The feeling never gets old. You’ve done the homework, crafted the pitches, and identified the right outlets and contacts for your story. You reach out … and then you wait. Then something magical happens. You’ve landed the story! There’s an adrenalin rush and you strive to get that producer, reporter or editor everything she needs. It’s fun and exhilarating every time. That’s the life of a PR professional.
I’ve been in this business in St. Louis for more than 20 years now, and have seen the impact that a deliberate PR strategy can have on a company. It can lead to dramatic growth, brand building, demonstration of thought leadership, and sales. When we engage in a PR campaign with clients, there are several key tenants that we like to discuss up-front that will help the success of our collective efforts:
- Always be available. The media works on a very specific schedule which is likely quite different from yours. Once you commit to a PR campaign, you must commit to honoring their schedule. The media has deadlines, works on short turnaround times, and the evening news must go on the air on time. If we’re actively pursuing PR on your behalf, you must be available when they call or they’ll go elsewhere for their story. Also, if a television outlet asks you to provide specific visuals for the segment, or a print publication asks to take certain photos, do it. You may see this as a hassle, but they’re really helping you out by making your story as engaging, informative and entertaining as possible.
- Always say yes. Unless it’s a topic you know absolutely nothing about, which shouldn’t be the case if we’re actively pitching on your behalf, say yes to every interview opportunity! You’re dedicating significant resources to building relationships, building your credibility, and getting the media’s eyes on your brand. And, the media is taking the time to digest your story and identify where it can fit into their news program, publication or radio show. Say yes when they call!
- Be prepared. Many people think they can go on live TV or do an interview with a journalist and just wing it. After all, you know your stuff, right? Yes, you do, but chances are you don’t know how to package your “stuff” into answers that are appropriate for media. You have limited time, and portions of your answers may be edited out. Being prepared ensures that your brand will be portrayed properly, and you’ll be a good interview subject – which the outlet will remember for next time.
- Be consistent and patient. PR is a marathon. It can take a long time to land a story and build relationships with the media on your behalf. Yes, any PR agency you hire will have existing relationships, but it takes time (and a good strategy that’s consistently executed) to create a connection for each brand we’re pitching. It’s also quite possible that a reporter will hang on to a pitch for many months until he or she is ready for a story. Then that magical phone call or email happens.
- Never say “no comment.” While it doesn’t happen with our clients often, we have experienced our fair share of damage control over the years. You may be tempted to avoid reporters if this happens to you. Don’t. The media will tell your story whether you’re part of it or not. It’s always advantageous to be part of the dialog. If you’re prepared and have been actively building media relationships over the long haul, the public has a better chance of understanding your position. We’ve had reporters come to us in the past, who start the conversation with: “Hey, I know company X and this doesn’t sound like them. I’d like to get their perspective.” That’s because we’ve been proactive, have run that marathon, and our clients are prepared.
- Never, EVER, lie. Don’t know the answer to a question? It’s perfectly OK to tell a reporter that’s not your area of expertise and move into what you can provide commentary on. Trying to convince the media (and the public) that you didn’t do something that you really did or vice versa? Don’t, because they’ll find out. Have skeletons in the closet? Make sure your PR people know about them rather than trying to hide them.
Other tips and helpful bits of information we’ve been asked about over the years:
- If you’re going on live TV, arrive well in advance of your scheduled air time. The news can get shifted around at a moment’s notice so you may go on earlier than anticipated.
- Don’t get discouraged if your segment is bumped or rescheduled. Again, the news happens when it happens. It’s not ideal for the producers either, but we all have to be comfortable being flexible in this business.
- Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, local TV stations don’t have hair and makeup departments, or dressing rooms for guests. Arrive at the station dressed, coiffed and ready to go on the air.
- If you’re doing a phone-in interview, do it on a landline or make sure you are in a location with optimal cell service.
- Unless it’s an absolute emergency, don’t ask to reschedule a media opportunity!
Our goal is to help you become a partner with your target media outlets, so they know they can count on you when they need you and you’ll provide a reliable, professional interview that’s of interest to their audience. Being a good partner means there is mutual respect, understanding, and desire to deliver what’s best for all parties involved. Be genuinely open, curious, humble, and responsive as you play your part in building that partnership. I know it will be reciprocated.