Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of public relations professionals. Some are incredibly successful in generating coverage for their organizations, clients and causes.
Although many factors come into those differences, here are seven characteristics I think separate the successful publicity pros from the also-rans.
Secret #1: Understand how the media works.
It’s important to understand how the media work, their frame of reference if you will. Here I am talking mainly about traditional media although many comments apply to “new” media as well.
In general, the media are dedicated people, working to develop and cover the stories they think will interest their audience. They have lots of deadlines and usually work under a lot of pressure. Many multi-task, developing written and visual content for print, broadcast and online.
To accomplish all this, they have to focus. So they filter things out based on several factors, including:
- Their outlet: They’ll select different stories depending on whether they are a news outlet or feature magazine, for example.
- Their beat: Reporters generally cover specific areas, such as local news, healthcare or technology. If your information doesn’t fit their beat, the reporters will reject it.
- Other stories: They want to avoid “too much of one thing,” so they work to balance good news and bad, light stories and heavy news. They need balance.
- Other media: Sometimes they cover a story because other media are covering it.
- Personal biases: The media will be attracted to various stories just because of their personal interests.
Successful PR people understand this, and factor it into their contacts with the media.
Secret #2: Do your homework.
Before contacting any journalist, make sure you really know your product or service, your company and your market.
For your product, know its features and benefits, target customer, pricing, availability and the like.
For your company, know where you “fit” in the market. Are you a leader? An upstart? Something in between?
For the market, know your competition and the market trends. You want to be seen as a resource, as someone who understands the bigger picture. If you can provide information or resources to the media, even when there’s nothing directly “in it” for you, you will earn their respect.
You also need to know the media outlet you’re approaching, and the individual reporter you’re contacting.
By media outlet, I mean your target publication, radio or TV program, blog or podcast. What types of stories does it cover? What audience is it trying to reach? How often does the publication come out or the program air? What is its tone? Rolling Stone has a very different “feel” than The Wall Street Journal.
Avoid pitching stories that do not fit the publication or program. Don’t be like the PR firm that regularly pitched cooking recipes to a technology publication (true story). That was a sure sign the “pros” didn’t know what they were doing.
You also need to know the reporter, editor, producer or blogger who covers your market. What history do they have with your company or industry? How do they like to be contacted?
Targeting the “right” media and the “right” person can make all the difference. It’s true: 80 percent of your publicity will come from 20 percent of the media. Determine who those people are and develop relationships with them.
I’ll give you some more secrets in my next post. In the meantime, more information about public relations is available on my website at www.CommunicationsPlus.net/PRArticles.html.
Susan Monroe says
This post and the others that follow should be required reading in college PR courses.
I once worked for a small PR and IR firm, that shall remain unnamed. The owner frequently suggested that we contact a certain WSJ reporter to pitch a story. Her response, when I would comment that the subject was not his beat, was something along the lines of “Oh, but he likes us…”