Media relations can be so fun and rewarding, and also daunting. To gain successful buzz, you have to avoid the pitfalls–the seven deadly sins of media relations. Have you ever sent out a press release promoting an exciting and important event with high hopes of extensive coverage? Did you imagine a pre-event story, a reporter committing to attend and cover it, broadcast coverage, and a feature on a blog or two? Of course it’s possible to garner all that coverage, but that doesn’t happen all the time. If that did not happen, were you horribly demoralized and ready to quit? Then you probably need to re-evaluate your habits and expectations and make sure the substance of your pitch is as meaty as you think it is.
The Good Book lists the seven deadly sins as the unflattering, nasty qualities: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. Rather than a new list, I have taken each sin and shown how it applies to media relations.
Maybe your press release had too much bragging. It’s great that you are proud of your organization or company and the upcoming event, but bragging is not a news story, it’s an advertisement. If you are truly and verifiably the first, only, largest, then state that with the facts that support that claim. If you are using descriptive words that are muddy and subjective (cutting edge, breakthrough, crowd-pleaser, favorite), you have some editing to do.
Of course you want all the stories and the buzz to be about you at all times—and so does your boss/client! Expecting a disproportionate amount of earned media to be about you and your business is greedy. These are news sources and if you are not announcing something that changes life on this planet, then it is extremely unrealistic to expect that much attention from media you don’t control yourself (your website, social media content). This attitude, which often leads to issuing useless, flat press releases too frequently, is a turn off to reporters and editors.
Lust is basically an intense desire for something. In media relations, lust leads you to measuring success by the number of news clippings instead of measuring by the objective of the event. Let me assure you, the coverage of your event is not as important as the outcomes of the event. Don’t worry that you don’t have a media entry in the next public relations awards. You probably have a great event or promotion regardless. If the whole point of your event is to earn a news story, that’s a media stuntand needs to be carefully assessed before launching.
Bummer! You and every other company in your niche was doing something on the same national holiday. Whether that was Veterans Day or Pi Day, today’s streamlined media had to choose what angle they wanted to cover and what had the best optics for their readers and/or viewers. If yours was not the chosen event for the day, that’s okay. Don’t hate your competitor. Instead, “like” their coverage and send a note of congratulations to your counterpart at that company. Tell the reporter how much you liked the story and maybe he can write about your effort next time. Then examine how your story/pitch could improve next time, or move your event to a date with less clutter.
As far as media relations goes, avoiding gluttony doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have an eating contest. That might truly be the best strategy to advance your mission. I recommend that you not feast on the interest in your event or new product before you have the story. Reporters get pulled for more pressing stories, crises come ahead of softer news items. Know that everyone nibbling on your bait might not end up on your hook. Put your expectations on a diet.
The worst thing you can do for the long-term is lose your temper with a reporter. There are times that a story does not go as well as you’d hoped. If you express your wrath toward a reporter, you might not ever be able to repair that. If they made a glaring error, yes, ask for a correction. Also, write a letter to the editor with acknowledgment of the coverage and point out the correction—graciously. If a reporter said she would attend the event and/or send a photographer and neither showed up, it was probably out of her control.
Never be lazy. Go the extra mile, the extra inch, that will help you help the media. Anticipate the parking situation they will encounter. Have your spokespeople lined up and ready. Make sure you can meet the reporter(s) at the event and escort them around. Supply copies of your media kit or other helpful material that will help to write the story. Ask when it will air or run and thank them for their interest.
Media Relations Depends on the Story First
When contacting the media, use your best manners, common sense, and respect. Recognize that reporters truly want a good story–give it to them.
Leslie A.M. Smith founded McCormick L.A. in 1994 offering public relations and marketing consulting to nonprofits and businesses of all shapes and sizes. Visit her website today to see how she can help you.