Media Relations: Getting Started

starting gate

One of the more common questions new clients have when it comes to media relations is, “How do we get started?”

Here’s a quick summary.

Information-gathering/Discovery – Anyone who’s a fan of legal or crime dramas is familiar with the term “discovery.” This is the phase of the legal case where the attorneys work to ‘discover’ as much information about the case as possible. This includes many things the lawyers’ clients want them to know, and it may include things the opposition doesn’t want them to know.

In media relations, PR pros should conduct their own version of discovery, not only asking questions and getting information from the client, but also learning as much as possible as fast as possible about the operating environment for the client. Everything from how the organization functions internally, where it gets its money (customers, donors, investors, etc.), to who its major competitors are, and what are the most significant factors that could limit or do limit the organization’s further success.

The more media relations professionals learn about the business and the operating climate, the better positioned they will be to bring the required creativity and problem-solving to the process.

Story Development – Oftentimes, a client may have some good ideas or good material to form the center of a narrative or story development. It may be a new product line or service niche. It could be some recent developments in the industry that pose challenges or opportunities. It could be some new people in the organization who will spearhead growth into a new sector.

This is where public relations pros set themselves apart. This is the art and the skill of media relations. It’s taking raw data and information and taking a problem-solving and creative approach. Using instincts and journalistic skills, the PR pro should be able to see potential stories in that raw data and information. They should work with the client on the framing of the story that emerges from this process, and then look for ways to package it and make it appealing to the news media.

In terms of how it manifests itself, clients will start to see it in action during a second phase of what seems like more discovery, only the questions and suggestions from the public relations pro are more pointed and more specific. They seem to be going in a certain direction.

The Pitch Process – Pretty soon, the public relations pro will have a critical mass of information and a good idea of what narrative or stories will form the center of media outreach. The client is in the loop throughout this process. Media targets will be identified. The PR pros will create lists of journalists who may have a natural interest in the topics at hand. And then the they can start reaching out. This could come in the form of phone calls, emails, news alerts, news releases, creations of webinars for reporters or other mechanisms. Regardless, the purpose is to get information or ideas to reporters when they need them and how they need them.

The Response Process – In a sense, day-to-day media relations activities are a lot like fishing. You cast your line towards the media, you bait your hook with a good story idea that is timely, and then you look for ‘bites.’

Once a reporter shows interest in the story – to continue with the fishing metaphor – you have to reel it in. This involves effective follow-up where the PR pro offers up a spokesperson, an interviewee, more substantive information or data, whatever the reporter needs to flesh out the story and take it to the reporter’s readers, viewers or listeners.

The Interview – The spokesperson or subject matter expert (SME) is scheduled for an interview, but in advance, that SME should be prepared for the types of questions to be asked or the subjects that will be discussed.

Once the media relations program starts to gain momentum, this preparation process will be drastically reduced because prior experience on the issue will have been good preparation. Regardless, the PR pro should prepare the interviewee in advance on the direction of the interview and the framing of the story that the reporter has in mind.

Follow-up – After the interview, the PR pro should follow up with the reporter to see that they have everything they need, and then get an idea of when a story may run.  Ongoing communication is critical just to make sure that care is put into developing a relationship with reporters so that they feel comfortable coming back to the PR pro and their client again and again as the need arises.

This also opens the door a little wider for the public relations pro to go back to those same reporters with new story ideas.

That’s a quick summary of a comprehensive process. Do you want to talk about media relations? Let me know.

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