Friday, September 21, 2007

getting media relationships started

A recent question on LinkedIn came from a first-time communications director who'd done no media relations, but needed to establish relationships with reporters in her new job. Here's our advice to her for getting her toe in the waters of the news coverage pool:
A smart way to approach this--and one that will make you stand out-- is to take the preparatory steps that reporters will expect you to do:

1) Figure out who your relevant audiences are. If your issue is education, that might include state officials, local officials, parents, teachers, students, voters/taxpayers, etc. Use these to determine which media outlets are relevant to your organization.

2) Read, watch and listen to all the relevant media covering your organization or issue. Do that for national outlets -- even if you don't anticipate coverage from them -- as well as state and regional media. Observe them routinely, to understand who's covering what, their interests, what's already been done, what hasn't been covered and why, which issues are hot right now, and more.

3) Figure out reporters' deadlines -- most have multiple deadlines during the day or week. Start by observing when stories appear and how frequently, or ask the reporter directly. (A newspaper reporter, for example, may have to file a web story, a web update, a radio interview, a TV piece, and finally her story for the next day's paper, all in the same day.) Don't call close to deadlines, and if you do call, always start the call by identifying yourself and your organization, and asking immediately "Are you on deadline?" as a courtesy.

4) Before you ever contact a reporter, figure out what you have that they might want: experts? data? access to interviewees? special reports? a particular viewpoint? images? sound? Determine which reporters want what--again, start by observing closely--and be ready to describe it when you speak with them. Make sure your resources for reporters are ready: get training for your spokespeople, have fact sheets ready on your issues, know where your images are and whether you own copyright to them.

5) Understand formats that reporters need, and those that don't work. For example: Don't attach huge files of images to an email, but do indicate that high-res images are available. Make sure your news release format fits a reporters' Blackberry--it's a completely different format than the traditional release.

6) When you finally do get hold of a reporter -- and I prefer to do that by phone -- ask them what they're working on, what they need that they can't find elsewhere, and what they need from you. It may be nothing at this point, but you need to start where they are to build the relationship. You'll learn much more useful information that way.

No comments: