Earlier this month I came across an article that sparked a debate in my office about the value of media relations and whether we have it right or not. A presentation later in the week from media trainer Jen Fleming confirmed my instincts - it is imperative that PR people build relationships with editors, journalists and producers and understand the market and their interests before clicking send on the media release email. Here's a snippet from the article in PR Influences that got us talking:
Here’s some reasons why media relations always seems to be in the spotlight when the role of public relations is on the agenda.
1. Organisations and their management don’t understand the media.
Management often fails to recognise that media are a distinct, and quirky, audience. Media’s most important self-belief is ‘independence’. Their most common trait is being cynical. In the main they are suspicious of business. They are not there to publish good news. They cannot be ‘sold’ to, or communicated with as you would with other audiences. Above all editorial media coverage can never be guaranteed - and if you are lucky enough to get some then you can’t bank on everything you said being used. If you want control, buy advertising space or time.
2. PR people oversell media relations.
PR people often emphasise their knowledge of, and contacts with, media. What the most experienced PR people know is that this only gives them access - it doesn’t necessarily convert to coverage. Also there’s an awful lot of legwork that has to be done when dealing with media. But combine a slightly exaggerated sales pitch from PR with management’s naivety about media and the result is that there’s a level of expectation by management that is often misplaced. It can be a recipe for some serious misunderstandings!
3. Working with the media isn’t a science
There’s nothing certain or predictable about media. They all aim to reach different readers, listeners or viewers and this impacts on how they each of them handles ‘news’. Look at the four daily newspapers that are read in Sydney each day and see how different items are treated. What can be news one day, can be rejected the next. A journalist can work on a story and file it because he/she feels is important (or has been assigned to do it), but it may never be used for a host of internal media considerations. While it’s important to have a media relations function, and work diligently at it, in many instances media coverage can come down to sheer luck.
4. Modern communications means it’s too easy to send material to the media.
Years ago getting something to the right person within media was an art. It took knowledge and contacts - and the release had to be physically delivered. Today it’s much too easy to reach journalists by a click. Specialist organisations sell media databases that allow media releases to be sent instantly - and anonymously to hundreds of media outlets (and individual journalists). As a result media releases have become a commodity. Many organisations think of media releases as they do direct mail and distribute them like confetti. They work on the principle that if they send out 100 media releases they might get five who find it of interest. That’s not media relations and it only sours media who get so much rubbish that the genuinely interesting material that is sent electronically gets lost.
5. Media is under so much pressure these days.
Media is a business sector that is having its share of challenges too. Almost in all forms of media there have been staff cut-backs; and the use of new electronic tools is changing the way media work. These days few journalists can afford to be away from their desks for long. The practice of attending lunches, functions, launches and briefings is under pressure. It accounts for the fact that increasingly there are ‘no-shows’ by journalists at events they have previously committed to. This means that PR people have to adapt to the changing circumstances and be smarter in how they handle media relations. It means that it’s getting harder - not easier - to achieve results in media relations, and this is against the backdrop of unrealistic expectations from management to begin with.
All of the above is not to say that media relations -from the point of view of both an organisation and media they deal with - is not successful in many instances. This is typically when an organisation has an enlightened, and realistic, perspective with good management and savvy PR people (whether internal or from an agency) guiding the relationship.
But with an increasing number of organisations now committing to using public relations and spreading media releases like confetti to an already over-stretched media, it is likely that media relations will remain the subject of much debate for some time to come.
What do you think? Do you have good relations and create fabulous releases that are both newsy and relevant to their target audience or are you too sending out a stream of endless confetti?
Until next time
Heidi Alexandra Pollard
The Communicators' Coach