Christopher Hundley works in communications. During an extremely caffeinated stretch, he earned an MS in Marketing and an MBA.
Positive press can do wonders for your business or nonprofit organization. Companies can benefit from increased brand awareness and brand loyalty, which can bolster sales efforts. Building a positive brand image can also serve as a risk mitigation strategy. Say your supplier has provided you with a defective product, and now several customers who have purchased the product are injured. The public backlash you face may cost you sales and bad press. But if your company has a strong history of community outreach and philanthropy, your honest efforts to address your mistake will likely be better received than a company with a prior history of scandals and a lack of community ties.
Positive public relations can be especially helpful for nonprofits and not-for-profits. Reliable third-party accounts of your work can help your fundraising appeals. They can also be used as evidence of organizational effectiveness for private and public grantmakers, and help you draw down much-needed dollars for your programs.
And in an era of COVID-19, public relations is perhaps more critical than ever before. Customers and stakeholders want to make sure that the organizations they are dealing with are operating safely - for their own safety. Individuals dedicated to stopping the spread want to support organizations that are doing the same. Companies, such as Tyson Foods, have been called out and shamed for not doing their part to stop the spread and putting their workers and the public in danger. Public and private sector organizations must effectively communicate to the public about the measures they are taking to keep people safe, and third-party accounts of those safety measures are most credible.
Positive media coverage can help you achieve your organizational outcomes more effectively, whether you work for a business or a nonprofit. It can also help you hedge against negative coverage, resulting from a mistake, misjudgment, or misinformation. But how does one go about earning good media coverage consistently?
Say your boss just gave you an event to plan or told you of a new business development and has told you he wants it in "all the papers." But maybe you're just starting in PR, have little lead time, and/or your news is newsworthy only to a narrow audience. There are some tactics you can use to maximize your chances of getting at least some coverage in short order:
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- Tie your event to a current trend or event. Obviously, if you're hosting a fundraiser for environmental conservation, it's going to be a little difficult to reference the latest episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians or some other trending pop culture topic. However, you can likely find a way to signal your release is of broad appeal with a little elbow grease. Review the headlines from some of the national papers and news sites. See what areas have been covered recently in your industry and reference one or two key trends in this area in the written press release itself. Examine trending hashtags using tools like Twitter Trends or Trendsmap. Then, use one or two relevant ones as secondary hashtags in your press release.
- Include pictures, audio, and video content. Doing so is even more critical given the coronavirus pandemic, with many newsrooms encouraging reporters to take measures that keep them safe. Some reporters are conducting more interviews virtually and opting to attend events virtually rather than in person. Providing them with content that allows them to run a story where the reader cannot tell they weren't actually there is a tremendous help to many reporters.
- Provide print-ready content to smaller outlets. Not only do many smaller papers not have the manpower to chase down every lead, they often don't have enough time to fill up each page of their print editions. I've had released printed word-for-word in community papers, so if you've got a few in your area, make sure your release - or at least the version you send to them - can be reprinted in full and read like an article. Include a quote or two, as well as a headshot of the person being quoted. Photos of buildings or events referenced with signage can also be helpful.
- Make sure your news is targeted correctly. A new product launch from a washing machine company is not likely to inspire front-page New York Times coverage, as the audience interested in that news is likely relatively narrow and well-defined. Spend a bit of time digging into the outlets that are most likely to be interested in your story, and focus your pitching efforts on those outlets. If you have time, take a look at larger outlets unlikely to cover your news. Find the reporters who are covering your beat and send them a copy of your release as an FYI. It doesn't hurt to let national reporters know about a regional trend or development; they may come back to you as a possible source later on.
However, earning good press – the kind that can put your business/organization on the map and/or favorably influence public attitudes – is a result of hard work over time. Short-term tactics may help you deal with an overbearing boss overly focused on metrics and ROI. But you can start to earn consistent fair and favorable press coverage by following these tips:
- Stop focusing on short-term metrics. Don't start blasting your press release to every email you can find and expect great results. Reporters are people with their own jobs and motivations. Even if it's not directly tied to your work, passing a reporter a lead on a possible story on a beat they cover can go along way. Grabbing a quick bite and sharing your insights on the industry, so they have a better grounding in it can be beneficial. Understanding their passions outside the job can help you figure out ways to be helpful to them and may help you secure fair and consistent - perhaps even favorable - coverage. You'll be a lot more effective if you understand that your role involves managing organizational relationships with the media, rather than firing off press releases every week.
- Make it easy for journalists. Many journalists, especially freelancers and those working for local papers, are looking for content they can quickly transform into an article that meets their editor's standards. Providing well-organized copy that emphasizes the main points, along with additional reference material and contact information from third parties who can validate your claims, is helpful to reporters working on tight deadlines during busy news cycles. Journalists may not be able to attend each one of your events. Record your events and make sure that everyone on your initial distribution list gets a copy as soon as possible afterwards. Make attendees available for interviews. Have pictures of participants ready to send with your post-event press release.
- Provide key reporters with exclusive content. Provide reporters who have been consistently providing favorable coverage with exclusive content. Such content might include access to your organization's President for an in-depth interview, an embargo’ ed copy of your release ahead of reporters, or access to folks in your industry who can serve as sources for other stories.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Christopher Hundley