Hacking Media Relations Won’t Work, Here’s Why

My conversation started last week with a CEO of an LA-based vitamin company that makes a supplement to enhance cognition. He said, “I want to hack the media relations process because agencies have never been able to deliver the coverage I expect, and I’ve worked the with Edelman’s of the world.”

While I’m not here to rain criticism on my colleagues work in these large agencies, I think this gives us opportunity to re-exam media relations, because there’s some things you just can’t hack. Media relations is like an iceberg. It’s a beautiful thing to see, but what lies beneath the water is more majestic, more substantive and allows the tip to float above sea level.

media relations

Today, if you haven’t noticed, we live in a world where folks like to hack things. There’s even a blog dedicated to such ingenious ways to live life smarter, better, and beat The System at its own game — it’s LifeHacker. But not everything can be hacked the way this young CEO thought, and probably still believes.

The Purpose of Media Relations

Media relations is both science and and art. It’s communication and relationship building with journalists that serves a dual purpose:

  1. Journalists need news their readers want to read, and public relations professionals are one outlet where journalist can get that news.
  2. Companies have news they need to communicate, or news to influence that can improve what they’re doing, and journalists offer that conduit.

From these, businesses earn coveted news coverage, which connects them to the general public that includes their customers, stakeholders and others important to their success.  The path, however, to earning media coverage is never guaranteed as this young CEO thought it should. He told me, “I want to pay-for-placement and tie your efforts to a tangible measurement.” He continued, “Ultimately, I want the benchmark to be sales, but for now I’m only willing to pay  for the stories you place. That’s how I want to hack the system.”

The guarantee of media placement is this young CEO’s misunderstanding. While I didn’t used the following example, one of my colleagues used this vivid explanation to illustrate why media coverage is never guaranteed.

When A Standing Senator Looses Media Attention

On April 19, 1995 Senator Richard Lugar was poised to announce his candidacy for president in Indianapolis. The media where represented — NBC, CBS, ABC — the typical national broadcasters and print journalists too. It is a big deal when a respected Senator announces his run for the White House. Unfortunately, Timothy McVeigh, a domestic terrorist, stole Lugar’s thunder. McVeigh detonated a bomb that killed men, women and children and reduced the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building to rubble in downtown Oklahoma City. Immediately media professionals turned their attention away from Lugar — understandably — to cover the  McVeigh mayhem.

Senator Lugar didn’t get the media coverage his team had worked for, and there was a ton of work that went into that day’s press conference. Bigger news caught the media attention.

The Anatomy of Media Relations

Although Senator Lugar’s story is an extreme example, editors pull stories all the time for less serious matters than terrorist bombings, and we can never be sure just why they run with one story over another. But we can hedge our bets if we follow a method, which can’t and shouldn’t be hacked. It’s there for a reason.

Research and Message Development

There are two types of research in media relations: message development and outlet targeting. Let’s start with message development.

Journalists like news, so companies need to find out what’s newsworthy about their doings. On the other hand, a company also wants to include it’s core messages into the news. This is the first stage of developing a media relations strategy. The second phase is identifying media outlet likely to be interested in publishing or broadcasting that news your company finds important.

Delivering the News to the Media

After a company has identified news, it’s time to package it for the media. There’s a tone of different ways to do this, however, many times it involves using one or all of these tools:

  • News Release
  • Media Advisory
  • Taking Points
  • Backgrounder
  • Ready-to-Run Story
  • The pitch

While you may never use all of these — it’s important to know they exist. And to the CEO I mentioned above, the research, writing, pitching and distribution of these are billable work, just like attorneys will bill for research and writing. Like the attorney, you’re paying public relations professionals for their intellectualism.

The Only Way to Guarantee Media Placement

Back to the story of that CEO I met. Gaming the media relations system won’t work. The way we go about media relations may change with the invention of new social media tools, such as Pinterest. Carrie Morgan writes about “Using Pinterest and Secret Pinboards for Media Pitching” for Social Media Today. But the process won’t change. There will always be research, planning, writing, continuous relationship building, and a little luck.

However, you can guarantee media placement if you buy it — that’s called advertising. The new, old, big thing — all the range these days — is native advertising. Check out “Making Native Advertising Work for Your Digital PR Strategy.”

Meeting the Right People through Social Media

My Note: I’m pleased to introduce a very smart and savvy star on the near horizon. Christina Grehlinger was reaching through Twitter to connect with other professionals for a school project. In her last year, she was asked to interview working career PR-types about their work. During our conversation, it dawned on me she was bright and potentially talented. She asked probing questions and established a rapport immediate. And I’m sure did well on her assignment, which is probably indicative of the work she’ll do professionally.

With that, I asked her to share her thoughts here. And this is what she wrote — excellent.

By Christina Grehlinger
Twitter: @babecmg
LinkedIn: Christina

public relationsIn this day and age, the people we are looking for are on social media. Yes, they may be out of the office, they may not be available through email outside of business hours, but they are accessible through social media. One must strategically use social media to get in contact with the right PR professionals. Want to know how I met Rodger Johnson? A few weeks back, I was given an assignment in my Communication Capstone course. The goal was to interview Public Relations professionals and discover what made these talented people stand out in the field.

Naturally, I turned to social media. The first step was to get the pros’ attention. I scrolled through Twitter and started following all types of Public Relations companies and Public Relations professionals. I then tailored and catered my Tweets to these crucial people: “I want to hear your story!” “From the #experienced to the #newbie…” and of course “#PR pros.” One morning, I woke up to a message in my inbox on Twitter. Rodger Johnson had agreed to an interview. Social media had guided me to the right Public Relations professional. I mean look, I’m guest blogging for him. It doesn’t get more right than these types of opportunities.

Maybe you don’t know who you are even looking for. The amazing thing about social media is PR professionals, potential employers, and recruiters can find YOU. Your social media sites are simply free spaces to promote YOU and your goals as a Public Relations pro. Getting noticed is not difficult if your social media is focused on your career search. There are many opportunities to promote yourself: identify yourself as an aspiring PR professional in your bios, list your past experience, or comment on current PR news. The right people can find you through social media if you give them the right content to look at.

public relations

By applying these strategies to my own social media accounts in the past few weeks, I have made an unbelievable amount of connections. In the past twenty one days, one hundred more people have followed my Twitter account. Many of these followers are successful PR firm owners, bloggers, event coordinators, and gifted Public Relations professionals. I receive new direct messages every day from potential employers across the country asking if I still need a PR professional to talk to. Of course, I never turn them down! My networking through LinkedIn has increased greatly and is more focused on Public Relations. Social media has made meeting the right people easier and definitely more direct.

Whether searching for the right Public Relations professionals, or baiting them to find you, social media serves as the most helpful tool in the process. Social media can lead you to those who have PR opportunities waiting for you. What are you waiting for?

Suddenly, the start of the career search in Public Relations doesn’t seem so scary.

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