so the client communication’s not a one-shot deal. So, for example, a story about a super-duper new “green” corporate building at least has news, environmental, architectural, business, engineering, energy and recycling angles to it. And they can be used on local, regional and national levels, using a variety of media types, to maximise coverage.

The go-to person
And finally, our PR exponent should become more than that: he or she should be a media contact – the kind of person whom a reporter will call, looking for a story. That’s easier said than done, though. It takes time, effort and sincere engagement to build up such a trust relationship, and the PR person should ideally represent clients for meaningful periods of time; journalists then get to know who the go-to person is for a specific organisation.

It will also mean not bombarding the reporter with each communication that needs disseminating. The journalist needs to believe that the PR person is a trusted source of fantastic stories, not any old rubbish, and who will give them just that little bit more than anyone else gets.

The result
Then everyone’s a winner: reporters get “their” story, differentiating themselves from the competition, the PR practitioner gets results, and the client gets maximum exposure. And beleaguered editors can hopefully rest a bit easier, too

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Public Relations

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