I’ll Alert The Media: A My Creative Team Special Report On Effective Media Relations By Harry Hoover We Make You Look Good - Introduction What Is News? Are You Newsworthy? Printed Press Kits: A Contrarian View Cooking Up A Press Kit Writing The News Release A Glossary Of Media Terms Introduction Media Relations is a Public Relations tactic that involves working directly with members of the news media in an attempt to garner editorial coverage. News coverage costs only our time to generate it and typically carries more credibility than advertising. There is no great mystery to good media relations. Anyone mastering some basic principles can become a good spokesman. Reporters are young, intelligent and have a strong desire to succeed. For the most part, they are college graduates, perhaps with advanced degrees. Reporters are, for the most part, liberal. Their reward is not money but the power that comes with the job. They are idealists. They are creative. They love controversy. Editors, on the other hand, come down out of the hills after a battle and shoot the wounded...and they get plenty of practice. With a little planning and preparation you can remove the adversarial aspect from media relations and position yourself as a reliable, fast-acting, knowledgeable source of information on your area of expertise. That is the goal of this special report. What Is News? Non-news professionals often have a hard time understanding why their ENORMOUS news announcement, creates barely a ripple in the media. That's not to say a news release shouldn't be done about it. There are audiences besides the media - like employees, customers and trade allies - to whom news releases may be sent. But the media is interested in things that are different from the norm. So, generally, bad news gets more play. Let's examine these six categories to help us better understand what the media wants. MONEY TALKS - In an age where cash is king, financial matters concerning your company can be big news. Mergers, acquisitions, good or bad earnings reports, new technology that will save or make money, all are good copy. Coverage increases the more you mention amounts and values. TAKE THE GLOVES OFF - This category has a couple of dimensions. First, is in the arena of controversy. Whether it's DOS against LINUX, Beta against VHS, or DSL against Cable Modems, the media loves an argument about which standard is better. If an argument is good, an all out war is better. Ford vs. GM, or Apple vs. IBM - those are the kinds of battles that get an editor's attention. Don't be afraid to take sides. GIVE ME A HUG - Editors even like a good love story. It could be a strategic alliance or an outright merger between two companies. No matter, the media are interested, particularly if there are questions about the cooperative effort's chance of success. LEADING EDGE - The rarified air where technological history is made intrigues the media. Show them tangible evidence of how the technology will improve things in the here and now, and they'll cover the story. CARRY A BIG STICK - If your name is not GM, Microsoft, or IBM, don't worry. You can take advantage of a big brand name. Leverage a new agreement, alliance or partnership between you and one of the big boys for your benefit. CHANGES - Established companies with proprietary methods like the status quo. Shake it up a little with a new system that changes the paradigm and you have the beginnings of a story. The best stories will include something from each category, and then they will have major media staying power. Rarely does a release get covered if it centers on only one category. For the business media, focus your efforts on MONEY TALKS and TAKE THE GLOVES OFF categories. Getting trade media coverage typically is a little easier. Although the first two categories will ensure coverage, LEADING EDGE, CARRY A BIG STICK AND CHANGES together are good enough for some ink. Are You Newsworthy? There is something newsworthy happening right now at your organization, but you must first think like a reporter before you issue that press release. (See the list of newsworthy occasions below.) Too many news releases go out from the company's perspective and land with two dull thuds. The first thud is on the reporter's desk, and the second is in the trashcan. Let me illustrate how this often happens with a client. Phone rings. On the other end the client says, "hey let's do a press conference on our new window blinds. So, here's some information: they are easy to hang by the homeowner and are painted with a new paint in fashion-forward colors." "Yeah," I say, "but the last ones were easy to hang and were in cool colors. Besides, we only hold a press conference for the second coming. We could do a news release, but we need more. What about the hanging mechanism? How many colors? Can the customer get special colors?" "Nothing new on the mechanism. Ten colors. No customization." "Hmmm. New paint, you said. What about that?" "Oh, yeah. It resists dust." "Blinds you have to dust less often! Now, we're talking, and maybe a press conference is called for." Not every story has the potential of a product I actually helped launch, Levolor's DustGuard™ blinds. But, with a little thinking, any story idea can be made more newsworthy. Here are a few things to remember as you think through your story ideas: • • • Reporters Don't Care. You spend at least five days per week working in your industry and thinking about your business. You care deeply about them. The unvarnished truth is that reporters are not in the business to care about you. They want information of interest to readers, and they want you to make their job easier. ROI. Ask, what makes this relevant, original or impactful? Consumers don't care about 10 colors of blinds, but they sure care about not having to dust them as often. That's relevant. Hype Not. Corporate hyperbole will not endear you to reporters. In the news release, tell the facts, just the facts and nothing but the facts. This is as important as ROI, particularly if you are trying to build long-term relationships with reporters. Possible Newsworthy Occasions • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • New Products Business Start-Up Partnership Strategic Alliances New Or Innovative Business Strategy Restructuring The Company Going Public/Going Private Company Comeback From Adversity New Employees Important Executive Retiring/Resigning Executives Comment On Business/Economic Trends Employee Promotions New Branch Offices New Divisions Established Headquarters Relocating Research Results Announcement Major Anniversary Major New Client Acquisition Company Revenue, Sales or Profit Growth Company Name Change Winning Major Awards Or Receiving National Or Regional Recognition In The Media • • • • • • • • • • • • Company Presenting An Award Receiving Important Accreditation or Certification Holding Free Seminar or Workshop Employee Appointed To Civic, Government Or Professional Organization Board Availability Of Guest Articles Or White Papers Issuing A Position Statement On Topical Subject Free Consumer Information Available Company Speakers Bureau Company Philanthropic Support Major Company Milestone New Board of Directors New Website Printed Press Kits: A Contrarian View Much has been said about the demise of the printed press kit. Online and electronic versions - pundits say - are the way to go. No editors or reporters want to receive printed press kits when they could have electronic versions. Right? Au contraire, mon frère! Let me posit an alternate view. I've often found that when conventional wisdom says to do one thing, you should do the other. Zig instead of zag. Reporters and editors get too much email, just like the rest of us. Besides you should never send a large attachment to anyone, especially an editor, unless it has been requested. And, if they don't know the sender, they may worry about unwanted viruses and other digital things that go bump in the hard drive. Many editors and reporters are still "old school." They would rather review analog material instead of digital. Quite frankly, it's quicker. I've been to trade shows as a reporter and a PR person and have seen how things work in the press room. An electronic press kit is not as useful as a printed one in such a venue. You can sort through a printed press kit in mere moments, pulling the info, graphs and photos you need and discarding the rest. I always develop and display both printed and electronic press kits for trade shows and let the journalists decide which format they want. Cooking Up A Press Kit Press kits, like any dish, may include different ingredients depending upon who will be consuming them. A good press kit can be used with potential investors or clients, just as it can for editors. The contents should be developed based upon your audience. Let's review some common elements you will find in press kits aimed at journalists. A letter of introduction - or a pitch letter - often is attached to the outside of the press kit folder. This could include an overview of kit contents and your contact information. Now, let's go inside the folder: The Backgrounder. This is an overview of your company that may include its history and a profile, company locations, as well as brief bios of key company officers. Product/Service Information. Include product and service spec sheets or brochures, as well as any reviews you have received from neutral third parties. Art. Photos, charts, graphs and illustrations often help sell the story. Editors and reporters are always looking for ways to visually illustrate news and feature items. Including art gives you a leg up. Recent Coverage. If you have received editorial mention elsewhere, include it. This gives an editor a little more confidence that your story or company has merit. News Releases. Now, I'm not saying you should include every release you have written since the dawn of time, but include some that are pertinent to the subject at hand. Article Layout. Laying out a story using text and visuals in what is known as mat format often can result in additional coverage. Editors can pick up the entire layout and drop it into the publication. This is more likely to happen with small newspapers and trade magazines than with major media. But it can even give major media editors ideas on how to illustrate a feature. FAQs and Facts. Frequently asked questions and bulleted fact sheets also can spur coverage. Writing The News Release • • Report the news. Make sure your story contains all the relevant facts. Ask yourself: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How? Make it readable. Here’s how: o Use short sentences. (Best single thing you can do. . .and easiest.) Research shows sentences of 15-20 words or less are easiest to comprehend. If you must write a long sentence, punctuation — like colons and dashes — can help the reader. o Use short paragraphs. Usually one or two sentences per paragraph is enough. Otherwise, the reader sees a solid, gray mass when looking at a narrow newspaper or magazine column. o Use easy words. Avoid multi-syllable and/or technical words that are hard to understand. If you must use them, explain them with simple definitions or by using analogies. o Use personal words. These are human interest words: e.g., “I,” “you,” “me,” “they,” names, quotes. • • • Use active verbs. These are words that show action. Examples are easily found in recipes or on sports pages (mix, stir, blend, whip, hit, run). Then get to the point. . .fast! Readers and editors don’t have the time or inclination to wade through a bunch of words before finding out what a story is all about. Use an “inverted pyramid” style. Most editors chop stories to make them fit available space — usually from the bottom. So put the most important points first, second most important next, and so on down to the least important. Writing tips and tricks. NOW. . .that you know some of the rules of good writing, here are a few tricks to help you. o Before the story, think. Audience. who do I want (or expect) to read this? What do they want to know? What do I want them to know? The “gatekeepers.” These are usually the editors who will decide if they will use your story. What kind of story do they normally use? How long? Style? o Getting started writing. If you just can’t get the first word down on paper, here are some things to try. Talk to someone about your story. Listen to yourself. Write the story like you told it. You can always rearrange sentences or paragraphs later. Go through your notes. Star the things you think are most important. Then try to start a story with at least one or two of those important things in the first sentences. Write the headline first. Then make sure your first paragraph or two says essentially the same thing as the headline. Try being childlike. How do kids tell a story? They blurt it out, getting to the point fast with plenty of action verbs. Plagiarize. If you see something written that you like, borrow the idea (not word-for-word). I’m especially talking about borrowing ideas of style. o Smoothing out the story. To do your thing, try these ideas: Write as you talk. Better yet, write as you should talk. Relax on grammar. Don’t ignore what you learned in English, but you can bend the rules. Some examples: Start with a conjunction for emphasis. Use a sentence fragment for impact. End a sentence with a preposition if it’s more natural that way. Polish. Edit. Let someone else read it and offer an opinion. o Rewrite if necessary. o • • The newsfeature. More and more, writers are combining news writing style with feature writing. This simply means adding a twist that can make the story more fun to read and write. FINALLY. . .get over all those hang-ups about writing. You can write. And it’s not that tough! Honest. A Glossary Of Media Terms Reporters and editors use a specialized vocabulary to describe their activities. These are presented in an effort to help you feel more comfortable with things you may hear discussed from time to time when you are interviewed for radio, television or newspaper. Actuality Also “audio cut,” “cut,” or “sound bite.” Short newsworthy statement from interview subject recorded on tape and used in news story. ADI Acronym for “area of dominant influence.” Generally the geographical area a radio station’s signal can reach, usually illustrated on a map covering surrounding counties. Sometimes a marketing term. Ambush Interview A sudden confrontation with a TV news crew, in which the interview subject is ambushed, caught by surprise, and frequently appears guilty or furtive. Audio The sound you hear during a TV newscast, as distinguished from video — what you see. During the editing process, audio and video are sometimes inserted separately into the videocassette that will eventually be broadcast as a reporter’s story. Beat Specialty area on which a reporter concentrates from day to day, i.e., police beat, City Hall beat, business beat, etc. Beeper A report or interview done over the telephone. Term dates from the time when radio stations were required to use an audible “beep” tone to indicate to interviewees and audience that the conversation was being recorded. Bite Short for sound bite. A small portion of a videotaped interview which is edited into the reporter’s story. Usually less than 20 seconds. In network stories, frequently less than 10 seconds. One bite is sometimes edited to another in a way that makes it appear both sentences or phrases were spoken together, in sequence. (NOTE: Sound bite editing can result in misquote or comment taken out of context.) Correspondent The proper term for network reporters, probably because they are always on the road. They were given this title in the early days of TV news, in the same way that newspapers have traditionally called their out-of-town reporters correspondents. Cut Another term for an actuality. Documentary A 15-, 20-, 30- or 60-minute report which explores a problem or an issue in detail. Drive Time The time of day when people are usually driving to or from work. Morning drive is considered “prime time” in radio, and for commercial-buying purposes is usually 5-10 a.m. In actuality, drive time (the most prime time) is actually 6:15-8:30 a.m. or thereabouts. It will vary from market to market. Afternoon drive is usually sold as 3-7 p.m. but is, more properly, 4-6 p.m. Format The type of music or programming a radio station airs. Standard formats are: AC (adult contemporary), UC (urban contemporary), country, news, news/talk, golden oldies, big band/jazz, classical. There are many sub-groups of formats and more develop all the time. Format can temper the tone and depth of a station’s news broadcast, making it more or less suitable for a particular story since format and listenership demographics go hand-in-hand. Lead-in The introduction to a TV news story read by the anchor, usually less than 15 seconds. A headline, designed to tell you what the story is about and alert you to pay attention. Live Shot A reporter stand-up or interview relayed back to the TV station for immediate, live broadcast during a newscast. Market The area served by a television station, usually about 30 or 40 miles in all directions. Network Feed A prearranged delivery of material (e.g., commercials, news information, programming) that a station’s network sends on a periodic basis, usually once or twice a day, sometimes more often. News Director The person in charge of everything in a local TV station’s news department. The person who hires and fires reporters, anchors and photographers. Out-takes Film or videotape shot by a TV news crew which is not broadcast. Often the center of conflict between government and TV news operations. Some organizations, as a matter of principle, refuse to give up out-takes, even if they are subpoenaed. Producer The person who decides how a TV newscast will be organized, the order of the stories, how long they will be, and how they will be produced. Roughly the equivalent of a page editor or section editor at a newspaper. Rating The percentage of households in a market area who own a television set who are watching a certain program or station at any given time. A rating point is one percent of the entire potential audience watching a given show. In radio, ratings result from a survey of listening habits by a company that specializes in statistical surveys by telephone or written diaries. Ad agencies frequently rely on surveys for guidance on which stations to buy for their clients, referred to as “buying by the book.” Reader A story read by an anchor without visuals or reporter involvement. Also called a “copy story.” Reverses Videotape of a reporter asking an interview subject a question. Usually shot over the shoulder of the interview subject after the interview is finished, so the question can be edited to an answer already videotaped. Can distort a TV story if the question is not worded and spoken exactly as it was when the answer was given. Sign Out The close of a reporter “package” or “wrap” in which the reporter signs out. “I’m Earl Egotist, Channel 14 Action News.” Standup A reporter’s narration where we hear and see the reporter talking. Whether the reporter is standing, sitting, talking, driving or lying down, it’s still a standup. Super Writing which is superimposed over video during a broadcast. The name of the reporter or interview subject is supered when we first see them, to tell us who they are. A super saves time. The person appearing on camera does not have to be introduced on air. (NOTE: Be sure to provide a business card or slip of paper showing the correct spelling of your organization (?) and your name so the station will get it right on the super.) Sweeps Shorthand for periods of time when Arbitron surveys a market. Depending on market size, “sweeps” will be done one, two, three or four times annually. During “sweeps” stations try to air provocative programming that will attract listening audiences. Talent TV talk for those staff members who are actually seen on TV. Reporters, anchors, sportscasters, weather forecasters and talk show hosts are “talent,” even if they aren’t talented. Talking Head Just what it says. Someone talking on-camera with nothing to break the visual monotony. (NOTE: A sure cure for talking-head syndrome is to have simple charts or visuals with you when you are interviewed; these will break up the camera shots and provide visual interest.) Two-Shot A picture that includes two people, usually the reporter and the interview subject. Also used when two people are on-camera at the same time in a TV studio or in the field. Voice-Over This can be done live or edited onto videotape. We hear the voice of the reporter or anchor while we see video — usually what the narrator is talking about. On videotape, the reporter’s voice is mixed with the original sound on the tape, which we can still hear in the background. In live voice-over, the sound on the tape is turned down. We can hear that sound under the voice of the anchor, who is talking over the sound on the tape. About My Creative Team My Creative Team, www.My-CreativeTeam.com, is a Huntersville, NC-based network of highly experienced and talented independent marketing professionals that gives clients better work that’s a better value. The firm delivers great work, on time and on target, and that makes the client look good. Services include turnkey website development and promotion, presentation development, email marketing programs, pay-per-click advertising, advertising, media planning and buying, PR, and video production. Clients range from National Gypsum and Rubbermaid to Bank of Commerce and Focus Four.