When it comes to building and maintaining media relationships, credibility counts more than anything else. Once you signal a willingness to sacrifice that, media immediately sense the weakness and it permeates their perception of your organization, its management, products, and brands.
Unfortunately, when credibility is compromised you don’t get a mulligan. That’s why corporate communications, marketing, and public relations professionals owe it to the organizations they represent to give their communications processes the thought and scrutiny they truly deserve.
And yet, the overarching philosophy that best shapes the content and tonality of daily communications is often missing in action.
Too many organizations let the enthusiasm of marketing trump the discipline of news gathering. What results is a disconnect between the ‘big picture’ communications strategies that best serve an organization and those that are dutifully implemented on a day-to-day basis. Capable brand managers, account executives and supervisors execute the immediate need for the release that must go out before noon, but few can say why it matters. They’re delivering what their boss requested.
Confident companies that understand the value of media relations and the currency their credibility represents will refrain from communications that fail to offer a significant newsworthy development. Struggling ‘underdogs’ and sometimes overzealous enterprises fail to appreciate that the quality of their content –not the frequency of outreach– matters most. By taking such risks promoting marginal news they jeopardize future media interest.
Why do so many firms take chances with news releases of little merit? They’re enamored with the upside potential (any media coverage) without weighing the downside risk (alienating 99.9% of print and broadcast news outlets). Many believe that if they throw enough lines in the water, someone’s going to bite. They haven’t learned the one constant of media relations:
With that prelude, the proper consideration should be given to every form of external communication if it’s intended to reach the media. Every conversation, email, and news release is an opportunity to strengthen or weaken media relationships. They should never be done hastily. Here are some guidelines that should help maximize your opportunities:
Communicate news; not what your client, your boss or the CEO wants you to say. Some companies decide news releases are necessary not because they have anything new to share, but because their competition garnered prime coverage in the evening news and they feel compelled or pressured to make a splash. If there is ever a doubt about the newsworthiness of a story, restraint is always best.
Respect reporters’ time and get to the point. That means you say it once. And you say it correctly the first time. The way to do that is to be as concise as possible and as thorough as necessary.
Inverted pyramid style works because it is inherently logical. Don’t fight it.
Anticipate all of the logical questions and answer them. If a reporter calls for information that’s missing from the press release then you dropped the ball.
Explain what has changed; why it’s news; why it’s news now; and identify exactly who is impacted by that news.
Your release is supposed to create an impression and lead to a conclusion. Once you’ve gotten there, stop. Don’t wander elsewhere.
Is your release logical and lucid? If not, start over. It’s not enough to have all the correct elements in the correct sequence; and, it’s not enough to be plausible. It has to be right.
Nothing challenges and calibrates a PR staffer’s editorial skills as comprehensively as the use of quotes. When used well they can carry the message and even become the story. Regretfully, too many careless writers string together too many words that say remarkably little.
Some releases, occasionally, must acknowledge internal ‘political’ considerations and accommodate egos. If you must include an obligatory quote attributed to a senior executive, make sure that quote matters.
Companies look bad when people in positions of authority offer comments that appear superfluous. Embarrass those people often enough and you may discover some of their capabilities up close and personal.
Quotes are enormously important. But so is clarity and brevity. If you cannot create something insightful within those parameters, kill it.
Resist the knee-jerk, self-congratulatory quotes to placate those above your pay grade. Boil down the quote to the essential and you will have produced a valid statement rather than white noise.
Demonstrate an ability to deliver consistent quality news and you’ll have separated yourself from the majority engaged in excess.