Media Relations 101 In Review: Arm Reporters with Tools They Need to Succeed

By Scott Signore, CEO, Matter Communications

We're supposed to be helpful — that's part of the job. We're supposed to be somewhat friendly, too, but that's not nearly as important as being helpful.

Communications history strongly suggests that you will succeed in your PR initiative — no matter the objective or challenge — by delivering the goods that help a reporter succeed. It's the obvious, but often overlooked key to media relations: If you're striving for a front-page story, give a news editor an angle worthy of the front page. If you're reaching for an in-depth review of a complex product, give the reviewer tools that he or she can use to best communicate the relevant details. Give the editorial people what they want, damn it! It's really that simple.

Since the advent of our industry, writers and editors have turned to PR people for news and information that would contribute to their job of publishing articles that were interesting, timely and content-rich. Smart PR professionals always understood the gig — make the writer's life easier and they will deliver for you. Provide valuable, insightful, judicious information, and the recipient of your pitch will carry those details to market. Here's why: deadlines and competition.

Despite the seemingly endless volume of changes in the media world, the looming deadline has remained unwavering. That is, it's firm and it's always too tight. Early newspaper reporters likely fretted over fast-approaching deadlines like bloggers do today. The method and medium may have changed, but the concept of a firm editorial deadline has not. (Blogger note of my own: I greatly admire and respect any individual who writes under deadline pressure. I often have deadlines, but I know well that mine are self or client-imposed, and not nearly as rigid as professionals who earn a living typing by the clock. As we're discussing activities that help writers succeed, it's appropriate for me to say that I'd struggle to thrive in such a deadline-intense gig.)

Rare are the news outlets that operate independent of a competitive landscape. They all compete — and with the proliferation of social media everything, the competition is fiercer than ever. Take a typical and expected news brief and see how the same story is slightly adjusted in competitive outlets. It's the nature of the subscription and advertising driven beast, and competition in the editorial world ain't going anywhere anytime soon!

Against this backdrop, reporters used to be measured on metrics like "number of letters to the editor" or perhaps journalistic awards. Today they're measured largely by advertising dollars that flow based on the number of clicks/impressions/eyeballs on the copy written. Sometimes three stories per day. Monday through Friday.

It would be impossible to find a PR firm able to execute a solid media relations initiative without doing the necessary legwork. You need to be smart and savvy, but most important, you need to be prepared.

Here's how Matter Communications typically approaches a media relations initiative:

  • We start by researching the hell out of the writer.
  • With the same vigor we research the hell out of the outlet's audience.
  • We research their online presence across social channels.
  • We measure their influence and the topics about which they are influential.

By doing so, we get the best possible sense of editorial style – and we begin to get a clear understanding of what we can provide the writer/editor/etc. to help them put together a valuable story that people will click, share, like, and tweet. We assess the client's business objectives and think about exactly what would be the ideal media result. We follow by creating a pitch that is directly in line with editorial requirements – specific to the receiving party – and directly aligned with the key objectives of the business and initiative – and that necessarily maps to the audience of the respective writer. And, before we move forward, we're certain to have ammunition ready to be shared if ever necessary.

Incidentally, that ammo may include details that make a story richer – market statistics, customer quotes, etc. Or, we cook up some imagery that complements our words. (The latter becomes more and more prevalent as part of our day jobs. Our in-house creative team can easily assemble a content-rich infographic that nicely supports the PR person's pitch — as I shared recently, visual story telling is the direction of our business and getting on board is a must!)

Finally, the writers and editors who we pitch daily are (shocker!) people too. They are really good people, most of them. They want to succeed in their chosen profession and they value and appreciate PR people who help them do exactly that. The partnership of PR person and editorial professional is a natural one that makes great sense, even if deadlines sometimes make the relationship pressure-filled. It's mutually rewarding but only when PR professionals are smart and package a pitch in way that helps the writer or editor succeed. It's basic, but extremely important.

What's even more important? Helping a reporter out when there's nothing (immediately) in it for the PR person. Becoming a trusted resource when your clients may not benefit directly is the hallmark of a successful PR person at agencies large and small.

The best PR agencies know this and instill this key value in their people.

Reporters don't need PR people to teach them how to fish. Sometimes they just need some damned fish, and the PR pros with the widest nets and deepest contacts are able to deliver.

And the ones that deliver consistently and helpfully are the ones reporters, and clients, can bank on for the long haul.

What do you think — what would you add to my analysis of Media Relations 101?

Scott Signore is the principal and CEO of Matter Communications. After holding senior positions at both large and small public relations agencies, Scott founded Matter Communications in 2003 with a goal of creating a results-based PR firm that would have a more direct impact on clients' businesses. During the past eight years, Matter has grown from two clients and four employees to over 50 employees and more than 40 clients. Over the same period of time, Matter's annual revenue has increased by 40 percent on average and currently exceeds $6 million.

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