PR Tactics article


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PR Tactics article

  1. 1. You’re a PR professional — and part of your job involves providing the media with information about topics that are important to your organization.You’ve prepared for a pivotal event or issue.You’ve studied background information,worked with your leadership to develop strategic messages and quelled any nervousness about being the public spokesperson.You’re ready — and you’ve dialed that phone number or pushed the send button on that tweet or email.But the response is different than you expected: “Thanks for the information but I’d just like to talk to your CEO.Can you set that up?” Most PR professionals have experienced such a conversation, and it can sometimes leave us won- dering about our own role in the media relations process. While there are many situa- tions in which it is best for the head of an organization to speak directly to the media,there are also times when it’s most helpful for the PR person to take the lead. For starters,busy CEOs can’t answer every question — they need help in disseminating information about the organization.In addition, the interview is only one step in the multifaceted process of message delivery.And PR professionals can enhance that process through pro- viding background,context or addi- tional contacts. The rapid changes in the way that news media gather and report information is an opportunity and an obligation for PR professionals and their organizations or clients. There’s a place for PR people in this process but,to retain that place, we have to be knowledgeable and valuable.As Nick Kalm,president of Chicago-based PR firm Reputation Partners,says,“We have to be seen as a facilitator for the process — not an impediment.” Here are seven tips for enhanc- ing your value to journalists: 1.Knowwhocanprovidethe rightinformation.Heads of organi- zations may not always have detailed knowledge of the topic that a jour- nalist wants to discuss.For example, a research scientist or the organiza- tion’s corporate social responsibility officer may be the best person to answer a journalist’s questions about environmental issues. PR profes- sionals can add value to this process by know- ing who the most appropriate sub- ject-matter experts are,by preparing these experts to interact with the media,and by pro- viding fast and effective access to them when the need arises. 2.Don’tjustunderstandthe subjectathand;understandthe business. “When we are asked important questions about our organizations, we can’t just answer with a sound bite — we have to take time to understand the factors that drive marketplace success,”Kalm says. One way that PR pros can do this is to stay current about what’s going on in the marketplace and in the industry.Be aware of trends; hang out with the numbers people in your organization.Subscribe to and carefully read business publica- tions.Ask management to support you in continuing education. One PR professional asked for a brief workplace sabbatical to better understand the customer service organization she represented.The PR person visited the customer service facilities,followed delivery people around on their routes, worked in the fulfillment warehouse and helped respond to customer service calls.The result is a PR pro- fessional who is able to provide important perspectives and context to her audiences. 3.Buildrela- tionshipsoutside theinformation- exchangeprocess. “It is important for any organization to have people embedded in the community who can cultivate rela- tionships,”says Mike Jacobs,journalist and publish- er of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota. This is especially critical,he adds,in developing an understand- ing of how local media work.As PR people engage with the community, they are establishing trust and building a foundation for the future of that relationship. At some level,spokespeople need to be connected to the com- munity.In smaller markets that might mean inviting over reporters and editors for a chat or tour.It could also be a meeting at the news- room.Be prepared to offer a story idea or two with associated experts and photo opportunities. 4.Knowjournalists’prefer- encesforreceivinginformation. Some like phone calls,some like emails and others like tweets. Everyone has a preference.It’s the PR person’s business to use those channels as often as possible. “Asthenumberof journalists decreases,thosewhoremainbecome moredependentonsocialmediato accessinformation,”Kalmsays. However,cautions Jacobs, social media has some limitations. “Social media doesn’t lend itself to good conversation — it just makes the conversation faster and more democratic.If your organization uses Twitter and Facebook pages, that can be a breakthrough but also a barrier,because these formats don’t lend themselves to depth.” Sometimes,that greater depth will be required — and you’ll need to have a live conversation with spe- cific answers to critical questions. 5.Understandthattryingto micromanageajournalist’scom- municationprocessmaybackfire andhurtcredibility. Journalists often cite their frustration with PR people who insist on approving interview questions,or who sit in on the reporter’s interview and fre- quently interrupt. In a 2012 Society of Professional Journalists survey, many journalists admitted that they often tried to circumvent offi- cial spokespeople because of such barriers. 6.Betruthfulandfactual.PR peoplefillthevitalfunctionof pro- vidingmultipleperspectivestoa story.“There is more than one way to see an issue,but there isn’t more than one way to see the facts,”Jacobs says.“Don’t distort them.” A PR person who has misrepre- sented information to the media will likely find it impossible to estab- lish credibility in the future. 7.EducateyourCEOabout yourrole.Busy CEOs,in their sin- cere desire to be available and acces- sible,may not always give thought to the most effective ways that they — and their PR people — can engage in that process most effectively. “Educate your CEO about your role,and help her or him under- stand how public relations can help the organization broadly — not only as a single department or func- tion,”says Kalm. Formingapartnership A communications profession- al has many roles:strategic coun- selor,reputation guardian,influ- encer,communicator and emissary. Make sure that the CEO knows what you can do and where you can add value.At the same time,make sure that your CEO understands the limits of your influence.He or she needs to understand that good jour- nalists will not tell the story from your organization’s point of view only;a journalist may feel obligated to balance the story by also talking with competitors or critics. No matter how well you do your job,there will be occasions when the media will want to talk to your CEO,rather than to you. “There are times when it’s a CEO’s job to talk to the press.That’s especially true at the crossroads of an organization — when you have big announcements,or when there are big issues,”Jacobs says. When this is the case,PR pro- fessionals can demonstrate value. Support your CEO in developing strong messages.Find opportunities to share important news and events. At those times,the value you add is the partnership with your CEO — working together to serve the public interest and share your organization’s story. media relations 14 July 2013 TACTICS SusanBalcomWalton,M.A., APR,isvicepresidentforuniver- sityandpublicaffairsatthe UniversityofNorthDakota.She hasalsoheldcommunications managementpositionsatvari- ousFortune500companies. JoelJ.Campbellisanassociate journalismprofessoratBrigham YoungUniversity. Hehasbeena trainerandspeakeratmore than150newsroomsandcon- ferences.Twitter:@joelcampbell. Staying valuable in a changing media environment By Susan BalcomWalton,M.A., APR,and Joel J.Campbell “For starters,busy CEOs can’t answer every question — they need help in disseminating information about the organization.” canopy/corbis