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Randy Savicky

[December 15, 2003]

Strategy + Communications Column:
The Sound Of A Tree Falling

BY RANDY SAVICKY


If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? Your company may have a great product or service, but unless you make a strong commitment to marketing and publicizing it properly, its just like that lonely tree falling in the forest -- no one will know about it. And while the alternate power market is seen as new and exciting by the media, that newness and excitement will not necessarily result in your company getting the type of media coverage that you feel it deserves.

Today, successful companies understand that an effective marketing and public relations program is a key strategic asset.  The days of the If I build it, they will come marketing philosophy (so wonderful in the film Field of Dreams) are long gone. Today, companies must have both a business plan and a marketing plan -- and execute them both -- to be successful in todays hyper-competitive marketplace.

Welcome to the first of what will be a regular monthly column on public relations and marketing. It is designed to educate, inform and offer practical, cost-effective strategies and tactics to help you proactively market and publicize your company.  These strategies and tactics will target all of your key audiences, including: Media and analysts; customers and prospects; business and channel partners; government agencies and regulators and employees and stakeholders. With this information, you will be able to ensure that your companys message is heard loud and clear by the largest possible audience, unlike that lonely tree falling in the forest. 

This months column will introduce you to and educate you about the news media -- one of your most formidable, but most important audiences. These are the key influencers: Newspapers, magazines, broadcast and cable television stations, radio stations and Web sites -- that independently inform all of your other key audiences about your company. Because of their independent, unbiased viewpoints, it is critical to your success that you build a relationship with the media so that they will write about your company favorably. Influencing the influencers to give your company consistent and favorable media coverage goes a long way in creating an overall positive business environment for your company.

THE NEWS MEDIA
When your company launches a great new product or discovers an exciting technological breakthrough, its natural for you to think that the media will come calling at your door. After all, their job is to cover the news, right?

Given its immense influence on our business and personal lives, it is remarkable how little Americans really know about the inner workings of the news media. It is vitally important that you begin to understand the media so we can begin to lay the groundwork on how to influence this key audience.

Lets look at todays media so you can understand what actually goes on and how it operates. Our goal here is to lift the veil on the operations and thinking that go on inside newsrooms, with the aim of building a bridge of understanding between you and the journalistic realms. With that in mind, lets take a look at the two key types of people involved in the news process -- editors and writers (also known as journalists).

EDITORS AS GATEKEEPERS
Editors are the gatekeepers of the newsroom. They sit in the eye of the media hurricane. But outsiders who view editors as judges -- deciding what stories deserve to be covered and ensuring accuracy in what is published or broadcast -- fail to grasp the reality of todays news gathering. 

In practice, most editors are too beset by the concerns of the next 10 minutes to think much about the long term. While editorial judgments have always been made on instinct or gut, they are now made under the additional pressure of the new economics that traditional media of all kinds have been forced to reckon with.  Today, news is seen not as a public service but as a business. Broadcast news shows are seen as profit centers, while the great consolidation of Americas daily newspapers is proof positive that news is big business.

These economically driven decisions by editors -- whether made individually or in editorial meetings -- set the agenda for much of what appears in newspapers, TV and radio and Web sites around the world. In turn, that agenda directly affects how you and your enterprise are written and talked about on a global scale. 

JOURNALISTS: WORKING THE 24x7 SHIFT
And while editors have become gatekeepers, journalists are immersed in their own brave new world. The introduction of the computer in newsrooms a quarter century ago transformed journalism from carefully measured typewritten copy and daily news cycles into todays round-the-clock, up-to-the-minute 24x7 news. In the last few years, the Internet has transformed journalism and the reporters life like never before.

In this age of instantaneous communications, reporters today are fighting a deluge of potential stories to cover each and every day.  Before they file their daily, weekly or monthly copy, they may sift through hundreds of press releases -- both paper and electronic -- while they simultaneously try to make sense out of a non-stop flow of story ideas, pitches and follow-ups that come in to them via telephone, regular and special delivery mail and (what else?) e-mail from company representatives and public relations agencies. Add to this their own calls to sources, reading both competitive and industry-specific trade media as well as coming up with their own ideas for stories. Its a wonder that reporters have any time to write at all -- much less write articles that accurately reflect the particular beat or industry that they cover.

In all of this chaos, its very easy to see why your companys news release or big story, so important to you and the present and future health of your company, can become easily overlooked, if its even seen. More often than not, it becomes just another small, insignificant piece of information begging for attention in the flood of data flowing through a journalists brain.

ALL IS NOT LOST
Its not a pretty picture, but do not despair -- all is not lost. There are proven strategies and tactics that can deliver media coverage on your company, product or service. In the next column, well begin to demystify this mysterious news business by taking a look at some tough questions:

  • How do print reporters make sense out of the information overload?
  • How do they decide what is a story and what isnt?
  • What makes a reporter want to cover your story rather than someone elses, including your real and perceived competitors?
  • What makes a reporter want to cover your story in the most positive light to you and your company?
  • How does a proactive marketing and public relations program help you gain consistent, positive media coverage?

 

With his unique "both sides of the editor's desk" perspective, Randy Savickys advice and counsel on public relations and marketing has been sought after by some of Americas largest corporations and best-known brands, including IBM, Motorola, Sony and Fujifilm. He is President of Strategy + Communications Worldwide, the complete outsourcing resource, which helps companies gain mindshare and market share by improving their communications to their key audiences: Media and analysts; customers and prospects; business and channel partners; government agencies and regulators; and employees and stakeholders.  He welcomes your comments and ideas and can be reached at (516) 286-7026 or rpscoms@cs.com.

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