Successful Public Relations for Companies, Municipalities, Nonprofits, Events and Issues

Preparation is the key to creating a successful public relations program for your company, nonprofit or organization.

 

A successful interview doesn't just happen. It is the result of careful research, preparation and practice.

 

Successful interviews result in stories that help your company meet its objectives.

 

Unsuccessful interviews don’t meet those objectives and can damage your company’s reputation.

Understanding the Media

 

Just like you, the reporter is doing a job. But your objectives and the reporter’s are not likely to be identical. Your goal is to generate awareness of, or interest in, your product, service, event or issue. The reporter is working to create a story that will be interesting to viewers or readers.

As the expert or interview subject, you will be far more effective if you keep in mind the reporter’s definition of news: Conflict and Change. To a reporter, news is something that affects people, for better or for worse. That can be anything from a major war to a new dog leash law in a neighborhood.

In the information that follows, we’ll talk about:

  1. Messaging: What do you want to say to your target audiences through the media?

  2. Types of Media to Target: There are many types of media and working with each has a different approach

  3. How to Pitch: This is the process of contacting reporters and getting them to do a story on your topic

  4. Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Section 1: Messaging

It’s important to be consistent in what you are saying to the media. Messaging allows you as the interview subject to be prepared to say the same thing every time you speak with a reporter. Keeping your interview responses consistent requires forming a key message.  

Key Message

The key message is a short list, usually three short points, that represent a short, concise way to describe the program, event or statement in just a few seconds.

These messages should not be communicated verbatim to media, but rather should be incorporated into conversations or written materials you provide to reporters.

Example: The Boys & Girls Clubs of America held a National KidsDay program. Here are the “Key Messages” that were developed:  

  • National KidsDay was created to foster stronger relationships between adults and children by educating them on the importance and value of spending “meaningful time” together.

  • On National KidsDay, thousands of kids and their parents will gather around the country for a full day of activities, celebrating the positive results of meaningful time.

  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America leads the National KidsDay effort. National KidsDay is also supported by a number of other nonprofits, including the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the Association of Childrens’ Museums, the Association for Library Services to Children, Major League Baseball and Youth Service America.

Once you’ve delivered the Key Messages, you can go deeper with “Secondary Messages.” These provide additional detail on the program.

 

Secondary Messages

  1. Research conducted for National KidsDay (NKD) shows children want to spend more meaningful time with the adults in their lives. The research shows such “meaningful time” can have specific, positive outcomes:

    • Joining your child in a small amount of physical exercise each week can reduce their risk of obesity and diabetes.

    • Eating meals together several times a week can reduce child’s risk of smoking, drinking or doing drugs.

    • Spending just a few hours a week helping kids with their schoolwork can significantly improve their grades.

  2. National KidsDay provides the opportunity for every adult to take a break, celebrate and renew their commitment to the nation’s children.

Section 2: Types of Media to Target

There are several different types of media with which you’ll be working:

Print

  • Includes daily, weekly, monthly, bi-monthly newspapers and magazines

  • Most cities have one major daily newspaper (the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in Atlanta), a weekly Business Journal (e.g., the Atlanta Business Chronicle) and a number of smaller weekly newspapers.

  • A simple Google search can provide assistance in finding local papers.

  • Magazines and blogs specializing in your industry or cause.

Television

  • Local stations will typically include local affiliates from ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX. You might also find Latino stations like Telemundo.

  • You may also have locally-produced news on “independent” stations or local cable access programs.

Radio

  • Most cities have two or three “news/talk” stations that will be your primary targets for delivering news.

  • Identify the largest FM stations as well.

  • Many radio stations will have locally-produced community programs, often on Sunday mornings.

  • Look also for radio stations that focus the audience you are trying to reach.

 

Wire Services

  • Each state will have a local bureau of the Associated Press, an organization that provides stories to newspapers in its own state and nationally.  Go to http://www.ap.org to find local contacts in your state.

Section 3: How to Pitch

 

Timing Your Pitch

Know the dynamics of news.  If you’ve got an event coming up in a few weeks, give the media time to plan for it.  Don’t call them the day of the event and expect them to attend.

Make sure your pitch is short and concise.  Tell the reporter what the event is about, why it’s important to their readers or viewers, when it is and where it is.  Use the Media Advisory format provided.

Newspapers

  • Newspapers will have short and long deadlines.  Make sure you let the paper know about the event at least a week in advance about your event.

  • Identify the reporter who covers your topic or “beat.”  That might be an education writer, an urban issues writer or a community affairs writer.

  • Titles will vary widely in different cities, so read the papers often to keep up with who’s writing what.

 

Magazines

  • Magazines will plan their articles several months in advance.  Begin speaking with them three to four months before your event for monthly magazines and at least a month in advance for weekly magazines.

  • Research to identify the reporter who may write your story

  • Do not forget to research freelance writers as many magazines use freelance writers for their publications

Television

  • Television stations have daily meetings each morning and afternoon where they plan their day.

  • Email a week before your event to get it on their calendar, but make sure you follow up the day before so they can discuss it in their planning meeting.

    • Talk to the Assignment Manager.

    • Most stations don’t make their final decision on covering an event until the morning of the event.

    • See if the station has a morning news program with opportunities for live guests.  Call the “Guest Coordinator” or “Executive Producer” for that specific news program.

 

Radio

  • The best time to get on your local radio stations will be during their “drive time” segments, in the morning between 6 – 9 a.m. and in the afternoon between 4 – 7 p.m.   

  • Email a few days before your event and talk to the News Director or a specific reporter.  

  • Follow up again the morning of the event. Stations often do interviews via phone rather than attending events in person, so make sure you call from a landline rather than a cellphone when interviewing.

Section 4: Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Never go into an interview and try to "wing it." These simple steps can mean the difference between success and failure:

Do Your Homework

  • Know the reporter doing the interview. Learn about the publication or station he/she represents. Does the reporter generally write positive or negative stories?

Ask Questions

  • When a reporter calls, it is quite appropriate to ask “What is the subject to be covered?” if you’re unsure.  Ask the reporter if they’re talking to other sources for the story.

Anticipate

  • In most cases, you will know the topic of the interview. Plan for the tough questions as well as the easy ones.

Unexpected Media Calls

  • If you receive an unexpected media call, and are not prepared to answer questions, you are quite within your rights to ask the reporter if you can call back at a later time. Use the time to prepare for the interview, then return the call. Remember to be cognizant of the reporter’s deadlines and try to return the call in a timely fashion.

Make Your Points -- Deliver Your Key Messages

  • You can achieve your objectives in the interview by making the points you want to make --regardless of the questions asked.  Remember your Key Messages and try to work them into your conversation with the reporter.

Use the Printed Word

  • If there is something printed that backs up the points you want to make, share it with the reporter. It may be a brochure, an article from a magazine, or a Club publication.  When research, survey results, financial details or extensive detail are involved, tell the reporter you will send those details in writing following the interview.

There’s No Such Thing As “Off the Record”

  • In the movies we often see reporters getting secret information and then not using it.  The real world often doesn't work that way.  If you tell a reporter a newsworthy secret, what you say can and probably will be used.  Once the reporter has the information, it's easy to get it confirmed somewhere else.

Know When to Say “I Don’t Know”

  • There is nothing wrong with saying, "I don't know the answer to that question."  If it's a question to which you can get the answer, promise to get back to the reporter.  Then be sure to do so.  If it is a technical or detailed question about the whole company, refer the reporter to someone who will be able to help.

Don’t Be Led By the Reporter, Control the Interview

  • If a reporter continues to pursue a subject you've answered to the best of your ability, steer the conversation to another subject. Draw another reporter into the interview if it's a press conference. Don't let one reporter control the session.

  • "No comment" may be a popular phrase on TV, but it's the worst possible response to a reporter's questions.  Nothing will irritate a reporter more than those two words.

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