Media Hints, Part 4: Media Relations 101

January 19, 2010

OK, for the likes of Rubella Pymley-Bowles, the hapless account executive from Ostentacious PR, here’s a media relations masterclass – straight from the horse’s proverbial mouth. Hopefully, this will be useful to those looking to deliver PR too:

THE BASICS

1: Find the unique, interesting and different elements of your business.
2: Ensure you can prove any statements you make with cold, hard facts.
3: Research every publication – do not send blanket emails or editorial.
4: Remember that you need to earn a journalist’s trust and respect over time.
5: Make your press releases lively, fact-filled and relevant – not PR spin.
6: Utilise your knowledge and present your editorial with personality.
7: Do not ever mention you advertise with a publication to a journalist.
8: Remember that all News is people-based. Bring them out of your business.
9: Do not try to be controversial for the sake of it. Journalists get bored easily.
10: To hold attention, all you need to be is relevant, timely and interesting.
11: Request a Forward Features list on first contact, as and where relevant.
12: Never question a journalist’s editorial judgement. It’s their domain.
13: Remember that ‘off the record’ is usually an area of immense danger.
14: Only target relevant publications for your products or services. No spam.
15: Appreciate that the journalist is not there to serve you – other way round.
16: Do not be chatty, gossipy or unprofessional. Stay focussed and brief.
17: If you can offer fresh, new, exciting content regularly – perfect contact.
18: Track the career moves of journalists you know – build a media database.
19: Realise that most publications have online versions and online journalists.
20: Monitor target media yourself and build up a published Press portfolio.

PRESS RELEASES

21: Never make a press release more than two sides long – brevity counts.
22: Write the headline last – it should flow once the press release is complete.
23: Make sure you have one item of News only, not a series of items.
24: Utilise one key individual for your business as the quoted person.
25: Do not try to be funny, witty, smart or sarcastic – present the facts only.
26: Only use statistics if you can back them up with attributed sources.
27: Do not knock down your competitors – it’s unprintable and unprofessional.
28: Piggy-backing on a current News issue is great – if you add editorial value.
29: Ensure you supply at least one high-resolution image at 300dpi.
30: Make sure any pictures are taken professionally, not by an amateur.
31: Remember who the editor is presenting the story to – be relevant to them.
32: Never ring a journalist to ask why a press release was not published.
33: If your editorial is included, add value by presenting a Feature around it.
34: Utilise knowledge and expertise – only add opinion if totally essential.
35: Avoid PR jargon such as ‘ground-breaking’ and ‘industry-leading’ phrases.
36: A press release is like a perfectly-formed circle – end it where you start.
37: Understand the editorial structure of the publication before you write.
38: The first paragraph needs to tell the entire News item, and succinctly.
39: Be positive, upbeat and engaging in your editorial, but forget the PR spin.
40: Do not re-send the same press release. Send it once and media monitor.

DEADLINES

41: Always ask a journalist if they are on deadline. Always. Every time.
42: Understand that a journalist is busy, stressed, bombarded – help them.
43: If a journalist needs information, provide it without question or delay.
44: Do not miss a deadline given by a journalist. You get one chance at this.
45: Make your conversations to the point – ideally, only ring with one point.
46: Appreciate that you are not the Editor’s best friend, and never will be.
47: Understand that the paramount thing on a journalist’s mind is deadlines.
48: Make yourself available to give comments on deadline when needed.
49: Be consistent, reliable and a ‘safe pair of hands’ for a ‘rent-a-quote’ item.
50: Understand the publication’s deadline and editorial production structure.
51: News changes rapidly – do not be upset if a deadline removes your story.
52: Understand different deadline structures for magazines and newspapers.
53: The pace of News-gathering is increased when you deal with online Press.
54: Include a blog hyperlink with all emails – it gives more content on deadline.
55: Provide content, features, comment in one accessible place for a journalist.
56: Ensure your website has a Press area with editorial and images included.
57: Remain professional and polite when dealing with journalists on deadline.
58: If a journalist is on deadline, ask when is a good time to contact them.
59: Every journalist respects their deadlines, and so must you to gain ground.
60: Journalists will usually be more stressed and less receptive on deadline.

TALKING TO THE PRESS

61: Research the name and title of any journalist you intend to speak to.
62: Practice the conversation before you pick up the phone.
63: Never ring a journalist on deadline.
64: Always ask a journalist if they are able to speak before you continue.
65: Demonstrate you read the publication – identify different editorial sections.
66: Offer an exclusive wherever possible to the journalist.
67: Never mention competing publications, it usually winds an Editor up.
68: Ring a journalist to brief them of a relevant issue you can comment on.
69: Do not contact a journalist to see if they have received a press release.
70: If a journalist requires additional information, provide it within the hour.
71: When contacting a publication, be polite to everyone. People talk.
72: Demonstrate your expertise when possible, but do not ramble on.
73: Never interrupt a journalist – let them tell you what they want and when.
74: Add editorial value to the publication with every interaction you have.
75: Brief a journalist before you send a press release – by phone and quickly.
76: Do not invite a journalist out to lunch unless you add real editorial value.
77: Only present yourself as an expert or industry guru if you can back it up.
78: Be passionate about your business – talk to the Press from the heart.
79: Do not try to use the Press as a mouthpiece to gain column inches. Ever.
80: Work with a journalist, become a trusted source of information and ideas.

THE ESSENTIALS

81: Do not offer an exclusive to more than one journalist. Common sense.
82: Follow your target publications religiously and identify opportunities.
83: Realise that media relations is straightforward, and not a Dark Art.
84: Being in regular contact with a journalist will never guarantee publication.
85: The media landscape is changing – be aware of editorial nuances.
86: Be confident, calm and collected in your dealings with the Press.
87: Understand that successful media relations is not about PR spin.
88: If you ever lie, or mis-represent, to a journalist – say goodbye for ever.
89: Journalists are busy most of the time – but they are still human beings.
90: Have an awareness of the political leanings of a publication. It matters.
91: Do what you say you will, on time, and as agreed with a journalist.
92: If asked to provide editorial, keep to the word count requested. Always.
93: Journalists know what they want and need – do not second guess them.
94: Never mention that you used to be a journalist. It is totally irrelevant.
95: You might think you can outsmart a journalist. Wrong – it’s their rules.
96: PR schmoozing holds an increasingly useless impact to the Media.
97: Sending flowers, free gifts and the like rarely influences publication.
98: Do not be nervous or stuttery – present the facts and the angle. Simply.
99: Always back up your information with reputable sources and facts.
100: Remember that your News is useful, but not invaluable, to the Press.

RULE NUMBER 101: Never, ever, break Rules 1-100.

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15 Responses to “Media Hints, Part 4: Media Relations 101”

  1. This is both wonderfully succinct and accurate – thank you. I’ve just tweeted it, but wish I’d been able to attribute it to more than merely ‘BristolEditor.’

  2. bristoleditor said

    Hi Ruth

    Many thanks – pleased you found the post useful: BristolEditor is my online handle, glad that you found it on Twitter also! More useful posts to follow…

  3. Outstanding, succinct summary. Will be coming back.
    Mick

  4. Really great site that you have built good info thanks.

  5. Jac said

    Absolutely fantastic, especially all the rules about how busy hacks are, but not too busy to think up 101 rules.
    Anyway, couldn’t resist giving the PR perspective on a few of the rules:

    THE BASICS
    2: Once an utterance is made by a PR it is a fact.
    4: A journalist’s trust and respect is earned over time but as many of them won’t last long it’s easier just to buy them off with a good meal or trip abroad
    7: If PRs can’t mention advertising why do marketing teams insist on trying to sell advertising space to PRs?
    16: Good PR is about relationships and the best relationships often involve being chatty, unless the hack is a miserable sod
    18: Do you have any idea how long it takes to record all those redundancies and promotions?
    19: Of course we do, that’s how we know when they’ve gone bust.
    PRESS RELEASES
    21: Brevity counts because news rooms are filled with kids on minimum wage with the attention span of a goldfish.
    23: One item, one release? Then sit back and watch the hacks moan they get too many releases.
    36: End it where you start? Good idea, that way we never actually write anything.

    DEADLINES
    41: Why bother asking, journalists are always on a deadline.
    46: I’m not the editor’s best friend? Even after I took him to Marrakesh? Bloody Hell
    47: Understand that the paramount thing on a journalist’s mind is getting a well paid PR job in future.
    56: Ensure your website has a Press area and then hacks can ignore it, ring the wrong department and not have a clue who to ask for and expect an answer in five minutes.
    60: Journalists and editors are paranoid about deadlines and will waste amazing amounts of time telling you about them.
    TALKING TO THE PRESS
    63: Never ring a journalist on deadline, which you won’t actually know about until you ring him and ask if he is on deadline.D’oh.
    64: Always ask a journalist if they are able to speak before you continue, many may be mute and employed under the Disability Discrimination Act.
    73: Never interrupt a journalist – let them tell you what they want and when or ve vill have you shot you schvein hund.

    THE ESSENTIALS
    83: But Luke I am your father.
    88: If you ever lie, or mis-represent, to a journalist – say goodbye forever unless you can guarantee another freebie holiday
    89: Debatable and not proven.
    92: If asked to provide editorial – wonder whether the caller is a journalist or a lazy, illiterate git.
    97: Sending flowers, free gifts and the like rarely influences publication, only the publisher.
    98: Do not be nnnnnervous or sssssstuttery – it upsets the disabled.
    100: Remember that your News is useful, but not invaluable, to the Press until all councils publish their own local papers.

    • bristoleditor said

      This is good – very good.

      And, unfortunately, your number 21 is increasingly true.

      Many thanks for the other side of the fence perspective: some of it is actually accurate too! Bravo.

      • @jac Here’s a true story for you though. Senior PR person (at the time just one slot below VP level) calls national editor of most influential business section in the country three times, leaving voicemail each time. Finally comes up to me and says editor is not returning his calls and would I (nowhere near so senior) call. I do; get editor live. First question I ask editor is, do you have a minute? Answer is yes. I then say, I think you may have received a voicemail or two from my colleague X. ‘Yes, says editor, I got three. All of them said, it’s X calling from X PR firm and a phone number. I had no idea what he was calling about or why I should call him back, so I didn’t.’ It’s not just children on the phones in newsrooms these days; sometimes it’s children at the PR firms, regardless of their age.

        Despite the rocky start to our conversation, the editor listened to my proposal and gave it serious consideration. Too many PR people make the mistake of thinking that because their clients are movers and shakers, they are too. It’s a supporting role to which some just aren’t very well suited.

  6. bristoleditor said

    Hi Ruth

    Many thanks for your inputs – a great example given.

    I had a PR last year who, after 3 email requests to send information and images under strict and simple specifications, had failed to deliver the simple requirements at each stage to my editorial inbox.

    The PR’s company advertised with 1 of the magazines I was editing, and was ‘clever’ enough to remind me of that fact, before adding that they would appreciate if I were “not quite as brusque” to them via email.

    Suffice to say, that was the last contact I made with the over-sensitive little bunny: receiving 250 PR emails per day, many of which were at that time poorly-constructed, without any obvious understanding of the run-of-mags, deadline structures (clearly set out in my Forward Features lists), and no real interest in advancing the knowledge of my readerships, kind of focuses the editorial mind above and beyond sub-standard PR delivery by junior and senior PRs who really, really, really should know better. Trouble is, it’s their clients who lose out.

    Bestest,

    BE

  7. Greetings and thanks for a intriguing blog. I thank you what you wrote here.

  8. jac said

    @Ruth as much as it pains me to say it PR is one of those unfortunate worlds where often it is a case of ‘those who can, do, and those who can’t get promoted (to get them out of the way)’.

  9. MancHack said

    I think you may have missed one, but forgive me if it is in there. Never, ever, ring to see if a journalist has received your email

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