Promoting Company News? Think Outside of YOUR Box

News PhotoAt our firm we are very fortunate to work with clients who are pretty savvy about what is – and is not – of interest to the media.  But this is not always the case.

“The media” is an all-encompassing term, of course.  There are stories that would interest business reporters, health reporters, technology reporters, etc.  But there are certain general truths about a company’s efforts to gain attention in the media, and the guiding principle should always be:  Why Should They Care?

We like to say in media training that everyone listens to the same radio station:  WII-FM, or “What’s in it for me?”  If your story doesn’t have some element of that, it’s not going to fly.

For example, say your CEO is the keynote speaker at the annual gala of the nonprofit he or she volunteers for.  That’s really great, and everyone at your company – and in the charity – should hear about it.  It should be on your website, in your e-newsletter, and maybe the speech should be recorded and promoted on a YouTube video.  But unless your CEO is already famous, no one else cares very much.

The same goes for professional awards.  The people who care are the ones giving the awards and the ones receiving it, and that’s about it.  Yes, the Nobel Prize is noteworthy, but very few of us win that one.

Unfortunately, many people want to push this kind of “news” out to the general public through the news media.   They insist on sending a news release – then don’t understand why their news is ignored.  In this case, however, one news release being ignored might not be the worst that can happen.  If you repeatedly send this kind of information out, everything coming from your email box may be trashed without being read because you have gotten a reputation of not knowing what news is.

How do you avoid the “non-news” trap?  Read the news; listen to the news; watch the news.  What types of stories do they cover?  Have you noticed anyone in the media covering the type of story you want to send out?

It’s very difficult to tell people that the “news” they are so excited about isn’t really going to be covered by the media.  Nobody likes to be that messenger.

But somebody has to do it.

Posted by Margot Dimond

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Your Crisis Communication Plan

Do you have a crisis communication plan?  Crisis planning is essential for any company or organization – but especially for one providing products or services directly to consumers.  With social media, small incidents can go viral, making company reputations one step away from shattering.

Sometimes it’s the response – or lack of response – to a real or perceived problem that causes the crisis.  Any delay in responding, or even a tepid response, can add fuel to the fire.  It’s important to show concern for those affected – whether they are employees, customers, or bystanders.  (Think of what happened to Tony Hayward, former CEO of BP, after his initial response to the Gulf oil spill.)

Having a plan already in place makes damage control much easier.  With the understanding that specifics will change with each type of crisis, here is a basic overview of the essential elements of a crisis communication plan:

1.  Have a Crisis Communication Team.  The team should include key people in the organization who can develop a plan of action and decide on the spokespersons in case of an event.  Everyone on the team should have – and regularly update – a management roster with every type of contact information.  The crisis team should meet on a regular basis to keep everyone in a state of readiness.

2.  Identify Designated Spokespersons.  The main spokesperson should always include the CEO or someone of equal authority, plus anyone in a management position in the area where the crisis occurred.  All designated spokespersons should have media training with an emphasis on crisis communication.  Sending someone in front of a bank of television cameras without this type of preparation can backfire – even with the best of intentions.

3.  Establish a System of Communicating with Employees, Clients and Other Stakeholders.  The system could include email alerts, an online social network platform for web-based crisis communication or even a special crisis web page.

4. Designate a Media Center.  The site for media interviews should be some distance from the crisis communication office, which may be a hub of activity.  Depending on the nature of the crisis, policies and procedures should be set for media access to people involved in the crisis.

5.  Gather the Facts.  As soon as possible, the team should gather all of the facts surrounding the crisis and issue a prepared statement to the media.  They should also release new facts as they are confirmed.

6.  Establish the Message and Key Talking Points and Prepare the Spokespersons. A crisis situation is stressful; this is not the time to “wing it” with the media. Before doing interviews, spokespersons should be rehearsed on the message, key talking points and  questions that could be asked.  There will always be information that cannot be rehearsed, but it is important to be as prepared as possible.

7.  Monitor Media coverage.  Consistently monitor both online and offline media coverage throughout the crisis to make sure your message is being communicated accurately.  If not, you may have to adjust your strategy and messaging.Posted by Margot Dimond

Your TV Interview: Make Every Word Count!

TV InterviewWhat is your media message?  In other words, what is the main thing you want your target audience to know about you or your organization?

Now – Can you say it in under 9 seconds? That’s about all the time you have in a typical TV interview sound bite.  So it’s important to make every word count.

Sound impossible?  Not if you practice.  Like most everything else, being good at media interviews is a skill that you acquire through training and practice.  And practice is especially important if you want to distill your company message into a usable sound bite.

One of the main challenges in being interviewed by the news media is learning how to tell your story in a clear and concise way.  You can complain that you aren’t given enough time to do your message justice, but you aren’t going to change the medium.  It is what it is, and if you want media coverage, you will have to adjust your communication style to be compatible with media time constructions.

Most television news shows are 30 minutes.  Take out commercial time, weather and sports, and the reporters don’t have much time at all to tell their audience the news of the day.  Brevity is essential.

So let’s say you are fortunate enough to have attracted the attention of the media, and a TV interview is scheduled.  This is your opportunity to get your message out to a large number of people at once.

You will be interviewed by a reporter (or in some cases, a camera operator), and he or she may have background information on you and your organization, but that’s not your audience.  Your audience is the person at home watching.  You must be able to clearly explain your point of view to that person – the one with very little background information – in 9 seconds or less.

You must make every word count.  And that takes practice.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Is that all we can expect? Or did we choose the wrong PR firm?

As the owner of a professional services firm, I decided late last year that we needed to do a better job of promoting our services.  I know other firms similar to ours that receive quite a bit of attention in the media, and they seem to be expanding at a faster pace than we are, so it definitely seemed like the thing to do.  We interviewed several firms – small, medium and large – and chose the largest firm because it seemed to have the most to offer.  They touted their contacts at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and gave us every indication that we would be featured in those national newspapers.  Unfortunately, after six months our total media coverage has been a small feature in a local business publication.  We are very disappointed and have decided to end our public relations program entirely.  Is this a common occurrence?  Why did this happen?

In answer to your direct question:  This is not a common occurrence, but it does happen all too often.  Unfortunately, it usually happens to business owners who have never before used any type of public relations service.  If your knowledge of public relations and what it can accomplish comes from what you see on television or in the movies, you may think that PR people can pick up the phone and news people will come running.  If only it were that easy!

It is rare that a small firm or a startup gets covered in major national newspapers, and for a public relations firm to dangle that idea in front of you was very misleading.  If, in fact, they promised you editorial coverage, they are in violation of the requirement to “accurately define what public relations activities can accomplish,” as listed in the code of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America, the professional membership organization for PR professionals.

Rather than giving up on having a public relations program, why not think about what you really want to gain from it?  You seem to want to expand your business.  By that, do you mean simply to have more clients?  Or do you have a specific type of client that you would like to work with?  Once you have determined the type of client you want to reach, you will need to have your PR firm work with you to design the right kinds of messages and media outlets to effectively reach them.  At that point, you should expect to see some kind of Action Plan with tactics, activities and timetables.

Your public relations program – whether undertaken internally or by an outside firm – should be viewed as an ongoing enterprise.  It’s all about reputation building and reputation maintenance, and that takes time.

Should you hire an outside firm, or go the DIY route?  Here are a some guidelines.

Posted by Margot Dimond

Why is our PR person always in such a hurry?

I am an assistant professor at a major research university, and I often get calls from our communications director wanting me to share my particular expertise in an interview for a news story.  She’s very insistent on my responding right away, which is very annoying.  Why can’t they wait for a convenient time for me to do the interview?  Is this standard practice for public relations people, or should I confront her on this?

It depends.  Do you want to be in the story?  Or do you want to be left out?  The reason the communications director is so insistent is that the reporter has told her that he or she has a tight deadline, and if you don’t do the interview before that time, you will not be quoted.  They will quote someone else.  No matter how important your expertise is – or how much it will contribute to the story – rarely will a media outlet delay publishing a story to fit in with your schedule.  There is always someone else they can quote instead.  So please go easy on your PR person.  She is on your side.

Why did they use that quote?

Does this sound familiar?  You’ve created a new product, and you finally get a media interview to promote it.  This is your big opportunity to let the world know what you have to offer.  Finally, you think, your business will get recognized.

Except it doesn’t work out quite the way you thought it would.  The news person shows up for the interview, and you talk in great detail about your product.  You may even provide a tour of your company headquarters.  In fact, the reporter is there for over an hour, and you can’t wait to see the story.

But when you do, you are disappointed.  The story contains only two quotes from you – comments you don’t even remember saying.  But worse than that, the reporter didn’t seem to understand the importance of your breakthrough product.

Maybe that’s because you never told him.  Sometimes it’s not good to know too much; it can keep you from explaining things clearly and concisely.

Remember:  The reporter is not your audience; the reporter’s audience is your audience. Tell them what your product (or service or invention) could mean to them – either now or in the future – in terms they can understand and relate to.

Do that, and you’ll be happier with the results.