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Randy Savicky

[February 20, 2004]

Strategy + Communications Column:
Making the Media Your Ally


Continuing from where we left off in the previous Strategy + Communications columns, its critical to your success as a company that you build and maintain a positive relationship with the media. Your goal here is simple -- you want them to write about your company favorably (and as often as possible). The medias role is central to your success; as the great influencer, the media extends its influence over all of your other key audiences -- customers and prospects; business and sales partners and stakeholders and employees -- and functions as a power force to shape their opinion of your company and its products and services.

Because of this important central role that the media plays in your success, its vital that you spend the time and make the effort to establish a positive relationship with them. Unfortunately, today, far too many companies and executives still see the media through an unfortunate stereotypical adversarial relationship perspective. This may have been formed by personal experience (I was misquoted!) or from the medias often stormy relationship with political figures or business leaders that is read about or seen daily in the media.

However, if this is your perspective of the media, it must be changed. Today, it is vital to develop instead a positive, proactive relationship with the media that will help foster consistent and favorable news coverage for your company.  There is simply too much at stake to have it any other way.

From your companys perspective, dealing with the media can be reduced to two very simple questions:

  • What would make a reporter want to cover my companys news?
  • What steps can I take to make that reporter cover my company in the most positive light?

However, from the medias perspective, its not that simple. To begin to understand why, lets put ourselves inside a reporters (or editors) head to see how he or she determines what he or she will write about or cover. Lets examine what I call the editorial thought process.

First, each reporter determines the news value of any information using a simple litmus test: Why should the readers of my publication, visitors to my Web site, television (broadcast and cable) viewers or radio listeners care about this bit of information about your company?  

A seemingly very broad question, but to get to the answer, the reporter then drills down with more specific questions: 

  • Is it something new? (Is this information that has not been heard and presented before, whether on a product or service, company development or viewpoint?)
  • Is it something timely? (Is it something that is currently taking place, will take place soon or ties into something currently in the news?)
  • Is it something interesting to my audience? (Will my readers and viewers see this as relevant to their business or career success?)

If your bit of company news has made it through this screening process, the reporter then starts to put together a story on it based on what is called journalistic style -- or the five Ws (and the letter H):

  • Who is affected by this piece of information? (Does this news affect many people or only a few?)
  • What happened? (Is the event interesting and dramatic?)
  • When did it happen? (Is the information timely, occurring now or in the immediate past?)
  • Where did it happen? (Is the news happening close to where my readers live, do they know the area or is it so important that geographical location doesnt matter?)
  • Why did it happen? (Can I explain the reasons behind this event?)
  • How did it happen? (Can I provide more details about the event?

Once youve seen and begun to understand the editorial thought process, it then becomes easier to see that reporters have no particular stake in your companys news. They are merely weighing your companys news to see if their readers are interested in hearing about it. They are also weighing its importance against all of the others news items that they are considering from other companies -- large and small, major and minor -- that you may or may not compete against in your industry. All of these factors will determine how much prominence, or play, your news gets. In practical terms, if your companys news is covered, this equates to the position in the publication (front of the book) and size of the article that it receives.

In addition, if a reporter does write about your companys news, he or she wants to make sure that the news is presented to their readers in a fair, balanced manner, with an unbiased viewpoint. Thats one of the characteristics of a good journalist. 

Granted, its a great theory, but is that really possible in todays news business?  Now, lets continue our voyage inside a reporters mind to find out. 

As I have explained in many of the media training sessions in which I have conducted, each reporter has his or her own unique perspective of your company, whether it has been written about or not. Imagine each reporters mind like a file cabinet that contains a jumble of information of all sizes and shapes about your company; when combined, this jumble of data creates his or her perspective of your company:

  • Do they have personal contact or know anyone who works at your company on either a personal or business basis?
  • Have they used your companys products and services -- and was this a positive experience?
  • What have other people told them about your company, whether co-workers, friends or your competitors? 
  • Have they read anything about your company in the news? And was it good news (customer success stories, positive earnings reports, etc.) or bad news (poor product reviews, negative earnings reports, employment cutbacks, etc.)?
  • Have they written about your company before? Have they given you positive or negative coverage?
  • What is going on in the industry in which your company competes? Is it expanding or contracting? Is it vitally important to the overall economy or a bit player?

Based on these criteria (and you could add many more), its easy to see that without a proactive public relations program, your company is leaving it up to each reporter to draw his or her own connections, inferences and conclusions about it and how you will be covered (if at all).

In todays hyperkinetic business environment, this type of approach with the media simply leaves too much up to chance. Without a proactive public relations program to educate and inform the media, you have basically given each reporter free rein to write about your company based only on their existing file cabinet of knowledge.

In the next column, well continue by discussing the importance of developing an overall strategy with the media to fill the file cabinet with the information you want. 

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 (http://www.strategypluscommunications.com), 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) 457-4122 or [email protected].

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